Dusting Off: The Player-Coach
Most sports enthusiasts will tell you that the reason we don’t have player-coaches these days has to do with salary caps, collective bargaining agreements and growing complexities of the game. In our estimation, though, the reason is much simpler:
They just don’t make competitors like “Charlie Hustle” anymore.
Whitey Ford coined the nickname at the start of the 1963 spring training season when Rose, a pot-bellied, 21-year-old rookie, came to the plate for the first time. The Reds’ third base coach, Reggie Otero, leaned over to Ford and Mickey Mantle and whispered, “Wait’ll you get a load of this kid. He goes down to first base in four seconds.” To which Ford responded, “Big deal. Mick here can get down in 3.5.” Otero laughed. “Yeah, but this kid does it on a base on balls.”
Sure enough, on ball four, Rose shot down the first base line like an Olympic sprinter. The next inning, Mantle led off with a monstrous, upper-deck home run. Rose, in left field, sprinted to the wall and jumped as high as he could, attempting to catch a ball sailing 75 feet over his head. When Mantle got back to dugout, Ford shook his head in awe and said, “We could use a little more Charlie Hustle on this team.”
Twenty-five years later, as player-coach of the Reds, Rose called the team together and addressed his skeptics who’d been saying he wasn’t qualified for the duel position. “Medical people tell me I have the body of a 30-year-old,” he said, pacing around the dugout. “I know I’ve got the brain of a 15-year-old. But when you put both together in this game—at age 45—you can be a player and a coach. And all you boys need to know about my managing style is this: I don’t mind lazy players…as long as they’re on the other side.”
Later that year, Pete Rose broke the all-time record for major league hits, which he still holds to this day. He broke collar bones during head-on collisions at the plate, and broke up double plays nearly every time he slid into second. Hobbling back to the dugout, he’d dust himself off, pick up the roster and call down to the bullpen to make a pitching change.
We’re with Whitey on this one: the world could benefit from a few more Charlie Hustles across the board. To that end, for inspiration, we present you with the five best player-coaches in sports history.
Torre, the fifth-winningest manager in MLB history, began his skippering career as player-manager for the Mets in 1977.
Russell won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics—two of which came as player-coach.
Wilkens, the second-winningest coach in NBA history, served as both player and coach for the Seattle Supersonics from 1969 to 1972 and for the Portland Trailblazers until he retired from playing in 1975.
Robinson became the first African-American manager in major league baseball while also serving as a player for the Cleveland Indians in 1975.
Mike Dunleavy Sr.
In 1984, while an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, Dunleavy came out of retirement and played three weeks of games when a slew of injuries decimated the team.
- — C. Brian Smith