Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Bettor, You Bettor, You Bet

IT WAS A perfectly reasonable idea.

Take Major League Baseball's first 30-game winner since 1934, team him with the reigning National League batting champion, and have them author a handbook on the fundamentals of the game.

The result, published in 1969, was "How to Play Better Baseball," by Denny McLain and Pete Rose, a pocket-sized 64-page treatise on the art of pitching, hitting and fielding like a big leaguer.

The pairing was serendipitous and star-crossed.

McLain, 25, was a bona fide star. In 1968, he'd gone a wondrous 31-6 in helping the Detroit Tigers to a championship while winning the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. For an encore, he went 24-9 in 1969, sharing top AL pitching honors with the Baltimore Orioles' Mike Cuellar.

It was the third and last time McLain would top 20 victories in a season. He'd tally just 22 more over the next three years before arm problems and off-the-field troubles wrecked his career. He was out of baseball by age 29.

Rose, the NL's top rookie in 1963,  immediately blossomed into a perennial .300 hitter and all-star. The Cincinnati Reds' spark plug collected 218 hits in 1969 -- his second highest single-season total -- while winning the second of three batting titles he'd earn over his 24-year career.

They were, arguably, baseball's best pitcher and hitter: two players who would never be better. But, trouble had already found McLain, later it would come for Rose. Their shared demon: gambling.

Fig. 1

Innocence Falls


In 1969, however, they were idols of a sepia-toned era: a time of day games and flannel uniforms. Divisional play was in its infancy. The New York Yankees' fallen star, Jim Bouton, was writing -- but had not yet published -- his tell-all memoir "Ball Four," in which he'd reveal ballplayers were ordinary beer drinking, skirt-chasing men, not gods.

The Rose/McLain handbook and its cocksure earnestness could only have happened before Bouton's best seller stripped away the sport's wholesome veneer.

The pitcher's portion was divided into four parts: Sizing Up the Batters; That Extra Pitch; Playing a Ball Game and Exercise and Equipment.

"There will be spots -- when you have a fat lead and everybody on your side is hitting -- when you may not need to bear down,'' McLain said. "I have even heard tell of a pitcher's feeding a fat pitch to Mickey Mantle once, when the game was not in danger. But you can never get careless."

"To succeed at pitching, you need the four C's: Control, Condition, Concentration and CONFIDENCE," he said.

Fig. 2
Pete Rose radiated confidence and courted controversy while playing more games, 3,562, and accumulating more hits, 4,256, than anyone ever.

He ran over the Cleveland Indians' Ray Fosse, separating the catcher's shoulder to win the 1970 All Star game and slugged the New York Mets' Bud Harrelson in the middle of a 1973 playoff game to avenge a comment the shortstop made to the press.

In 1988, Rose was suspended for 30 days by National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti for shoving umpire Dave Pallone.

Foreshadowing.

"Learning to hit and developing your skill as a hitter is not just a lark," he wrote, telling those who aspired to greatness that it came only with "dreary" effort. "Actually, you will get more fun out of it if you can do it well. Where is the fun of hitting if you can't hit?"

Later chapters addressed fielding at all four infield positions and the outfield, oddly prescient for a player who began as a second-baseman,  but would go on to play right field, left field, third base and finally first.

Ballgame Over


McLain was already in trouble by the winter of 1970 when Sports Illustrated published an expose titled "Baseball's Big Scandal: Denny McLain and the Mob." According to the magazine, the Tigers' ace was involved in bookmaking.

He would later file for bankruptcy and be suspended for half the season by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who'd absolve the McLain of being a bookie but found him the victim of "a confidence game," according to a SABR.org article. By year's end he'd be traded to the Washington Senators, lead the AL in losses, be dealt to the Oakland A's, then to the Atlanta Braves and finally released.

Fig. 3
The last big league batter he'd face: co-author Rose.

Subsequent years would see the hurler indicted, tried, convicted, imprisoned, acquitted and later tried, convicted and imprisoned again, according to SABR.

Rose returned to the Reds as player-manager in 1984, following his five-year sojourn in Philadelphia and Montreal. He'd retire as player two years later.

In 1989, the winter after the Pallone incident, Major League Baseball opened an investigation into allegations he'd been betting on the game -- MLB's capital crime -- with Sports Illustrated breaking the news in March 1989.

Though he'd initially deny the allegations, that summer Rose accepted a permanent ban from the baseball from Giamatti, now elevated to commissioner. The former Yale University and NL president died of a heart attack eight days later.

In 1991, Rose would be declared permanently ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, record number of hits notwithstanding.

Follow me @paperboyarchive

No comments:

Post a Comment