The Pete Problem

10COVv17_PromoTwenty five years after this banishment from baseball, Pete Rose former Major League Baseball player and manager, appears on this week’s national cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (3/10/14)—on newsstands NOW. Rose has been on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 15 times since ’68; the last time he appeared on the cover was in ’04. The current issue features an exclusive excerpt from the new book, PETE ROSE: AN AMERICAN DILEMMA by Assistant Managing Editor Kostya Kennedy. The book, published by SI Books comes out Tuesday, March 11.  

The all-time Major League leader in hits (2,456), games played, at-bats, and outs is no stranger to the spotlight of fans and critics. Rose has more base hits than anyone in history, yet he is not in the Hall of Fame. At a time when steroid users appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, now more than ever, the question “Does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of the Fame?” has developed into one of the most provoking in sports. “Of all the ways one might characterize the differences and similarities between Rose and those players known to have used performance enhancing drugs—the Hall of Shamers, as it were—it comes to this: Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.” (Page 50)

The excerpt in this week’s issue looks at Rose today, three decades after he became the alltime hit king. Rose is still beloved by baseball fans and has no problem drawing crowds for his strict schedule of appearances and autograph sessions. Sparky Anderson, the Cincinnati manager through most of the 70’s who had issues with Roses’ lying about gambling said, “He played his heart out for me.” Years later, Anderson and Rose managed to mend the tear in their relationship before Anderson passed away in 2010. Rose still has plenty of detractors who will never be able to forgive him, but he has his supporters too. Barry Larkin, who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2012 said in his induction speech, “I just want to thank Pete for the opportunity…His words of wisdom and his support and him talking to me all the time. Thank you, Pete Rose. I love you, man.” (Page 53)|SI Assistant Managing Editor, Kostya Kennedy 

 -SI-


Boston Strongman

In this week’s Sports Illustrated—on newsstands Wednesday—  senior writer Tom Verducci writes about how 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz, one of the greatest postseason sluggers ever, used leadership and resilience to carry the Red Sox and the city of Boston to their third Series title in eight years. Ortiz, who had a .688 BA with 11 hits and two home runs in the six- game Series against the Cardinals, shares this week’s cover with Boston police officers Javier Pagan and Rachel McGuire and detective Kevin McGill –all three appeared on SI’s April 22, 2013 cover as the issue reported on the Marathon bombings.

Writes Verducci, “If any one person were to lead the Red Sox and—given the team’s cultural importance in New England—by extension Bostonians through a terrible time, it was a man with an outsized capacity for resilience. The grind of a 162-game season played in a 182-day window, followed by the wilds of postseason play, would test even Lewis and Clark. But among baseball’s 109 world champions there has never been a story of resilience quite like this one. No team—not the 1969 Mets, not the ’91 Twins—has won the World Series in the year after being as bad as the Red Sox were in 2012 (.426 winning percentage). And only six months before the Series—just a half mile east on the same street where Ortiz was applauded—two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, wounding 264 others and terrorizing hundreds of thousands. Four days later the citizenry was ordered to “shelter in place” during a daylong citywide lockdown, while a manhunt for the bombers proceeded. The pleasant routines of life, including baseball, were put on hold.” (Page 32)

Things were not always easy for Ortiz in Boston. Since arriving in Boston in ‘03 Big Papi has battled through injuries, steroid allegations, batting slumps and criticism from an ex-manager who claimed Ortiz quit on the team. Still, Big Papi remained ebullient and ready to lead by example.

Writes Verducci, Ortiz is the team’s leader in every imaginable way, a man of imposing size (6′4″, 250 pounds) yet easy accessibility. He delivers the right words and mood for a club as reliably as he does big hits. He is a baseball -philosopher—thoughtful, colorful, -profane—and his well-scarred career and outsized personality serve him well in big situations that can rattle others. “You can be the real deal today and s— tomorrow,” he says. “That’s how the game goes. On the day you feel your best, you can go 0 for 5. You go home and say, ‘I feel like Superman, and I went 0 for 5.’ That tells you how tough this game is: On your best day you had a bad day.” (Page 32)


Gone Crazy

This fall, the 2013 World Series has been the greatest show on Earth. In this week’s sports illustrated–on newsstands now–senior writer Tom Verducci explains how the Cardinals and the Red Sox both brought the weird in the 109th fall classic—from whacky beards to foul-ups, bleeps and blunders—in a series full of tense games and never-seen-before endings. But look past the drama and the two evenly matched teams, and you see a sport in need of change. Think the DH was funky? Make way for the bonus at bat.

Writes Verducci, “The atmosphere of the 109th World Series could be described in many ways—-intense, passionate, noisy—but rarely does rushed enter into the 21st-century baseball conversation. As scoring has declined and pitching has come to dominate the game over the past decade, every pitch carries an intensity that prompts hitters into deep bouts of concentration and routine, as if they’re preparing to dive off the cliffs of Acapulco 292 times, which is the average number of pitches in a major league game in 2013.” (Page 34)

Boston and St. Louis were the best teams in the majors this season. Only twice during the Wild Card Era — in 1995, when the Indians met the Braves in the first year of the three-tiered format, and in 1999, when the Yankees played the Braves — has the team with the best record in each league squared off in the World Series. However, the paths each team took to this year’s Fall Classic were drastically different. While the Boston’s pitching staff was middle-of-the pack all year, the Cardinals’ rode to glory on the arms of their flamethrowers, especially during the postseason.

Writes Verducci, “The National League champion Cardinals epitomize how young power pitching rules today’s game. Throughout the postseason they ran to the mound eight homegrown pitchers between 22 and 26 years old who threw between 95 and 100 miles an hour. Those callow flamethrowers combined to throw 71% of St. Louis’s innings through the first 15 games in October while piling up 92 strikeouts in 96 innings. So enriched with pitching is baseball that it was harder to get a hit in the big leagues this year (.253 batting average) or get on base (.318 OBP) than at any time in the 40 years since the designated hitter was adopted.” (Page 34)

In contrast, the Red Sox relied on patience at the platelong pitch counts and late rallies (plus a late season surge from DH David Ortiz)to get wins. “The American League champion Red Sox are the preeminent counter-tacticians to this wave of superior pitching: They turn offense into defense. They saw more pitches than any team this season, 158.3 per game. They willingly sign up for strikeouts—they were eighth in baseball in whiffs while blowing past the franchise record—as the tariff for “grinding out at bats” to “run up pitch counts,” the highest virtues of hitting as extolled by coaches and the media. Where offenses of great potency once earned such menacing nicknames as Murderers’ Row, the Big Red Machine and Harvey’s Wallbangers, baseball now aspires to “grinders” when it comes to hitting excellence. Players who make outs return to high fives and fist bumps in the dugout as long as they saw five or more pitches.” (Page 34)

Stylistically, the Red Sox–Cardinals World Series highlighted the drawn-out, low-scoring war of attrition that baseball has become. As an alternative, Verducci suggests that baseball should consider a mechanism that guarantees the best players get to hit at the most exciting time. Call it, The Bonus At Bat.


Words With…Pedro Martinez

Pedro MartinezIn his new TV role as a commentator for TBS during baseball’s playoffs, Pedro Martinez has shown that he still can colorfully change speeds and bring piercing heat. The future baseball hall of famer sat down with senior writer Tom Verducci for a Q&A in this week’s SI to discuss why he tried TV, his transition away from the game, the return of the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series, beanballs and assorted other topics, including Derek Jeter’s impromptu, face-to-face pitch to become a Yankee.

On television: “I had too much time not doing anything at home,” Martinez says. “It was uncomfortable sitting at home and my wife questioning me, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s also a good opportunity to explore something different, because I really want to expand on what I learned in baseball. Some of the guys, like Kevin Millar, Barry Larkin, Manny Acta, they all know the knowledge in my head about the game and they all thought that as loose as I am, I would be a person that could do this.” (PAGE 47)

On missing the game: “I would get really cranky because I wasn’t going to seven hours to a gym and then to play a game,” Martinez says. “I was just a lazy cat at home.” (PAGE 47)

On moving guys off the plate: “You commit to that pitch,” Martinez says.  “You go into that pitch saying, I am making a statement here. If you don’t move back, you’re getting hit.” (PAGE 48)

Martinez tested the free agent market after the 2004 season. The Yankees had him in for a meeting before he signed with the Mets. While talking with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Martinez says, “Jeter walks by. He peeks in and sees me and says, ‘What are you doing here? Oh, Boss, please sign him.’” (PAGE 52)

On who the last person he wants to see in the batter’s box late in a close game: “Jeter,” Martinez says.

Why Jeter? “He doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t get excited. He’s cold, like an icebox. You make a good pitch, and it seems like he bloops it all the time. You make a great pitch, and somehow he finds some area on the bat. I don’t know if he’s not strong enough to break the bat or the ball does not hit an area to break it. . . . And if you make a mistake, he will take you deep. It’s impossible to make him change his approach or his demeanor. The program that he has to approach you doesn’t change. He knew I would come after him. And I don’t think Jeter ever thought I would hit him in the head or put him in jeopardy. The most I could do was hit him in the ribs or something like that—and only in retaliation because I have a huge amount of respect for Jeter.” (PAGE 52)


It’s Anyone’s October

Anyone's OctoberAs baseball’s best teams duke it out for a World Series title, SI senior writer Tom Verducci says the MLB postseason is more random and chaotic than ever. Verducci writes, “With parity across the sport, no dominant team among 10 postseason entrants and four rounds of playoffs, welcome to Anybody’s October, a two-fortnight roll of the dice.” (PAGE 36)

A’s GM Billy Beane meticulously builds and runs his team through statistical analysis, but he too surrenders October to chance. The notoriously nervous GM can comfortably watch the A’s in October. “Like a 14-year-old Labrador in front of the fireplace,” Beane says. “It’s the one time I can sit with my wife and just watch.” (PAGE 36)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, whose team won the NL West by the largest margin in baseball (11 games) and boasts the one-two pitching punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, says: “There is no clear-cut favorite. It’s not like you can say, ‘Well, jeez, this team won 106 games’ or ‘This team has two No. 1 starters and four guys with 30-plus home runs.’ An upset probably doesn’t exist. You shouldn’t be surprised if anybody from the pool of 10 teams winds up on top.” (PAGE 36)

One trend may suggest who the favorites should be this October: the importance of putting the ball in play. Baseball set a record for strikeouts per game this season for the seventh consecutive year and teams that avoid strikeouts have won more in the postseason as of late.

Verducci notes the offenses of the past eight teams to reach the World Series each ranked ninth or lower in league strikeouts and the four most recent champions ranked 15th, 16th, 12th and 13th. Conversely, in that same span, teams that ranked among the top five in strikeouts lost nine of 11 series. This would appear bad for the Braves (second in the NL in strikeouts), Pirates (third), Reds (fifth) and Red Sox (fourth in the AL), and good news for the Cardinals (14th in the NL), Dodgers (12th), Tigers (13th in AL) and A’s (ninth).

“That is a small trend,” Beane says. “You’re never going to predict anything with small sample sizes. You’ve got to be careful about drawing conclusions.” (PAGE 38)


The Swing

The SwingThree years after batting .192 with one home run and receiving two demotions to the minors for the Texas Rangers, Chris Davis has developed into an All-Star first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and one of baseball’s most devastating power hitters. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Tom Verducci takes a look at the struggles Davis faced as a member of the Rangers’ organization and how advice from Yankees star Robinson Cano would change his hitting style all together. Verducci also breaks down the stages of Davis’ rebuilt swing.  Davis is featured on a regional cover of this week’s SI.

After torturous 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Rangers that included advice from coaches, instructors and teammates, Davis finally said, “I’m going to have to figure this out for myself.” (PAGE 28) While playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Davis ran into Cano who had only one thought for the struggling first baseman. “For you to handicap your power the way you’ve done it the past two years, that’s just wrong,” Cano told Davis. “Here in the Dominican people talk about your power and how they don’t see that kind of power very often. You’re a power hitter, not a contact hitter.” (PAGE 29)

It was at that point that Davis began to ignore all of the old-school training he had become accustomed to hearing from the Rangers’ staff and made his swing his own. He began to pump his hands lower while pulling them inside of the ball and what resulted is a swing that embodies MLB elite caliber power. “What [Cano] said,” recalls Davis, “was like a revelation in my life.” (PAGE 29)

After being traded to the Orioles and working with hitting coach Jim Presley, Davis hit 33 home runs last season and leads the majors this year with 45. “Learning my swing last year was a huge foundation,” Davis says. “Last year set up this year. I found something that I could repeat on a daily basis and have success and relax and play the game.” (PAGE 33)


This Week’s Sports Illustrated National Cover Story: The Last Days of A-Rod

32COVarodpromoWith Alex Rodriguez facing a potential lengthy suspension by Major League Baseball for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs from a Biogenesis “anti-aging” clinic, senior writer S.L. Price takes a look at the painful and ugly last days of A-Rod in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday. Rodriguez, who spoke to Price last week while rehabbing with the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, makes his seventh SI cover appearance. The last time he appeared on a cover was on February 16, 2009, when SI revealed that Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003. Price writes on SI.com about his experience interviewing Rodriguez here.

While Rodriguez refused to specifically address the Biogenesis case, he did say he was concerned by the “noise,” since he wants to be a role model. “Look, it’s concerning,” Rodriguez said. “I have two daughters at home, and I’m sensitive to that, and above all, I want to be a role model, continue to be a role model—especially to my girls. So all the noise sometimes gets on my nerves, but that’s it. I can’t let it get any further than that. I have a job to do.” (PAGE 58)

Price recalls in the story how scouts once saw A-Rod as the best prospect ever and how coaches praised him as a tireless worker and learner with a high baseball IQ. “When this came out, I said, ‘You got to be kidding me,’” says Rich Hofman, Rodriguez’s baseball coach at Westminster Christian in Fort Lauderdale, of the Biogenesis story. “I’ve heard of dumb guys doing this but not a guy of Alex’s nature. He’s one of the more intelligent people in the game.” (PAGE 62) Jerry Narron, Rodriguez’s manager in Texas for two years, says nobody worked harder. “He came to the park every day,” Narron says, “like he was the 25th guy trying to make the ball club.” (PAGE 62)

Price also wonders how a smart person could make so many dumb mistakes beyond using steroids, such as last week, when Rodriguez tried to embarrass the Yankees into activating him despite being diagnosed with a quad strain by the Yankees’ team doctor. “Alex is a player for us: We treat him like we do every other player to make sure he’s healthy,” Yankees President Randy Levine says. “He and Derek Jeter have the exact same injury, happened around the exact same time—and he’s being treated just like Derek Jeter is.” (PAGE 62)

When asked why he even bothered to rehab with a suspension looming and a team that seems to not want him back, Rodriguez said, “It’s who I am, right? My father was a baseball player. When I was in my mom’s belly, I just heard baseball, had Mets and Yankees games on, living in New York. That’s in my blood. It’s my DNA. That’s who I am. That’s what God gave me: my talents, my skills. And I want to simplify it in my life. I’m going back to being just a baseball player.” (PAGE 56)

Despite a tarnished legacy, Rodriguez somehow still remains hopeful for a happy ending to his story. “I’m not giving up,” Rodriguez said. “I have tremendous faith, and hopefully there’s a couple more chapters to this book. And hopefully there’s a happy ending somewhere. I have faith.” (PAGE 57)


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