Johnny Vander Meer on Pete Rose

This article was written by Norman Macht

This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 27, 2007)

I managed the Reds’ Tampa farm club in the Class D Florida State League in 1961 and had my first look at Pete Rose in spring training. He was not yet 20, had batted .277 the year before for Geneva in the Class D New York-Penn League. So he came to camp looking for a job. We made up scrubini teams. In his first game he ran down to first base on a base on balls. He popped up a couple times, hit a double, and ran just as hard every time.

There’s an old saying in baseball: You show me a guy who will run and I’ll show you a pretty good ballplayer. So after the game was over, I said to him, “Do you run that way all the time?”

He said, “Yeah. I’m just hustling for a job.”

He wound up hitting .331 and made the All-Star team.

Phil Seghi was in charge of the Reds farm system and he wanted Pete to play second base. I tried him there and decided he wasn’t a good second baseman. He got the average runner going down to first on a double play, but he couldn’t get anybody out who could run fast. He was an average pivot guy. Because of his inability to get to second base in time to make the pivot and throw to first, he had to cheat and play close to the base and that opened up the hole at first. And he couldn’t go to his right. A good second base­ man can go to his right.

I wanted to put Rose on third-he could go to his left okay, and threw well enough-or in the outfield. But Phil Seghi knew all the answers and wanted Pete on second. So that’s where he stayed.

Rose really concentrated at the plate. Every ball he took he’d watch right back to the catcher’s mitt. We taught him to meet the ball before he hit it. He was good at it and did it his entire career.

Pete could switch-hit and play a couple positions, and that kind of player is valuable. But second base wasn’t where he belonged.

— Johnny Vander Meer, as told to Norman Macht