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Scott Ostler

Pete Rose, Steve Howe: So Easy, Yet So Hard

July 04, 1985|Scott Ostler

It's Tuesday morning, the morning after the hottest day of the year in Los Angeles. You're Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds. The sun is already shining into your VIP hotel suite, the kind of digs they give you in every city, now that you're the manager.

You pick up the morning paper you had sent up with the room-service breakfast. You glance at "weather" photos--kids eating ice cream, moms wading in the ocean. People beating the heat, and vice versa.

You flip the other sections of the paper onto the floor and hold up the sports section. You smile at the photo sequence at the top of Page 1. It shows you diving flat out across the Dodger Stadium infield to snag a ball hit by R.J. Reynolds.

"Eat your heart out, Greg Louganis," you say to yourself.

Right below your picture, though, is a story about Steve Howe, the Dodgers' troubled relief pitcher, who didn't show up for the ballgame. You read the quotes from Howe. "I'm all right. . . . I just need some time off."

Time off? During baseball season? You don't even like the time off between games. Or between innings. You sometimes get to the ballpark at 1 o'clock for a 7:30 game.

A week ago you read about Howe showing up for a game in the seventh inning, telling his manager he was late because his wife took the car keys. That story dropped your jaw. It was so ludicrous, you almost laughed.

Hell, you would have run out and bought a new car, then contemplated a new wife. You would have chartered a helicopter. Jumped up and down in the middle of the road until someone stopped to give you a lift. No ballgame was ever gonna start without Pete Rose.

But you read the stories about Howe with interest, and concern, because you're a manager now, and this is the kind of problem managers face these days. What would you do?

You think of basketball's Dick Motta, who was coaching the Chicago Bulls in 1976. Bob (Butterbean) Love missed practice one day, said his car wouldn't start. The next night Motta benched Love, saying, "I figure if his car won't start, why should he?"

It occurs to you that you and Steve Howe are just about as opposite as two baseball players could possibly be.

You symbolize the old style. Guts and hustle. Nobody ever had to come looking for you, or drag you out to the ballyard. They'll have to drag you away from it someday, maybe.

This guy Howe, the Dodgers study him and counsel him and praise him and suspend him. They try sympathy, they try getting tough. They don't even come close to understanding him.

You shake your head. To you, the game is simple. Life is simple. If you're hungry, you eat. If you're in a slump, you get a base hit. You get what you earn, and you enjoy what you get. You try to have some laughs along the way.

Aren't good times and good breaks just like that line drive R.J. Reynolds hit last night? They're yours to grab, baby. Snag 'em, or wave as they go by.

To the world, Pete Rose is an open book. You say what you think, you talk to anyone who will listen, and you play a style of ball that is about as complicated as a John Wayne movie.

To the world, Steve Howe is a mystery, a complex riddle to be solved. You wonder what Tom Lasorda is thinking. You figure Lasorda doesn't know whether to strangle Howe, hug him, or both.

You figure Lasorda probably likes Howe. You figure you probably would have, too. He's cocky, like you, a wise guy, and you remember him as a rookie. He would stand on the mound as if he owned the damn thing. He would strut around, stare you down and dare you to hit his heater.

You love kids like that. When Steve Sax was a rookie and his team came to Philly, you took him to lunch one day, told him you liked his style.

You felt the same way about Howe. What the hell happened? Here's this kid pitcher who, if they could get him right, would be more valuable to the Dodgers than even Pedro Guerrero. He could be the next Goose Gossage.

It kills you to think of this talent going to waste. What could you have done if you'd been blessed with an arm like that?

You read that Howe has personal problems. Now there's a scoop. Who in hell doesn't? You once split from a wife and two kids. You've had some hard times, heard some criticism, faced some challenges, had some doubts. But personal problems, they were always something you knocked out of your cleats before you stepped onto the field.

You're 44 years old, and you don't tell anybody this, but you don't see any reason you can't play ball until you're 50. For sure you'll still be managing at 50, somewhere, but you probably still won't be close to figuring out guys like Steve Howe.

Now you've read about Howe but you don't know any more than you did before you started reading the story. It might as well be written in Latin.

You look at a photo of Steve Howe's uniform hanging, clean and fresh, at his clubhouse dressing stall. You think about how you love to put on your uniform.

You take another look at the photo of Pete Rose diving. Somehow, the pictures always tell you more than the stories.

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