They have been playing versions of baseball all over the world for hundreds of years. The game has been played on sandlots, to corn fields, to green pastures, and millions upon millions have taken part in some form of a game of baseball. The select few who became so lucky enough to be a member of Major League baseball over the years, never outhit the best player to ever wear the #14. So, not only is Pete Rose the obvious choice as the best to ever wear the number as a member of the Reds, he is clearly the greatest to ever let the number lay flat across his back.
Peter Edward Rose Sr., personified what it meant to play the game of baseball with a chip on one’s shoulder. His career, when magnified into the wider picture, does not make much sense. How could someone who plays the game so violently and ferociously, be the all-time leader in categories such as, games, plate appearances, at-bats and most famously, hits? All of those achievements beg and plead for consistency and in order to be continuously successful for 24 years, some form of self-preservation is almost nearly necessary.
The New York Yankees will always have Babe Ruth as their claim to fame. (Sorry, Red Sox fans, the Bambino had a bit more success in the Bronx) The Red Sox themselves, will always have Ted Williams. The Detroit Tigers, have Ty Cobb. The Cincinnati Reds on the other hand, have the all-time hit king, Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose.
Record-breaking is such a popular topic amongst talking heads when it comes to immortal baseball records. Rose’s record, while recently attained, may ultimately prove to be the most difficult to break. In order to properly quantify just how astronomically improbable the odds would be, a new player breaking into the league would need to go for 200 hits in 20 consecutive seasons…and would still be more than 250 hits short of the record! Not only is the first instance highly improbable, the thought of doing it in this age of baseball where nearly every reliever coming out of the pen is throwing 95+ MPH, makes the record seem all the more unattainable.
Rose himself only had 200 hits in a season 10 times, which is a testament to his durability. An admitted “statistics watcher,” Rose was entirely subconscious about keeping his batting average as high as possible; specifically, above .300, which he managed to do a mere 16 times over his big league career.
Many will point to Joe DiMaggio’s streak of 56 consecutive games with a hit and say that without a doubt that is the most unbreakable of all the records. It is a completely legible thought, but the longevity needed to rack up hits over a career, stands as a more daunting task than doing it in such a short span. (Of course, Pete Rose himself even was once quoted saying that DiMaggio’s streak was more difficult to break, but getting 4,257 hits stands as a larger mountain to climb than getting one 57 days in a row in my eyes.)
The 24-year odyssey began in 1963 when Rose crash landed on the scene in meteorite fashion. He snared the National League’s Rookie of the Year award while moving into a full-time role. Begin in 1965, Rose would go on a run of making 16 out of the next 18 All-Star Games. Of course, his most famous All-Star Game moment would be one of baseball’s all-time great moments when he decided to crash into Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse, fracturing his collarbone, and effectively ending the promising young catcher’s career. In a nutshell, that quantified Pete Rose to the core. Even in an exhibition, he would run through a wall, or a catcher, just to win.
Combining the ultra-aggressive Rose with the fiery white-haired, Sparky Anderson, could have proved to be a chemistry experiment gone awry. Thankfully for Reds management, the two gelled. When Pete was placed in a lineup with some of the game’s finest hitters, such as, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, the team dubbed “The Big Red Machine” managed to win only two World Championships.
While Rose’s list of accolades is staggeringly long, the confusing portion comes on the MVP column. Of course, Rose was simply an average fielder, (granted, he played five different positions regularly) but he still produced some of the most impressive offensive seasons of his time. His teammates didn’t exactly relinquish their stranglehold on the crown either. Johnny Bench took home the honors in 1970 and ’72, while Joe Morgan captured the crown in both 1975 and ’76.
On his last hoorah with the Reds (the first time around), Rose had a little bit more magic left in his bat. The Hit King himself would threaten Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak of consecutively getting a hit. There were some bumps in the road, such as, his ninth inning bunt single, (which the situation did not call for) off Ron Reed of the Philadelphia Phillies. Ultimately, he was halted at 44, tying the longtime National League mark set by Willie Keeler back in 1897.
After 19 tremendous years within the Cincinnati Reds organization, Pete was moved over to the Philadelphia Phillies. He promptly made the All-Star team his first four years in the city of Brotherly Love, and even led the league in hits in 1981 when the strike crippled a good portion of the season.
Like a Western cowboy riding off into the sunset, it appeared Pete Rose had reached his peak in baseball. After accepting a deal with the Montreal Expos in 1984, he flustered before being shipped back to the Queen City and his adoring fan base. Ty Cobb was now reasonably within sight.
Growing up, I had an autographed photo of Pete standing off first base with his helmet raised to the crowd, shortly after he singled off Eric Show to break the all-time hits record. Its exact whereabouts now are unknown, although I remember admiring it at a young age, gawking at a larger than life figure that broke a record I could not even begin to fathom. Even with his incredibly out of place mop haircut, and war torn face, Pete Rose signified greatness to me. Sure, my extent of watching him live was non-existent, but thanks to modern technology, I’ve managed to bridge the gap.
There was another photo, (not autographed, I believe) of Pete at his finest. Shortly after rolling into second in the 1973 NLCS, Pete and Mets infielder Bud Harrelson got into a brawl of epic proportions. The photo showed Rose and Harrelson, swirled up in dirt, swinging fists and grabbing collars, as if it were an old-school hockey brawl.
These are the images and the memories that Pete Rose should be remembered by. Unfortunately, society dictates a much different landscape. Rose will always be the butt of jokes concerning gambling within not only baseball, but sports as a whole. Fans gamble all the time, it just so happens that a certain fan was the Reds manager, wagering on his own club. The action is not to be condoned, but also not to be enhanced. Sure, Pete Rose bet on baseball, but he was the most ferocious, vicious, nasty player since Ty Cobb, and his desire to win was above all else.
Earlier this summer, amidst the Ryan Braun suspension news, Pete Rose was a guest on ESPN Radio New York. When asked about his lifetime banishment and such, Rose let loose a caveat that had not landed upon my ears before: had Bart Giamatti not passed away shortly after handing down the punishment, Rose would have been reinstated. It was meant to blacken the eye of Rose, but not severe the jugular. Many have said that Pete will never get in; just as many have vehemently swore he will be in. The move that may make the most sense goes as so: once Bud Selig has moved on as Commissioner (commences next January) and Pete Rose passes to the afterlife, he will be inducted. It keeps all egos out of play, and allows the man with the most hits in the history of baseball to be enshrined for doing so.
Like so many, my father was a Pete Rose guy growing up. Or even, it was you yourself who was a Pete Rose guy. Before fans from all over the country could dial in to Reds baseball, he was the heart of a city that raised him and supported him up to the day he hung up his spikes. No one else was even considered as potentially getting this number, as it belongs to the toughest SOB who ever put on cleats. His #14 may not be able to be retired by the Reds, but for the rest of baseball history, that number will always belong to Pete Rose.