I first found baseball, or baseball found me, as Jim Bouton might say, back in the early 1980s. Situated as I was in central Indiana, it made perfect sense that I gravitated to the Cincinnati Reds, particularly because they were the only team on local television at the time. I bought into the club when they were hapless losers, oblivious to the glory days that lay just a few years in the past, but I soon began to hear whispers of the greatness that I missed out on by, if not an eyelash, then certainly no more than a finger's width. Chief among the legends held high as paragons of the fabled hard-nosed ball player who formed the core of the Big Red Machine was Pete Rose, that self-igniting spark plug. By that time, of course, Rose had moved on to the Philadelphia Phillies and was closing in on Ty Cobb's all-time hits record, but Cincy still found itself in the cloud of dirt left behind by his last head-first slide into second base. When Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Washington Nationals phenom in the ribs on May 6 -- and then admitted that he did it on purpose --- I instantly flashed back to Rose's spikes-high antics.
Rose was always a mean son of a gun on the diamond, and his reputation was sealed during the 1970 All-Star game at the newly minted Riverfront Stadium in the Queen City. On that fateful night, Rose barreled home with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning, knocking the bejeezus out of the American League catcher, Cleveland Indians youngster Ray Fosse. Whether or not Rose's compulsive need to win a mostly meaningless exhibition game cost Fosse a more lucrative career is open for debate, but the fact that Charlie Hustle cemented his status as one tough and nasty hombre on that one play is not. Simply put, Rose competed to win, and he was prepared to do anything that he could to make that happen.
Which is what Hamels did on Sunday, of course, and he also had the temerity to admit it. The Phillies have spent most of the season near last place, which is not where they expect to be, ever. Meanwhile, the Nationals are sitting atop the National League East standings and could very well dethrone the Phillies as division champions if fortunes don't turn around. For better or worse, Hamels took matters into his own hands and put a little hurt on one of the opposition's hotshots. Can you imagine what Rose would have done, as a pitcher, in a similar situation during the 1970s? With the Reds facing the Los Angeles Dodgers and slugging first baseman Steve Garvey, there is a better than even chance that Popeye would have had to hit the deck.
Of course, those were different times, and the hue and cry against Rose's antics were relatively muffled. Now, after a day of outrage among the media and other baseball folks, Hamels has been slapped with a five-game suspension. Although there has been a lot of whining around this situation, the good news is that bad blood is brewing, and that should make for some must-see baseball whenever the Phils and Nats hook up.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.