That eminent baseball historian, Pete Rose, dropped a bombshell here yesterday.
"I gotta keep going up the ladder," Rose said after his two stinging singles in the Reds' 5-3 defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies had put him at 43 straight games in his pursuit of baseball's longest hitting streak.
"After I catch "Wee" Willie Keeler (44 straight games), I gotta pass Sidney Stonestreet. You know, he hit in 48 straight," the Cincinnati deadpan switch hitter said.
"Betcha never heard of Sidney Stonestreet. That's cause I just made him up. He played for the Rhode Island Reds of the Chicken Coop League.
"With a name like that, I figure he must be an old-timer.
"You know, I can't go from 43 games to 56 in one jump," laughed Rose. "I gotta have something to shoot for in between. O'l Sidney's gonna be a lotta help."
The world saton Rose's shoulders yesterday, trying to drive him through the astro turf of Riverfont Stadium. He never even noticed.
In his first at-bat, the Phils' pitcher, Larry Christensen, snagged his darter back through the box. "Yup, it would have been through the middle if he hadn't flagged it," said Rose.
His second time up, Rose was robbed of an extra-base hit by speedy right fielder Jerry Martin, who made a phenomenal full-speed backhand lunging stab after a long sprint into right center. The crowd of 44,092 groaned, Yes, this would be the day Rose's luck ran out.
Black storm clouds rolled over Riverfront Stadium in the fifth inning with the Reds leading, 2-0.
"I could see a cloudburst coming and me not getting to bat again," said Rose, who hustled to the plate to lead off the bottom of the fifth, standing inches from the batter's box as Christensen threw his warmups.
The whole stadium watched the sky, wondering if Rose would be stopped by one spectacular catch and a rainstorm. "All-day rain: 80 percent chance" had been forecast.
"We'd have won the game," said Rose, "but I really didn't want to see it rain, I didn't want the folks to tear down the stadium. They would have, and I don't think the town could have built us a new one by Friday (when the Reds return from three games in Atlanta."
The Phillies smelled a Rose bunt toward third baseman Mike Schmidt, just like the ones that kept the streak alive in games 32 and 41.
"I could hear (Phils' manager) Danny Ozark yelling at Schmidt, 'Move in closer. Make him hit it past you," said Rose, a grin building.
So I did."
Rose buited foul on the first pitch so "I had Schmidty playing in close enough to shake hands."
Then, on a 2-1 slider, Rose spiked a liner to the hight of the Golden Glove Phil. Schmidt dove and missed the skidding one-hop missle by inches.
"That extra step he sucked me in may have made the difference," said Schmidt. "I wanted it bad.
"If Pete gets (Joe) DiMaggio's record, there are going to be idiots asking me the rest of my life why I 'let him have' those two bunts.
"If you don't think I wanted that last ball, you're crazy. This is history. Pete's going for the No. 1 record - maybe in all of sports. But when you're part of history, you want to be on the good side.
"I've had three chances at him, and I've got nothing."
This weekend the Phils have shown that a hitting streak is not a question of hitter vs. pitcher, but of nine against one. They have robbed Rose right and left. Rose, who has 13 hits his last 24 at-bats, was done out of three hits yesterday, and six for the weekend.
"Knowing that Rose hit the ball may have made me go even harder," said the fleet Martin, a basketball star at Furman. "When I ran back into the dugout, Pete smacked me pretty good in the middle of the back with his glove and said, 'Good catch.'
"I felt really good. I thought, 'I might go down in the record books.'"
Rose, however, seems unspookable. In his fourth at-bat, he rifled the first pitch cleanly into center. "If they allowed a short-center fielder, like in softball," said Rose, "I'd have a career average of .260. That's my favourite spot."
in his fifth trip, Rose was robbed by second baseman Dave Johnson's diving stop.
"Aw, that last one made me mad," said Rose, grinning. "I could been five or five today. A hit the last time up would have put me in the lead for the batting title. But, hey, when they do that to you, you take your hit (batting helmet) back, sit down, shut up and wait 'til next time. You just have to remember that's why they give those guys gloves."
As usual, a Rose hit and a Reds' win put the 37-year-old streaker in an ebulient mood.
"Who gives a damn when Keeler was born?" Rose asked, defending the next victim on his hit list. "He hit in 44 games and he was a National Leaguer. That's all I know about him. But that makes us even. He don't know nothin' about me either."
When told that Schmidt, as a child had watched Rose break in as a rookie at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Rose snapped. "I don't believe it. I ain't that old. Schmidt may watch me play when I'm in my late 40s, too."
Rose even made a brilliant defensive play yesterday that saved one run and perhaps more. With men on second and third, he scampered far left, made a stumbling, tough-hop stab, held both runners and threw speedy Garry Maddox out at first by inches.
If Rose's streak has him amused and delighted, full of taunts and Sidney Stonestreets, every player who faces him has only one thought on his mind: stop Rose.
The minute Rose stepped off the field he had a phone call from - of all people - Phil Niekro, the pitcher who will face him tonight in Atlanta.
"Why the hell didn't you pitch that knuckleball today? Rose demanded of Niekro. I don't wanna see you."
Niekro apologized, explaining that the Bravas had worked their pitching rotation so he (their ace) could face Rose in a big-draw showdown game. Then, like most of the rest of the world these days, Niekro asked Rose for a favor.
"Can you come on my radio show 50 minutes before the game?" asked Niekro.
"Only if you throw me all fast balls," countered Rose. "Hey, I got you figured out. You're trying to keep me from taking by batting practice."
Then, of course, Rose consented to his millionth request.
"Gotta go now," said Rose.
He had to film a network TV talk show last evening. The program was first scheduled to be held in an auditorium that seated 190. Cincinnati telephone officials estimated that the TV station had been inundated by 36,000 request for tickets to hear Rose interviewed.
Last night Rose chatted for a few minutes on a TV show tha anyone in Cincinnati can see for free today. The program was taped in the Cincinnati Coliseum.
All 17,000 seats were full.