After 42 years, Pete Rose's bangs are tainted hard with stripes of gray, the color of weatherboard that's faced the sea far too long. And sometimes he doesn't sprint as hard down the first base line as he did when he was Charley Hustle.
But a walk still isn't a walk. Although it's not a sprint, either. It's more like a jog, a cross between what a base on balls used to be and what it's fast becoming: a stroll.
"Enthusiastic is a better word to describe me than Charley Hustle," Rose said one day this week. "A lot of guys hustle. Hustle, hell. The biggest word you can associate with my name is enthusiasm. As long as I come out to the ball park and enjoy myself, I'm not gonna get old. I'm just not."
After near-devastating slumps during which he went zero for 20 from May 30 to June 7 and zero for 15 last week, Rose is now hitting .251 and is back in the starting lineup. Still, he was not named to the National League All-Star Team, breaking a streak of 10 straight appearances. Rose says he agrees with the decision, that he does not deserve to be in Wednesday's game in Chicago.
For nine games in June, Manager Pat Corrales benched Rose because "Pete wasn't hitting with timing and he was struggling to score runs and he realized it." Corrales used Rose as a pinch hitter, allowing him to continue his streak of games played to 696, 12th in the record books, and to tie his personal record of 678.
But the one record that continues to elude Rose is Ty Cobb's hit total of 4,191. Rose has 3,928, only 263 shy, a number he believes he'll get next year: "The Ty Cobb record's not on my mind. The 4,000 mark is because I can do that this year. I don't ever worry or concentrate on something I can't achieve this month, this week, this year. I can't get the Cobb record this year. So I'll just do it next year.
"People might call this bad run of luck a slump but it's not," Rose said. "Nobody who's seen me play can say I'm in a slump. Only the people who are reading the box scores and nothing else are saying that. Whenever I go to bat and the ball coming at me looks like a watermelon, I can't think I'm in a slump. I can't even remember the last time I struck out. I can't even remember the last time I swung and missed. I got no reason to think I'm in a slump, why should I?"
Batting practice pitcher Hank King, Rose's best friend, said, "Pete'll get Cobb's record; there's no doubt about that. He's got so much energy. He may be 42, but he plays like he's 30. His batting average doesn't reflect how well he's hitting the ball. He's got a great eye. The only problem he has now is that he's hitting right at people, but there's no doubt he'll start getting his hits."
Rose and King met in 1979, when Rose was signed by Philadelphia as a free agent after 16 years with Cincinnati. Rose was looking for a friend, somebody on the team he could confide in; he and King hit it off right away.
King said Rose went through a tough time when Corrales benched him. "Pete was going through hell inside, but he took it pretty good. He's a real gamer, a real pro. He could take sitting the bench as long as the team was winning. Records are records, but he worried about the team first and Pete Rose second. He was out there for the National Anthem before the game, always at the park way before time, and he stayed there through the entire ball game. A lot of ball players wouldn't have done that. But he hasn't run from anybody."
Rose, for most of his career a leadoff hitter, is now batting second. "That alone has completely changed my role here," he said. "I have to take pitches now and let this guy (leadoff hitter Bobby Dernier) steal bases all day. But I'm not worried about that. He can steal bases all day as long as we win. I'm at the stage in my career where I can sacrifice some at bats and some fat pitches. I mean, I'm still gonna get the records.
"If you know anything about baseball, you don't put a guy hitting second in the lineup and expect him to hit .320 and get 200 hits. You just don't do it. Last year, hitting after Dernier when he broke into the lineup, I was hitting .275 and doing my job and this and that, this and that.
"Then, all of a sudden, the Cardinals overtook us with three weeks to go in the season. And right after we went to second place, everybody started pointing fingers at me, saying, 'Why, he's only hitting .270 and he's a .310 lifetime hitter.' They look at your average and say Pete Rose had a bad year, but it's my role that's changed. Pete Rose hasn't changed."
When Rose was a leadoff hitter, his goals before the season never changed from year to year: 200 hits, 100 runs scored and a .300 batting average. Last year, hitting second in the lineup for the first time in 20 years, Rose said, he asked friends around the league for reasonable goals to set, but got no reasonable answers when he got any at all. He was in a hitter's limbo for six months. Some say he still is.
"Pete has got all his different theories about his hitting problems, but I don't," Corrales said. "Long as you're hitting in the top of the order it all seems the same, though I know he likes to lead off. He says he doesn't mind, but whenever he takes a fast ball for Bobby Dernier to steal, I know that's got to hurt him a little.
"Pete Rose is still the great competitor that he was years ago. But I think his talent's depleted. Naturally, you're not as good at 42 as you were at 28 or 30. But as far as drive goes, that's still all there."
"All this talk about Pete not playing like he should has got to be eating at him," King said, "but he never shows it. He plays as hard as he ever has and he plays with a glove on. He earns what he gets. Nobody gives Pete Rose anything."
Rose believes age should have "nothing to do with anything," especially regarding his position in the lineup. He remembers what Sparky Anderson told him at Cincinnati in 1970, when Rose was 29 and Anderson the new manager.
Rose had won batting titles in 1968 and '69 and now Anderson was saying Rose should start looking out for himself, eating right and working out 12 months of the year, not just during the season. Now, Rose is 42 and that was only yesterday. "At least, it seems like yesterday," he said.
Rose is no different from anyone made suddenly aware that there are more years behind than in front of him. Baseball will not be his forever. "Some people want to know why I don't quit and give a kid a chance," he said. "A kid can get a chance, all he's got to do is beat me out. Who knows when I'll retire? Why should I give up a million and a half dollars a year when I'm doing a good job and having fun?
"I might play one more year, two more years, four more years. I don't know. I'm not a superfast runner so I'm not gonna lose my speed. I'll keep my reflexes and moves. I'm still quick. I can play first good. I don't have a superstrong arm but you really don't need one to play first base. See, this game is still fun for me. And I don't care if a man's 20 years old or 30 years old or 40 years old, if you play the game of baseball in the National League the way it's supposed to be played, you're gonna be tired by September.
"Enthusiasm, it's enthusiasm that keeps you going, because all baseball really is anyway is this crazy kids' game and we're all grownups having a good time. But once the enthusiasm to play this game the way it's supposed to be played is gone, then Pete Rose is gone, too. But I'm still enthusiastic and I'm not going anywhere. I got a lot left in me. I can't hang it up."