For more than two decades, Pete Rose has been trying desperately to get back into the game of baseball. The all-time hit king would accept just about any job: scout, hitting coach, advisor, manager, cheerleader. But at the age of 71, he’d never imagine he could get back into the game as a player. Not even the ultra-competitive Charlie Hustle could believe that.
But in a way, Rose is back on a major league diamond. Call it a living tribute. Call it déjà vu. Call it baseball karma. Call it Rose-incarnation. His name in this life is Bryce Harper.
The Washington Nationals 19-year old rookie outfielder approaches baseball like Rose did: aggressive, hustling, heads-up, enthusiastic, and at breakneck speed. There is no off-switch on the teenage prodigy. It’s endeared him to fans in his home ballpark and throughout the National League. Just like a young Pete Rose in the early 1960s. Harper’s youthful bravado has rankled opponents while delighting his own teammates. Like Rose. He’s bruised and bloodied himself and stained his uniform. Like Rose did. The young rookie has thrown his body headfirst into plays and scampered down the baseline with fervor when others would have trotted. Just like Pete Rose.
If there is a Baseball God he is smiling with delight at his work when he looks down at Harper, who embodies everything that is often missing in a billion dollar sports industry – unbridled passion. And maybe – just maybe – that Diamond Deity reused some parts that he previously crafted in his design of Charlie Hustle.
It’s worth noting that Rose obtained that nickname in derision. Upon seeing the young Rose sprint down to first base after drawing a walk during spring training, Yankee great Whitey Ford asked, “Who’s that, Charlie Hustle?” Rather than recoil at a label that was meant to diminish him, Rose embraced it. “I never walked anywhere on a baseball field,” he boasted. More bravado that was scooped up eagerly by fans.
Also worth noting is that Harper came into this world in October of 1992 in Las Vegas – just months after Rose was barred from being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose has chosen Las Vegas to be his home now, signing autographs and mugging for photos to earn a living. Indeed it’s as if back in ’92 the spirit of Pete Rose ascended, searched out Baby Boy Harper and nestled itself into the newborn right there in a Nevada hospital. Inside a fresh young body, the ghost of 4,256 hits has found a new vessel and it wants more. More hits, more runs, more cheers, more wins. But mostly it wants back on the field.
For the spirit of the Hit King, the new body is an upgrade. Harper is a sculpted 6’3, 225 pounds, with Hollywood good looks, speed, power, and a throwing arm made for the NFL pocket. Whereas Rose was an overachiever: hustling to make up for average speed; taking countless swings in the cage to hone his batting skills; demanding more groundballs to get better as an infielder; Harper is a gifted athlete. He looks the part. Rose always seemed to be proving himself with every at-bat. Harper already looks like a superstar.
Even so, young Mr. Harper runs out every grounder, dives for every flyball, swings hard and slides hard every time, and thirsts to be great. That he has in common with Rose. He even does it while wearing red.
Will Harper have a career as legendary as Rose’s? It’s unlikely. But even if he had half a Rose career he’d get more than 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, and a few batting titles. Time will only tell how far the 19-year old can go. And as baseball fans have seen countless times before, many things can happen on the way to Cooperstown.
In an era where style points often mean more than actual results, where what you tweet is as noteworthy as if you compete, Harper has yet to prove himself. But be careful not to call him flashy – he’s no hot dog – he’s a genuine throwback. His passion, like Rose’s, stems from authenticity. The game is fun for him, the competition fuels him. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. Harper may have a mohawk under his helmet (Rose sported a crewcut when he debuted in the the long-haired 60s), and he may enjoy the oohs and ahhs he receives when he steps onto the field, but he’s no big time phony. The kid really wants to be the greatest to ever play the game.
For Bryce Harper, every out is a personal affront, every loss a smudge that he wants to wash away- like his spiritual grandfather Rose. Every at-bat is another chance for a hit. Even if the score is 15-2 and the outcome long decided, Harper is – like Rose was – greedy for another AB and another base hit. 4-for-5 in the boxscore is just a reminder that he didn’t get the fifth hit. You get the feeling that Harper yearns to make an All-Star Game less for the recognition than for the chance to run over a catcher.
Just like Pete Rose.
Tagged with: 2012, Bryce Harper, Pete Rose, Washington Nationals, Whitey Ford