On September 7, 1986, the Cincinnati Reds played the Chicago Cubs on a “getaway” day. It was a Sunday and the second place Reds were heading off to take on the first place Houston Astros after playing the Cubs that day.

Cincinnati’s pitching ace, Bill Gullickson, was on the mound that day. Pitching for Chicago was an unknown rookie named Greg Maddux, who had an 0-1 record.

After three innings, the Cubs had knocked out Gullickson and taken a 9-0 lead. They battered six Reds pitchers that day for 19 hits enroute to an 11-3 win. Even Maddux had two hits. And he got his first win. The Reds limped off to Houston, where they were facing Nolan Ryan the next night. The Reds had a 70-66 record and were eight games behind Houston. It was a big series.

After landing in Houston, the Reds took a bus to their hotel. Manager Pete Rose was sitting in the front of the bus with Roger Kahn, a well known writer who had chronicled the Brooklyn Dodgers in a best selling book called “The Boys of Summer.” Those were the Dodgers of Gil Hodges, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.

As the bus drove through the soggy, wet streets of Houston, a reserve player for the Reds broke out in a song. A few other players joined in. The Reds were facing Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott the next two nights in a desperate series to stay close and they were singing.

“You traveled with Reese and Robinson,” said Rose to Kahn. “Did they ever sing after losing 11-3?”

Reese and Robinson? Are you kidding? Pete Rose knew the answer to that. Everyone with half a brain and a sense of baseball history knew the competitive fire and intensity of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.

Kahn’s reply was for Rose to turn the bus lights on and tell the players to shut up. Rose shrugged. “Wouldn’t do any good. Could make it worse. The ballplayers are different these days.”

Only 11 years earlier in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, it was Pete Rose who walked up and down the Reds dugout out firing out obscenities and urging his teammates on as Boston led that deciding game by a 3-0 score and the Reds squandering scoring opportunities. And after Tony Perez launched a two-run home run into the Boston darkness, Rose knocked in the tying run with a base hit and Joe Morgan delivered the game winner an inning later, the Reds were world champions.

So if ballplayers were different in 1986, where are their heads at now?

Are the comments by wonder child/Washington National Bryce Harper that baseball is a “tired” sport a sign of the times or just the utterance of a new generation? Most fans want to like the great young players of baseball today like Mike Trout or Harper but it’s hard to when the Nats outfielder talks about bat flipping, admiring the emotional quarterback play of Cam Newton and has, on occasion, loafed running to first base.

I could rattle off a long list of reasons why I believe ballplayers are softer today than they used to be. That’s an article in itself. The reasons are obvious. But I wish that All-Star Games were competitive affairs, I long for pitchers who want the ball every fourth or fifth day, I love to see young players hustle and credit their teammates for success but most of all I love the inner fire that special ballplayers have.

Frank Robinson had it. When teammate Vada Pinson would get knocked down at the plate, Robinson would yell out to the pitcher, “Do that to me!” If Rose was on first base and a double play ball was hit, the infielder making the throw to first knew there would be heck to pay.

That’s not “tired” baseball. That’s the way baseball should be played. But there are new rules, astronomical salaries and pitch limits for young pitchers that break down more frequently than ever before.

Still, I’m curious as to which Reds player broke out in a song on that bus ride in Houston back in 1986. When I interview Peter Edward Rose, that’s a question I’ll ask him.

10 Responses

  1. Scott Carter

    Minus the gambling, I too would like to see players with the inner fire that Pete Rose had. Or Frank Robinson or even Ryan Freel. Like Roy Hobbs “God I love this Game.” Wished the younger generation could as well. Thanks for the great article John.

  2. ManuelT

    I enjoy your articles very much. Thank you-

  3. Chuck Schick

    The world has evolved and throwing a baseball at someone…. because his team happens to be better than your team…is no longer acceptable.

    Much of the ” tough guy” non sense is laughable and not appealing to many/most under 40. Baseball is a beautiful game…that is riddled with unwritten rules that don’t make sense anymore.

    For decades, players had no rights….no freedom of movement…no injury protection…no negotiating power…they were indentured servants who did something fun. That environment required a certain hillbilly masculinity to survive. Modern players are protected assets, not disposable bodies

    • dan

      I hate to admit it but you are right Chuck. It is unfortunate for the fan because we don’t have an as enjoyable a game as before. If you were to tell someone, ” Let’s hire a bunch of millionaires to play sports.” without giving any details of the sport it would be safe to assume that everyone hearing the conversation would envision a bunch of snobs that would refuse to play even over a blister, a mosquito bite, a herpes sore in a tender area. Why would they bother to give even 100% effort. They are thinking like you. Their thought is, “Well, they paid me in advance and now I’m a millionaire. I can suck it and still get the same pay. Think I’ll take a sick day.”

      For me the modern game is a watered down product. Stars that will always never fully shine and they will be diminished by the shadow of the real stars from days gone by.

      Say what you will. There is a tremendous societal advantage to seeing players get all in a meaningless sport. The will to win so strong that it could move mountains. That type of play inspired generations of workers and made America great. Maybe America isn’t so great anymore because we forgot how to hustle? We decided to outsource even the sweat.

      • DHud

        I challenge you to find one case of a player to refuse because of “a mosquito bite” or “a herpes sore”

      • StillRed

        Wait a minute…I don’t have the ‘stats’ to verify this, but it seems like alot of Reds over the last few years, have not talked about their aches and pains and then have payed a high price later. i remember reading about dusty imploring his players to let him know how they were feeling. I would venture to say that more often than not it is team management that lifts players and in an effort to protect their investments. Yes those investments have become quite substantial thanks to free agency. But that’s another story. It wasn’t that long ago (2012) when Hunter Pence exhorted his team to beat the Reds in game 3 of the playoffs and keep their chances to win alive (which they did…the rest of the way). I enjoyed the recollections of this post, and the message re: fire and those Reds at that time…but I wouldn’t go so far to say that they fire does not still exist in the game

  4. DHud

    Oh no, players want to have fun and get excited when they do something good like hit a home run…

    The nerve of these punk kids these days…

  5. David

    It’s hard to compare eras of baseball (or any sport, for that matter). The players today are bigger, stronger, better conditioned, with better medical care, diagnostics and orthopedic surgery that can save or prolong careers.
    i do think a lot of players from the 50’s and ’60’s played with more intensity because they did not know how long their careers would last, and did not have the prospect of being millionaires at the end, even the pretty good or All-Star players.

    Roberto Clemente was always thought to be a hypochondriac, because he had chronic back problems. Not bad for a guy with a 0.319 career batting average (if I remember right) and 3000 hits.

    Bob Gibson threw at people because he was a mean SOB and didn’t like any hitter showing him up. And he burned to win.

    Also, the ’60’s were probably the era of the apex of the Black baseball player. After intergrating baseball, there were a lot of emerging superstars in the ’60’s that were African American athletes, and I don’t think there was another era that had so many really GREAT and hungry athletes as the 60’s.
    Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Tommy Harper, Frank Robinson, Willie Davis, Maury Wills, Rod Carew, Rico Carty, Henry Aaron, Curt Flood, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Jim Ray Hart, Orlando Cepeda, Richie Allen and tons more that I can’t recall off hand. I just remember mostly National Leaguers.