Pete Rose spends his free time watching baseball these days, at least three games a day, but the more he watches, the more disgusted he becomes, flipping the channels to preserve his sanity.
And nothing aggravates Rose, baseball’s all-time hit king with 4,256 hits, more than baseball’s strikeout epidemic.
This is a man who played 24 years, made 17 All-Star teams, had a lifetime .303 batting average, and never struck out more than 76 times in a season.
Players have 76 strikeouts before Memorial Day.
There were 148 players who struck out at least 100 times last season.
The 2021 American League MVP, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, struck out a franchise-record 189 times.
And then there was outfielder Joey Gallo of the New York Yankees.
He struck out 213 times in just 498 at-bats, hitting .199 for the season.
“How does someone who didn’t play every day strike out 213 times?’’ Rose says. “Ray Charles wouldn’t strike out that much. I just can’t imagine striking out 213 times without killing myself.’’
And, please, don’t get Rose started saying that pitchers are throwing harder than ever, making life miserable for hitters.
“Come on, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, they threw harder than all of them,’’ Rose says. “They just didn’t have the same technology on their radar guns. But I’m telling you I’d rather face a guy throwing 98-, 99- or 100-mph than a guy like Greg Maddux.
“I’ve never seen so many guys today swing at balls that bounce in front of the plate. They decide to swing before they even throw a pitch. If Nolan Ryan was pitching today, he’d have another 1,000 strikeouts.
“That’s just crazy to me.’’
Rose, who debuted a new sports handicapping podcast this past week, spent an hour with USA TODAY Sports, discussing the game he absolutely loves, but is driving him nuts.
The only thing that he despises more than the rash of strikeouts these days is watching players sit out games.
Just two players, Marcus Semien of the Toronto Blue Jays and Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals, played in all 162 games this season.
In Rose’s career, he had one stretch in which he played 745 consecutive games and another streak of 678 games. There were 16 seasons in which he played at least 159 games, and eight seasons of 162 or more games.
These days, you’d be criticized for playing that many games, saying you’re not following proper load management.
“I don’t get why it’s so hard for players to play every day,’’ Rose says. “Baseball is not going to wear you out. If you don’t want to take BP (batting practice) or infield that day, take it off. But you’re not going to be tired going to the plate four times a day.
“I didn’t want to miss games. I wanted to get 200 hits a year, score 100 runs, and help my team win. That’s how you get paid. I had 16 straight one-year contracts, so I couldn’t afford not to play. If I missed 20 games, I’m probably not going to get 200 hits, not score 100 runs, or get 40 doubles. Those are the things I had to do to get raises.
“If it were up to me, I’d have a chart up in the clubhouse. You play today, you get paid. If you don’t play, you don’t get paid. How many guys you’d think would sign up to play then?’’
Rose, 80, was just getting started, sharing his thoughts on a variety of hot topics in today’s game:
“I’m just trying to figure out over the last 10 years or so what rules baseball has changed to make the game better for you and me as fans,’’ he said. “You can’t break up the double play. You can’t run over the catcher. You can’t pitch inside. You start extra innings with a runner on baseball base? What the hell is going on.
“In my day, if you knock a catcher over, or have a bad slide into second base, the opposition knows how to police that. I remember knocking (Yankees second baseman) Denny Doyle on his ass in the ’75 World Series. They were up 3-0 in the sixth, (Johnny) Bench hits a grounder, and I slide hard into Doyle, and he throws the ball into the dugout. Tony Perez comes up, hits a two-run homer, we get the momentum, and the rest is history. We don’t win that game if I don’t break up the double play. But these days, you’re called out if you do that. …
“I still get criticized for knocking over (Ray) Fosse at the ’70 All-Star Game. But if we were playing by the rules today, I would have been safe anyway because he was blocking the plate. If you look, I started to dive, but he had the plate blocked. I had to knock him over.
“I missed the next three games because of that play, Fosse plays seven more years, and yet I get blamed for ruining his career.’’
The strikeout problem
“The owners are the ones at fault. They are letting the players know that if you’re going to hit 30 to 35 home runs, we don’t care how many strikeouts you get, we’re still going to give you millions. These guys are striking out 120, 130 times a year, and hitting 25 homers. The owners should feel cheated.
“These guys don’t go up there trying to win games by getting a two-out single. All they want to do is swing as hard as they can and see how far it goes. Who gives a (bleep) if you hit one 455 feet of 301 feet? It counts the same. Just one run.
“Guys today just don’t understand. One of the greatest home run hitters ever was Henry Aaron. Did he ever hit a 450-foot home run. No, he hit line- drive home runs. More homers by anyone I’ve ever seen.
The Yankees’ loss to the Red Sox
“That was the worst (bleeping) lineup they could have put on the field. Their 6,7,8,9 hitters were all out-men. They had to have (Aaron) Judge and (Giancarlo) Stanton do something. If they didn’t, all of the pressure was on Joey Gallo. You saw how that worked out.’’
The most talented player he ever saw
“Eric Davis,’’ he said. “I saw Mays. Aaron. Clemente. But I never played against anybody or saw anybody who had more natural ability than Eric Davis.’’
His World Series pick
“I like the Brewers,’’ he said. “They play the game right. And they can pitch. People don’t talk about them enough. I sure do.’’
Padres looking for a skipper
The biggest shocker in the managerial and coaching carousel is that the San Diego Padres nearly kept manager Jayce Tingler. There was a lot of internal debate whether to keep him or fire him, chairman Peter Seidler says. Finally, they determined they had no choice to fire him.
Tingler’s dismissal after just 222 games, going 116-106, is the shortest stint for a non-interim Padres manager since Larry Bowa in 1987-1988.
So where do the Padres turn next?
They are determined to find a veteran manager who will command respect.
Buck Showalter, 65, who last managed in 2018 for the Baltimore Orioles and has been instrumental in taking dormant franchises to the playoffs, is high on the Padres’ short list. The other leading candidates include former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and former Rangers manager Jeff Bannister.
The natural choice, of course, would be former manager Bruce Bochy, who led the Padres to four postseason berths and the 1998 World Series.
He’s ticketed for the Hall of Fame, and will be on the veterans’ ballot in December 2022, but wants one last ride as manager.
He would love to return to San Diego. The fans want it. The players want it. The media wants it. But the question is whether GM A.J. Preller wants it?
You hire Bochy, and you’re not going to be writing out his lineup cards, telling him who to pitch or play, and making him a puppet for the front office.
Bochy wants, and deserves, full autonomy for all playing and strategic decisions once his 26-man roster is set.
Around the basepaths …
– It took one phone call with Mets owner Steve Cohen for Theo Epstein to decide he doesn’t want the Mets’ job as president of baseball operations job, saying the timing and position simply isn’t right.
Instead, several MLB executives believe that Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane’s sidekick in “Moneyball,’’ but refused to be part of the movie, may be the favorite. DePodesta, who later became GM of the Dodgers, has been the chief strategy officer of the Cleveland Browns for the past five years.
The Mets could also reach out John Daniels, president of baseball operations for the Texas Rangers. Daniels is a New York native, and with his power diminished, may welcome the opportunity.
– The Cubs are moving closer to hiring a general manager under Jed Hoyer, with James Harris and Carter Hawkins of the Cleveland Guardians, Carlos Rodriguez of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Jeremy Zoll of the Minnesota Twins under strong consideration.
Hawkins would become the first Black GM in the 146-year history of the Cubs’ franchise.
– The Angels would love to dump third baseman Anthony Rendon, who’s just two years into his seven-year, $245 million contract.
The Angels realize they would have to eat a portion of the $188 million still owed Rendon over the next five years, but complicating problems is that he has a full no-trade clause.
– It’s hardly the news that the agents for all of the star-studded shortstop class want to hear, but the Yankees privately insist they won’t be a major player in the shortstop market.
They want a shortstop on a one- or two-year contract, coveting Andrelton Simmons, believing that prized shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe will be ready by 2023, and will be a big-time star.
– Free agent shortstop Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers may want to return to the Dodgers, but it would have to be at a different position. The Dodgers have privately told Trea Turner that he’ll be their starting shortstop in 2022, which would require Seager to change positions.
Seager is expected to draw the most interest from the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
– It’s ludicrous to have folks calling for Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s head.
Check out his credentials for the last 20 years:
Consecutive winning seasons: 21.
Postseason appearances: 17
World Series appearances: 3
ALCS appearances: 8
100-win seasons: 6
95-win seasons: 12
90-win seasons: 15
Try comparing that to any franchise in baseball.
– The Tigers, who went 68-61 after May 7, could be contending as early as next season, and yes, they plan on being big spenders, spreading out their money for a shortstop, catcher and pitching.
“I know what everybody wants to hear and how they want to talk about the top end of the market,’’ Tigers manager A.J. Hinch says. “And if that happens, I’ll be the first one up here holding this jersey and loving life, and I’ll kiss (GM Alex Avila) on the cheek in front of all of you.
“But I think we have to understand what it takes to win. It doesn’t take a big splash to win.”
– Strange but true stat this postseason: In his first three postseason games with the Red Sox, outfielder Alex Verdugo – who was the main return in the Mookie Betts trade – has 5 RBI.
In Betts’ first 24 playoff games with the Red Sox: 4 RBI.
– Meanwhile, Verdugo wants to become baseball’s next two-way player, not as a starting pitcher like Ohtani, but as a reliever. He was, after all, a prized high school pitcher in high school where he was believed to be a better pitching prospect than a hitter.
“Obviously, I know I have a long ways to go,’’ he said. “My thing is give me a year or so to build up my arm strength, long toss and all that, make sure the arm can handle the hard throws. And hey, a couple blow-out games, let me go out there and pitch. If my stuff is good, I’m getting swing and miss, why not run with it? If it’s flat, average, and I’m not getting the job done, then hey, at least I tried it. …
“The competitor in me just tries to maximize what I can do for the team. If pitching is a realistic thing, I’m going to pursue it and try to do both.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pete Rose uncorks on modern game, strikeout rate and new rules