He got the best out of Dave Parker. He got the best out of Tony Perez and Eddie Milner. He helped engineer trades that brought in Bo Diaz, Buddy Bell, John Denny and Bill Gullickson.
He found a bullpen when no one thought he had one, and he turned a Cincinnati team that lost 92 games in 1984 into one that won 89 in 1985.
"There's a magic quality about Pete Rose," Detroit Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said. "The man is a winner."
That Pete Rose is a winner and that the Los Angeles Dodgers are baseball's most consistent winners may make the National League West Division a classic two-team race this summer.
The Dodgers were stung by the loss of outfielder Pedro Guerrero (knee surgery) Friday, but the Dodgers have been stung by injuries before. This is a serious one, and even as Guerrero underwent surgery, the Dodgers were scrambling for outfield help.
The Dodgers finished 5 1/2 games in front of the Reds in 1985, and the biggest difference was their one-on-one matchups. The Dodgers went 11-7 against the Reds, 7-0 when aces Bob Welch or Orel Hershiser started.
So this winter, Rose and the Reds picked up 1983 Cy Young Award winner Denny from the Philadelphia Phillies and Gullickson, who has gone 55-47 the last four seasons, from Montreal.
"To win, we've got to beat the Dodgers," Rose said. "I think we were a little awed by them at first, but now we know we can play with them. We have questions, but every team has questions."
The Reds and the Dodgers have fewer than anyone else in the NL West, which stacks up this way:
*Cincinnati: Not only did Rose get incredible years from relievers John Franco and Ted Power and the slugging Parker, he had the Reds playing like 25 little Pete Roses, maybe the most remarkable accomplishment of a remarkable career.
He got 20 victories and 39 saves from his bullpen last season, which is a big reason the Reds went 39-18 in one-run games. Those would be almost impossible numbers to match in 1986, so it's important that Mario Soto bounces back and that Denny and Gullickson can still pitch (the three were 37-41 in 1985).
If that is the case, the Reds should score enough runs. Forget that the St. Louis Cardinals' Willie McGee won the National League MVP award last season. It probably should have gone to Parker, who probably was the best player in any league -- hitting .360 with runners in scoring position and .407 with runners in scoring position in late-inning pressure situations.
If Rose matches his .395 on-base average of 1985 and outfielder Eric Davis develops into the player scouts believe he will be, the Reds can stay with the Dodgers all season.
*Los Angeles: This is not a classic champion, committing more errors than any other team in the big leagues (166) and scoring fewer runs than four other NL teams.
What made the Dodgers special was a pitching staff that easily was the best in either league, with an NL-leading 2.96 earned run average, the best over a full season since 1976. The Dodgers led the league with 21 shutouts and tied the Cardinals with 37 complete games.
They do it with Fernando Valenzuela, who allowed 6.97 hits per nine innings; Hershiser, who went 11-0 after July 7; Welch, whose return marked the end of the Dodgers' early slump, and Jerry Reuss, who has made the adjustment from power to finesse. Reliever Tom Niedenfuer had more saves (19) than any Dodger pitcher in seven years, and the addition of left-hander Ed Vande Berg from Seattle makes the bullpen almost as strong as the starters.
The Dodgers went 79-40 when they made one error or none, and their defense did get somewhat straightened out with the acquisition of third baseman Bill Madlock bolstering Guerrero's move from third to the outfield. (The Dodgers were 48-23 with Guerrero in left field.) Shortstop Mariano Duncan is a budding superstar.
Privately, the Dodgers believe Guerrero may not play at all this summer and that would put a tremendous burden on Greg Brock, Duncan and Mike Marshall to be more productive. Still, because there are doubts about the Reds' Denny and Gullickson, the Dodgers remain an easy team to like.
*Atlanta: Just having reliever Bruce Sutter healthy for an entire year should help, and if one of the young pitchers comes around (perhaps Joe Johnson), incoming Manager Chuck Tanner's starting rotation should be decent. Another key is keeping long-ball hitter Bob Horner healthy. He has played more than 130 games only once and that was 1980 when the Braves won a division championship.
*Houston: New Manager Hal Lanier says the Astros are going to run, but a more important question is finding someone to back up Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and Bob Knepper in the pitching rotation. Reliever Dave Smith is one of the game's underrated performers. Shortstop Dickie Thon is no less important to the Astros than Cal Ripken is to the Baltimore Orioles, and his full recovery from that 1984 beaning is important.
*San Diego: No, Bip Roberts may not be big enough. He is the rookie second baseman the Padres hoped would provide the old leadoff touch of Alan Wiggins, but there is little evidence of it so far. Further, the starting rotation may be disrupted until LaMarr Hoyt works out his personal problems. By the time the Padres get it right for incoming Manager Steve Boros, the Dodgers and Reds may have disappeared over the horizon.
*San Francisco: New Manager Roger Craig has begun the housecleaning, and along the way, will bring in at least one rookie sensation -- first baseman Will Clark -- and possibly two more -- second baseman Rob Thompson and outfielder Mike Aldrete. Craig's problem will be finding a pitching staff, and with his rotation now including Vida Blue and Mike LaCoss, he needs more help than he has.