4/23/2014 12:02 P.M. ET
There's never an excuse for a lack of hustle
As Rose showed for 24 years, going all-out, all the time is right way to play
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
I've been thinking a lot about Pete Rose lately, and it has nothing to do with the debate over whether he should reach Cooperstown despite his lifetime ban from Baseball for gambling on the sport.
Rose turned 73 on April 14. Believe me, I know. While living in Cincinnati during the late 1960s and through much of the '70s, I was a disciple of the Big Red Machine. I memorized all of the birthdays of the Reds players. So surely I would know that about Rose, since he was my all-time favorite baseball player.
My two brothers and I were regulars at Crosley Field, and later at Riverfront Stadium. Then, I saw Rose more often than that when I began working for the Cincinnati Enquirer as a backup Reds writer down the stretch drive of the Machine era.
Imagine a tornado in spikes with a funny haircut.
That was Peter Edward Rose.
Which brings me to the biggest reason Rose keeps sliding head-first inside of my head at the moment: Bryce Harper.
Soon after Harper made his Major League debut in 2012 -- exactly 14 days after Rose's 71st birthday, by the way -- he earned a reputation as one of the most ferocious players in the game. Harper crashed into walls as an outfielder for the Nationals. He wasn't afraid to dive for fly balls with his nose against the ground. He made infielders cringe with the threat of getting met by a shoulder to the gut or a cleat to the mouth from 225 pounds of energy charging their way.
He was the modern-day Rose -- supposedly.
Among the numerous differences as a player between Rose, Harper and nearly everybody else in the history of baseball, is the man they called "Charlie Hustle" never was benched during his 24 Major League seasons for lack of effort.
You know where I'm going. During the sixth inning of the Nationals' 4-3 loss Saturday to the Cardinals, Harper hit a grounder back toward the pitcher's mound. He trotted a few steps to first base, and then he made a right turn for the dugout.
Matt Williams was not amused. In fact, the first-year manager of the Nationals thought about the 17 years he spent in the Major Leagues as a player, and then he remembered how he and most of his peers always respected the integrity of the game. Then, he told Harper to spend the rest of that game on the bench.
Williams said afterward, "Lack of hustle. That's why he came out of the game. When we play the game, we hustle at all times."
Well, players should, but they don't.
There was that time in Boston in 1977, when Yankees manager Billy Martin didn't think Reggie Jackson was exactly going out of his way to catch a sinking fly to right field at Fenway Park. Martin yanked Jackson from the game, and they nearly became Ali-Frazier in the visitors' dugout between shouting words at each other not fit for Bible studies.
More recently, we've had the sometimes uneven play of the Cubs' Starlin Castro. Although he is a rising star, he was a sitting star during a game last season with the Cardinals after he gave less than a full effort. He drifted back into shallow left field from shortstop to catch a pop fly, and since the bases were loaded with one out, the Infield Fly Rule was in effect. That's apparently why Castro thought he could drop his head and move casually back into position. Instead, the runner tagged at third and scored, and Castro spent the next four innings watching instead of playing.
Yasiel Puig knows that feeling with the Dodgers. Despite his considerable gifts in the field and at the plate, he has lacked focus. It has translated into missed cutoff men, mistakes on the bases and late arrivals to games.
All together now: These guys are paid millions to play a child's game, and it's not as if they actually work for a living when compared to the average fan. I hear that, but I also hear the other side: We're talking about a long season of 162 games, with so many aches and pains for players along the way. Then there are their life issues, ranging from relationships to kids to everything else. You can't expect a player to give 100 percent all the time.
It's just that Hunter Pence mostly does.
The same goes for Prince Fielder and Andrelton Simmons.
Just so you know, Rose was a combination of Pence, Fielder, Simmons and whoever else you can name times 3,562. That was the record number of games Rose played during his career despite his all-out style.
I keep thinking about the first time I saw Rose in person, and it was at Crosley Field in the summer of 1969 against the Cubs. He was playing right field. After he made a diving catch to end the top of the inning, he was the first batter in the bottom of the inning, and he sprinted -- I mean, sprinted -- to first base after a walk. That's when Rose became my favorite player. The feeling only grew after I discovered he always sprinted to first base after walks. Then there were those head-first slides into every base. He also never met a wall that he didn't like to bang against. And he kept battling -- constantly battling, no matter the score or how well or awful he was doing at the time.
One more thing: He never was benched.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.