Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Back in 1985, Pete Rose beat Ty Cobb’s record when he made his 4,192 hit. In 1978, he made his 3,000th hit. In 1978, I was 15 years old, and the Reds were not worth watching.
It fascinates me how many people are huge fans of Pete. He started playing for Cincinnati in 1963, the year that I was born. In 1978 he went to the Phillies, and in 1984 to the Montreal Expos. After one season, he returned to Cincinnati. Johnny Bench, by comparison, started with Cincinnati in 1967, and stayed until the end of his career in 1983. I always liked Johnny Bench, arguably one of the greatest catchers to play the game. He signed a contract and stayed with it. Pete Rose, on the other hand, went off in search of, well, money.
The record for most games in a row with hits is held by Joe DiMaggio (56 games, set in 1941), followed by Willie Keeler (45 games, 1897) and then Pete Rose, 1978 with 44 games. This was when he got his 3,000th hit. I remember the 1978th season. My dad took me to one of the rare games that we ever attended, and it was boring as sin. I distinctly remember Pete Rose being put in as the “pinch hitter”, over and over and over again despite having a worse batting average than most of the hitters for whom he was pinch hitting. The team was trying to be sure that he maintained his batting streak, and trying to get him to that elusive 3,000 mark.
In other words, the season and the entire team was being penalized for the glory of one player. I’m not a sports fan, and this is one of the reasons. The Reds kind of turned me off of sports because of what they were doing for Pete. The season was very disappointing, and I have no idea how the rest of the team felt about what was happening. I as fifteen at the time, and I suppose that there are those who might argue that the team now has bragging rights for the records that Pete holds. It seems a poor trade for a young boy trying to get involved in the sport, however.
Of course, some years later, Pete would find himself in some hot water for gambling problems. In essence, he was accused of betting against his team, and throwing the game to win the bets. It is basically the same thing the Reds management did in helping to ensure Pete’s record.
I don’t know that I have a point to this post. It seems to me, though, that teams should not be sacrificed for the pride of a few. Several times, I’ve felt as if I was let go because of the pride of my supervisors. With the police department for whom I worked, they made derogatory comments about my education and advanced degree, making me feel uncomfortable before eventually being let go. I understand the “crucible of fire”, where relationships are borne out of common stress and danger. These men and women learn to rely on one another, and when a newbie like me come along with my advanced education but no experience in policework, I understand why I was viewed as an outsider. I find it unfortunate, though, that my supervisors felt intimidated, and rather than building on the strength somebody with external experience like me brings to the table, they instead act as if they are afraid of looking bad because of me.
In reality, strength comes from teamwork. When the Reds put the needs of Pete Rose, a single player, above the team, they sacrificed any opportunity they might have had at the pendant for those years. As dean, when the provost seemed threatened by my successes, they sacrificed what I offered so the provost would feel less threatened.
A position can be replaced, but not a person. Prior to the Pete Rose debacle, the Reds were a powerhouse. The “Big Red Machine” with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Gen Griffey, Sr. won six National League West Division titles, four National League pennants and two World Series Titles between 1970 and 1979. These successes were built on team work, and it certainly doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Reds lost their status as Pete Rose’s personal glory took precedence over the team. When administration puts individual pride over the team, everybody suffers. Yes, they filled the positions I was released from, but I can guarantee you that they never replaced me.