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Pete Rose is confident in dual role as Cincinnati player-manager

The digital clock on the outfield scoreboard showed more than 90 minutes before game time when Pete Rose, the new player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds, began taking his cuts in the batting cage.

When he finished hitting, there was the standard ritual of fielding maybe 35 balls at first base. Fifteen minutes later, he picked up a fungo bat and was hitting ground balls to his second baseman.

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''You want to talk about what kind of a manager I'll be?'' Rose repeated the question. ''Okay, but let's do it in the dugout. It's too busy out here on the field. Neither of us will be able to concentrate if we have to worry about ducking foul balls or watching for overthrows.

''You know, I almost didn't take this job,'' Pete said of the move that brought him back to the city where he was born and grew up, and where he spent so many years starring for those Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s.

''When (General Manager) Bob Howsam called me while I was still with Montreal , he only wanted me to manage,'' Rose explained. ''He had it in his mind that I couldn't hit anymore. The way I convinced him that I could still hit was the same way I convinced myself.''

Asked what he meant, Pete said: ''When I was going bad earlier this season, I went to several friends in baseball and asked them to tell me truthfully if they thought I could still hit. They all said yes, which is the way I felt, but if they had said no, I would have accepted their word.

''I told Howsam I didn't intend to play every day, but when there was a pitcher I knew I could hit, I'd have myself in the lineup,'' he added. ''So far, picking spots for myself, I've hit well over .350 with the Reds. Hey, it can be like that next year too. I wouldn't ever want to overstay my abilities, but I wouldn't want to quit even a day early either.''

At 43, Rose's big remaining goal as a player is Ty Cobb's major league record of 4,191 hits - which he figures to break next year. Whether he does or not, though, Pete has long since established himself as a future Hall of Famer - not only for all those batting titles, MVP awards, and other honors, but for his hustle and team play. Perhaps his most famous record - one that demonstrates both his versatility and his willingness to do whatever is best for the team - is his unprecedented feat of having started the All-Star Game at five different positions.

Rose's reputation as a leader followed him from Cincinnati to Philadelphia, where he played from 1979-83. The Phillies had won only two pennants in the entire history of the franchise - but with Pete aboard they won two more plus their first World Series ever. Few people think that was just a coincidence.

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There's plenty of reason, then, to think of Rose as managerial timber. He'll have his work cut out for him in Cincinnati, though, with a team that had fallen so far from its glory days of a few years ago that it finished in the National League West cellar in both 1982 and 1983, and is going to wind up either last or next-to-last again this season.

He's also taking on quite a burden in the player-manager role - one that used to be seen occasionally (Frank Chance, Joe Cronin, Lou Boudreau), but that has virtually disappeared in modern times.

Asked about his managing ideas - such as comparing the virtues of playing a set lineup every day to those of platooning, Rose said he much preferred the former.

''I think every manager would like it that way, but if you don't have enough of the right personnel, you are forced to try other things,'' he said. ''In the talks I've had with Howsam, we agree that we want guys who can play every day like Dave Parker, Dave Concepcion, and Ron Oester. But of course it's not that easy to get 'em. Maybe between now and next season we can trade for what we need , but at this point it's too early to tell.

''One thing I've learned over the years is that there are a lot of guys who aren't capable of playing every day, and the worst are those who think they can, because you can never convince them otherwise,'' he continued. ''I don't want players who will give me six weeks of championship ball twice a year and nothing in between. I don't want people who don't know how to get out of slumps either, because if they go bad on you in May, you're not going to get any help from them the rest of the year.''

Although most managers say assembling, maintaining, and operating a pitching staff is the toughest part of their job, Rose has a slightly different perspective.

''Nobody has to tell me how important pitching is,'' Pete said. ''But if your pitcher is getting pounded, can't get the ball over the plate, or has obviously thrown too much that day, replacing him is only the first step. The important thing is knowing which of your relief pitchers has been most effective against the club you're playing, and if he's rested enough to work.''

''I've already been asked if I'll have a 'quick hook' the way Sparky Anderson did when he managed the Reds,'' he continued. ''My answer is yes, if I find that I have the same kind of super bullpen. They don't pay you for complete games; they pay you for winning.''

Asked for his thoughts on baseball's radar gun, which measures a pitcher's throwing speed, Rose said:

''Hey, that reminds me, that's another argument I used with Howsam as to why I should be a player-manager. Look at it this way: Every manager has the radar gun available, so they all know how fast or how slow the pitchers are.

''What they don't know, because they don't hit against these guys like I do, is how much their pitches move, dip, or sail. I mean if we ever get down to trading for a couple of pitchers, I'll know better than any other manager if we're making a mistake or getting a bargain.''

And what will Rose be like in spring training?

''When I was a rookie with the Reds in 1963, players really did need spring training to get in shape,'' he said. ''At that time a lot of guys didn't take care of themselves during the winter. But today most players work out on their own during the off-season, so conditioning isn't much of a problem.

''What is a problem is fundamentals. Most players after they've been in the big leagues for a while have a tendency to get lazy about taking extra fielding practice or to lose their perspective when it comes to throwing home or hitting the cutoff man. Next spring my guys are going to get drilled in fundamentals over and over again, whether they like it or not.''

And what about team rules on the Reds?

''We've got a few more rules than two, but two is really all you need,'' Rose emphasized. ''The two I'm talking about are being on time, whether it's a practice, or a start of a road trip, or a clubhouse meeting, plus going hard on every play. I'm not holding any hands with adults on bedchecks. They know they got a ball game the next day. But they better be on time and they better slide or they're gone as far as I'm concerned.''

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