If Pete Rose were mentoring Billy Hamilton, he would immediately halt batting practice if Hamilton were to hit a ball off the inside-top of the batting cage.
Rose would also counsel Hamilton to channel the Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon, and to consider that if Hamilton wants to end the switch-hitting experiment, he should make it left-handed-only, because so many pitchers are right-handed, and that whenever he's going to take a pitch that he fake a bunt.
These are some of the suggestions Rose offered in response to a reporter's question about what, if anything, Rose would do about Hamilton, who is presently out of the lineup with a shoulder strain and, if he doesn't play again this season, would end it with only a .274 on-base percentage (Rose's was a career .375).
The reporter and Rose talked hitting last Saturday in the Diamond Club at Great American Ball Park, where Rose was taking part in a bobblehead giveaway celebrating the 30th anniversary of his breaking Ty Cobb's all-time hits record.
"I'd have Billy in that cage right there," said Rose, gesturing to the indoor batting cage near the Diamond Club, but hidden from public view, "and I would never let him hit the top of the cage. Anytime he hits a ball that hits the top of the cage, it's an out. You're not working on sacrifice flies."
I asked Rose if, during his playing career, he could produce a ground ball at will.
"Yeah, I could hit a line drive," Rose answered.
No, I responded. If you had to hit a ball on the ground, could you?
"Yes," Rose answered.
Then why shouldn't Hamilton, I asked, be able to do that, given his hand-eye coordination?
"It might be the kind of swing he has," Rose said. "Whether you're Billy Hamilton or Gary Redus (who played for Rose and, like Hamilton, was fast, just not quite as fast, and also, like Hamilton, hit the ball in the air way too much), if you're hitting the ball a certain way for 22, 23 years, you just can't change overnight. I don't know if it's something to do with hands or what."
As an example of his own swing, Rose cited the following:
"I don't remember ever popping out in foul ground to a third baseman or a first baseman. I'm sure I did, but I don't remember it. I just didn't have that kind of swing. I haven't studied it, but maybe Billy doesn't have the kind of swing necessary to hit ground balls and line drives. Maybe it's like a home run hitter trying to elevate the ball," meaning more of an uppercut, although some power hitters might say otherwise.
Rose is – one can tell by the concepts he was describing – a big believer in "visualization," although he may never have used that term in his life. From a young age, Rose patterned his game on that of hustling Enos "Country" Slaughter, whom Rose saw play at Crosley Field for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"You know who I think Billy should hit like, because he's built just like him and has a lot of strengths just like him?" asked Rose. "Dee Gordon," the left-handed-hitting middle infielder for the Miami Marlins, who is presently hitting .331 with a .357 on-base percentage and is in his fifth season in the majors.
"I think Billy should pattern his game after Gordon's," Rose suggested. "Gordon very seldom hits fly balls to the outfield. I don't know what Dee Gordon does that other guys don't do, but that's the perfect guy for Billy."
It's not as though Gordon has always been an on-base machine. Gordon's on-base percentage was only .280 in his second season. And Gordon doesn't strike out all that much less than Hamilton. For Gordon, it's once every six at-bats; for Hamilton, once every five. (Rose was once every 12.)
What about switch-hitting? Would Rose advise Hamilton to forsake it? Gordon isn't a switch-hitter; he bats only left-handed.
The Reds turned Hamilton into a switch-hitter as soon as they signed him to a pro contract; up until then, Hamilton hit solely right-handed. The Reds made Hamilton bat left-handed vs. right-handed pitchers to – in essence – take away the right-hander's breaking pitch, and to put Hamilton a step or two closer to first base from the left-hand side of the batter's box.
It was, to put it mildly, a late-life adjustment. Rose's father, Pete Sr., had Rose switch-hitting as soon as he put a bat in Jr.'s hands.
"I'm not going to tell Billy Hamilton not to switch-bat," Rose said. "If I was going to tell him to hit one way, I'd say hit left-handed, because two-thirds of the pitchers in the league are right-handed. You have an advantage batting left-handed, especially bunting."
Rose said that not many of his 4,256 hits were bunts.
"I didn't bunt much," he said. "But every time I knew I was going to take a pitch, I faked a bunt. That puts a seed in the third baseman's and first baseman's head. They might give you a step, a step-and-a-half (in); it might be enough to get the ball by ’em (on a full swing)."
Rose said he doesn't know how much of a student of the game Hamilton is, but hinted that it could help Hamilton to become more of one, no matter how much of one he already is.
"After every game, I'd clean my bat off with alcohol," Rose said. "After the first time up, I'd come back to the dugout and say, 'Where am I hitting the ball?' Hopefully I had hit the ball. The ball will make an indentation on the bat. I had to do things like that. It's a job. Little things, doing your homework. But if it's part of your routine, it's not that big of deal. You just do it."