Pete Rose looked at the official list of dignitaries scheduled to meet President Carter in the Oval Office yesterday: "Dr. Brzezinski Ambassador Young. Vie President Mondale, Sen. Kennedy, and Mr. Rose."
"Man that's a tough lineup to bat cleanup in," said the grinning third baseman of the Cincinnati Reds, who was honored at the White House and Capitol yesterday for his 44-game hitting streak this season.
"But I feel so great I think I'm gonna go five-for-five."
Rose came prepared for his four-hour Washington whirl in which he chatted with the president, exchanged quips with the speaker of the house at a private luncheon and sat in the House balcony as a resolution in his honor was read into the record.
For the president's daughter. Rose brought a $9.95 Pete Rose Wrist watch. For the president's softball team, he had nine "Hustle Makes It Happen" T-shirts. For the president, presumably for lunch, Rose brought a bottle of "Pete!" chocolate soft drink.
"I'm proud that you could come here today to receive this honor," said Carter. "You've done a great deal this summer to wake up the country."
"Thanks for taking the time, sir," said Rose, looking only slightly ill at ease standing behind the presidential desk and shaking the presidential hand. "Here," added Rose, reaching swiftly into his pocket for the watch on which he is swinging on the dial. "Why don't you give this to your little girl."
Carter, more accustomed to giving ceremonial gifts in his office than receiving them, was momentarily silenced, then said, "Well, my mother would probably enjoy it more. She's the real fan."
"We thought we'd frisked Pete," joked an aide to Rep. Thomas Luken (D-Ohio) who arranged the meeting. "We dissuaded him from the chocolate drink and the T-shirts, but he had the watch in his side pocket."
Rose took Washington by storm, not the other way around.
When Carter stiffly asked Rose's batting average, the 2,000-hit man replied, "Aww, only .298. I'm going so bad I couldn't get a hit off old Jim Bouton yesterday (Sunday). His pitches come in like this," said Rose, demonstrating a slow-ball arc.
"Oh," said Carter, brightening, "like my softball pitches."
Rose, with his children Fawn (13) and Pete Jr. (9) in tow from oval office to Capitol Hill, was the picture of political cool.
"Pete'd make a great politician," said Rep. Silvio Conte (R-Mass.), cribbing from notes. "But Pete wouldn't fit in up here. He's never caught off base. He's got no energy problem. He advances on wild pitches, he doesn't campaign on them. He catches foul wild pitches, he doesn't campaign on them. He catches foul balls, he doesn't send them to the floor for a vote. And he hits screwballs, he doesn't vote for their bills."
Rose had a quip for every occasion. Given a bronze plaque of the resolution that began. "Whereas for 16 seasons . . . Rose has exemplified the gutty, enthusiastic and unselfish type of baseball played by only a handful of immortals . . .," Rose barely skipped a beat.
"Looks like the plaque they gave (Tony) Perez down in Puerto Rico," Rose said.
At every step, Rose was recognized, despite his three-piece suit and sunglasses. "I'm David Cornwell," beamed the 33-year-old congressman from Indiana, grabbing Rose's hand. "I'm the center fielder on the Democratic baseball team."
Outside the Capitol, at least one person was oblivious to Rose's coming. Elizabeth Ray, former secretary to Wayne Hayes, was standing on the East Wing steps. "I came back for some things I left in my office two years ago," she explained. "What's all the excitement about."
"Pete Rose was just here," she was told.
"Oh, I know him," she said. "Wasn't he on the House Ways and Means Committee with Wayne?"