“I knew I wasn’t blessed with great speed like Willy Mays or with power and grace like Roberto Clemente. But I was blessed with a great work ethic and something that is very essential to hitting a baseball – hand-eye coordination. I had strong arms and legs, a compact swing, and 20/20 vision.” – Pete Rose –
Pete’s storied professional baseball career began in Cincinnati in 1963. This was his Rookie year and he earned 17 of the 20 votes cast for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
In 1965, Pete led the League in hits (209), .382 putouts and 670 at-bats and hit .312. He also made the All-Star team. It was the first of what would become 17 selections in 24 years!
In 1967, baseball great Joe DiMaggio and Pete went on a secret mission to Vietnam to help boost our troop’s morale. DiMaggio told Pete that his hustle and aggressive style of play reminded him of the old time players. He also said that, “Baseball needs more players like Pete.”
In 1969, Sparky Anderson became manager of the Reds and named Pete team captain. Pete led the League with 205 hits and won the Golden Glove in the outfield with a .997 fielding percentage.
Between 1971 and 1978, the Cincinnati Reds were a powerhouse. The Big Red Machine won back-to-back World Series Championships, four National League pennants, and six division titles. Pete says that the team had more fun than any team in the League. During this time span, the National League MVP award was won by a Cincinnati Red six times – George Foster and Pete, and Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, who each won twice.
In 1978, Pete was invited to the White House to meet President Jimmy Carter who had declared “Pete Rose Day” in Washington, D.C. The President told Pete that the whole country was proud of his accomplishments and that he was sorry Pete’s hitting streak had to end in Georgia – Carter’s home state!
Pete became a Phillie in 1979. In 1980, the Phillies won the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. Pete, who was playing first base, made a catch which became the “defining moment” of the Series as well as his career. What happened was that the Royals had bases loaded. Pete said that Phillie catcher, Bob Boone “drew a bead and got to the ball in a hurry. The ball came right down into Boone’s mitt but his foot hit the top step of the dugout at the last second, which caused the ball to pop out of his glove…and into mine. With two outs, the Royals had no chance of winning. We killed their spirit.”
Afterwards, Sporting News named Pete “Baseball Player of the Decade,” an honor previously bestowed on Stan Musial in the 1950s and Willie Mays in the 1960s.
After a bitter split with the Phillies, Pete said he had to re-sell himself so he could continue to play baseball. In 1984, he went to the Montreal Expos for one season. He played 95 games as a left fielder, first baseman and occasional pinch hitter, but he wasn’t what he used to be; after all, he was 43 years old! Yet, during this time, he picked up his 4,000th career hit. As Pete said, “I’m just like everybody else. I have two arms, two legs, and 4,000 hits.”
The 1980s had Pete transitioning from baseball to managing. But, there was another impact that changed his life – the sports memorabilia business. It was just starting to skyrocket and he was happy to go along for the ride. In 1985, a friend invited him to his card show in Los Angeles. Pete signed over 5,000 autographs, which set a one-day attendance at that time. The fans were lined up around the block and he refused to leave the hall until everyone got an autograph. He didn’t finish until after midnight, when the police finally complained about curfew.
Pete ended his career as a manager/player for the Cincinnati Reds. Most importantly, he broke the all time hits record with 4,256 hits.
And finally, a quote that sums up everything: “That’s my theory, to go through life hustling. In the big leagues, hustle usually means being in the right place at the right time. It means backing up a base. It means backing up a teammate. It means taking that headfirst slide. It means doing everything you can do to win a baseball game.”