One of the greatest tragedies of pro sports would have to be the story of major league baseball’s Pete Rose!
However, tragedy isn’t really the proper word. It certainly wasn’t a tragedy that squandered his life and legacy. Pete Rose, the man who once said, “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball,” did that one all by himself!
“Charley Hustle” was a nickname given to him by Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford during spring training. Despite the fact it was a term of derision, Rose embraced it fully. He ran to first base on a walk. He slid head-first in the base paths. And he played this child's game with the same love and zeal it is given by children on sandlots all across America!
To this day, Pete Rose still claims he was a great “ambassador” for the game. In many ways, I will not challenge his description. However, I can’t say he always lived up to that term.
I once met Pete Rose in Marietta, Ohio, and saw what an absolute jerk the man could be to a teenage boy who absolutely worshipped him. Even though I was disillusioned, Rose’s boorish behavior to this young fan could not diminish my love for the game or my love for his approach to it!
Although Rose was often criticized for his play in what many considered to be only an exhibition game, I loved the way he bowled over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All Star game. It was truly one of the greatest and most memorable moments in sports!
In the 1993 playoffs while trying to break up a double play, Rose’s hard slide into the Mets’ shortstop Bud Harrelson led to a brawl between the two men. The fans in Shea Stadium littered the field with trash and garbage and stopped the action on the field.
Greeted with jeers and heckling the next day by the fans at Shea, an unapologetic Pete rose to the occasion. With the game tied 1-1 in the 12th-inning, Rose homered to win the game for the Reds. As Rose circled the base paths, he boldly raised his fist in a triumphantly defiant gesture to the booing crowd.
In the 1975 World Series following Carlton Fisk’s dramatic game winning home in game six, Pete Rose aggravated skipper Sparky Anderson with his talk of what a great game they had just witnessed. Sparky, fearing that another championship might have just slipped out of his hands, saw nothing in the game that brought him any enjoyment. Rose calmly assured the manager that the Reds would win it all the next day. And win they did, with Rose winning the Series MVP award.
In the 1976 World Series, Pete Rose clearly knew he did not have the speed or arm strength to throw out Mickey Rivers from his normal third base position if the speedy ball player chose to lay down a bunt. Therefore, Rose repeatedly crept in from third base, leaving only 65-feet between them, fearlessly daring the man to swing away.
It was certainly a daring gamble (no pun intended)! Not only did he get in the man’s face, Rose also got into Rivers’ head. In his first at bat, Mickey struck out. Rivers did little more the rest of that series, ending up with only a paltry .167 batting average.
I was heart-broken Pete Rose when he left Cincinnati for more money. I loved him when he returned home as a player-manager. And I rejoiced for the man when he broke Ty Cobb’s nearly- unbreakable record.
These many years later, I still love Pete Rose for what he could do on a baseball diamond. Neither a remarkable athlete nor blessed with exceptional skills, Rose’s drive to excel at the game made him better than most of those who were truly gifted. It also made him the all-time career hit leader in the game.
Rose’s addiction to gambling while managing the Reds was ultimately responsible for banning him from baseball. Yet as stupid and arrogant as it was, the behavior should have no impact on the contributions he made to the game as a player.
Major league baseball should immediately let Pete Rose back in the game. They should allow him to compete in Old Timer games. They should allow him to be a hitting instructor. And in these days when unbreakable records routinely fall to juiced-up steroid junkies, baseball should do nothing that prohibits Rose’s election to the Hall of Fame!
However, Pete Rose’s status in the game should never be fully restored. With his compromised integrity, he should never again be given the reins of a team!
Peter Edward Rose was the most hard-working, dynamic, and exciting player the game has ever seen! And it’s time to put Rose in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Perhaps “Shoeless Joe” Jackson should also be enshrined with him.