AS THE WORLD CHEERS on Pete Rose to do to Stan Musial what Musial did to Honus Wagner (collar the National League record for most career base hits), I sit back in my role as curmudgeon, and withhold my applause. I not only prefer Musial to Rose, but I think that people like Rose have been setting a bad example for the youth of America for too long now. They hustle too much.
Musial was Perry Como of baseball, a natural, a real talent, and he made playing baseball look effortless. He showed that hustle was no substitute for talent. There was nothing about Musial and the way he hit that gave anyone other than a Musial-type the slightest hope that they could be as good as he was. His gift came from God, that was clear.
With Rose, it is quite different. Whatever natural talents he has (and they are abundant) are overshadowed by his hustle. The man hustles all the time. He is the most indiscriminate hustler the world has ever seen. He's a coach's dream, a totally uncynical man who would run into a wall if told to, who has never distinguished between a time to hustle and a time to take it easy. Pete Rose is the sort of man who is always being held up to kids. In the cult of the hustle, he is a minor diety.
In a sense, though, he's dated. In the age of Ronald Reagan, hustle is out and even to mention the name of the president and the word hustle in the same sentence is to set up a teeth-grating contradiction. This may be Reagan's greatest contribution to American life, a much-needed antidote to Jimmy Carter's incessant hustle. Carter ran -- both literally and figuratively -- all the time. He worked around the clock, wanted to read everything himself and tried to master the details of most problems. When it came to hustle, there was no one like Carter. He was forever mistaking it for achievement.
Of course, there are times when hustle pays. It pays to hustle in combat or when lots of people come into the store and you are working behind the counter. It is time to hustle when the game is close and it is always time to hustle when hustle could make a difference.
But indiscriminate hustle is a different matter entirely. It's mindless, but it's been exalted as an end in itself -- as if what counts is the effort expended, not the results achieved. In school, teachers measure something called effort and the kids who try real hard all the time are thought to be better than kids who try less hard and achieve the same results.
At work, people who do their jobs effortlessly are not as admired as people who achieve the same results by working very hard or, better yet, working longer hours. In fact, if you are no good at what you do but work hard at it, you will survive much longer than the person who is also no good but doesn't hustle -- and maybe even longer than the marginally competent person.
But hustle for the sake of hustle is ridiculous. It means that you have to run out every pop up, no matter how easy the catch and how far behind your team is. It means that you have to give your all even when you know that it makes no sense. Not to do that is considered something of a sin. It is supposed to mean that you do not care, that you lack spirit. Actually, all it means is that you have substituted your judgement for that of the coach, or, in real life, the company for which you work. That is the real sin.
After all, people who decide when to hustle and when not to, are making judgements. They are setting their own priorities, deciding for themselves what to do and when to do it -- when not to work, when to work, when to work a little bit hard and when to work really hard. Anyone can hustle all the time. It doesn't show team spirit. It shows an inability to discriminate.
In the case of Pete Rose, it is probably fair to say that without his hustle, he would still be behind Musial and I suppose he represents the difference that hustle can make. But I think also that things could have gone the other way for him, that he could have hurt himself sliding into second when he should have gone in standing up. At age 40, it's time for Rose to slow down. He'll last longer. Even in baseball, less is sometimes more.