Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pete Rose’s longtime third base coach sees nothing wrong with an old-school slide into — or near — second base

Sometimes in baseball, it’s the third base coach that has one of the best perspectives of watching a play develop on the field. For over 25 years, Alex Grammas manned that position, primarily for Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine in the 1970s and later again with Anderson for 12 years in Detroit. A ten-year career as a shortstop in the major leagues put him up close and person with many collisions at second base, but none as famous when he watched from the coaches box as Pete Rose upended New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson during the 1973 NLCS.

“I can remember him sliding in there and the fight that developed after that,” said the 89-year old Grammas, speaking recently from his home in Alabama.





Grammas wearing number 2, pictured as the Cincinnati Reds third base coach along with Pete Rose and George Foster / Topps

While the details of the fight and its aftermath from 42 years ago is a little blurry for Grammas, who rushed in from third base to defray the fracas that ensued, he was clear on why Rose went in with such aggression.

“He [Rose] played as hard as a guy could play, no question about it,” he said. “He wanted for the team to win and that was his aim. In that All-Star game when he ran over that guy at home plate [Ray Fosse], I saw it on film and you just figure out a guy is doing things to win ballgames and some are a little tougher at it than others. Pete was as tough on that as you would run into.”

Looking at Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Chase Utley’s slide on Ruben Tejada of the New York Mets during Game 2 of the NLDS, Grammas tried to put it in a perspective from when he was a player sixty years ago. He thought that every player approaching second base was going to try to make it hard for him to finish the job.

“I had to assume that whoever was coming into second base to break up a double play, I don’t care who they were they were going to try to get you out of it,” he said. “They weren’t trying to break your leg or anything; they were just trying to get your momentum slowed down and get it to a point where you didn’t have the accuracy if you weren’t touched.

“When you’re on that field and you’re thinking we’ve gotta win this game to help us get to the World Series, a lot of things go through your mind. You don’t try to hurt anybody but you go in pretty hard and just hope that they can’t turn it into a double play, which is what you’re sliding for. The slide that fellow [Utley] made the other night wasn’t that far off the bag really. Now if you would have gone out there to the right 8–10 feet, now it would be different. This thing here, he could touch the bag even though he’s knocking this guy out of it. I guess it depends on which team you want to win is how you feel about it.”

Even though Tejada had no away to avoid Utley’s slide, Grammas felt that these types of collisions are just part of the intense competition of playoff baseball. That’s not to say that he didn’t drop some old school methods of exacting revenge on the field.
“Tejada didn’t [have a chance], he was there to be nailed,” he said. “I’ve gone through situations like that and there is really not a heck of a lot you can do about it because you know what they’re attitude is and you know what yours is. They’re trying to win a ballgame and so are you. The next time he slides in there and he’s a little open and he tries to nail me, there’s no telling where I’m liable to come down on him. You just don’t forget things like that. If you really give it a deep thought, these guys are trying to make it to the World Series and you can understand why they do things like that.”

As MLB mulls over possible rule changes regarding take-out slides at second base, Grammas, who spent 48 years in the major leagues as a player, coach, and manager, feels that any adjustment will have too large of an impact on the outcome of a game.

“I don’t think there needs to be a change in the rules,” Grammas said. “If you’re going to do that, you’re just giving people a chance to turn a double play that maybe they would have stayed out of. Maybe that [slide] would help your team win the ballgame, that what that’s for. If they felt like they could help stop him from making a double play, then that’s our chance to win the ballgame. That’s how you think as a ballplayer.”

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