Hustle made Rose respected, infamous
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
Images of Pete Rose on the baseball field flash as vibrantly as his quick-talk personality.
Rose, the major-league career hits leader with 4,256, was admired by fans by not only what he accomplished but how he did it.
He played the game with childish joy, exuberance at odds with the disgrace of a lifetime suspension from baseball, a ban that has kept him from induction into the Hall of Fame.
Rose visuals: Pounding the top of his batting helmet with his fist. Crouching at the plate. Whipping the bat quickly with his compact swing, sending the ball on a line. Sprinting to first base after a walk. Running the bases, thick legs churning, cap flying off. Belly-flopping into a base, face full of dirt.
Smooth? Sleek? Graceful? Not Rose. "Charlie Hustle" had no time for style points. He came only to win. Former Cincinnati Reds teammate Jack Billingham said, "Pete might go 0-for-4, but if we'd win the game, he'd be the happiest guy in the clubhouse."
Rose's philosophy: "Somebody's got to win, and somebody's got to lose, and I believe in letting the other guy lose."
Rose led his hometown Reds to two World Series triumphs (and four pennants) and helped the Philadelphia Phillies to one Series win (and two pennants). He won three batting titles, produced a National League record 44-game hitting streak in 1977, and broke Ty Cobb's 57-year-old career hits record in 1985.
His biggest loss came in 1989 when commissioner Bart Giamatti suspended him for gambling on baseball. Rose also had been suspended for 30 days by Giamatti the previous season for shoving an umpire.
He was born April 14, 1941 in Cincinnati, the third of four children. His father Harry, who played semipro baseball and football, and his uncle, Buddy Bloebaum, helped him become a switch-hitter.
"The ability Pete had was nothing compared to a Ted Williams," said Rose's Knothole League coach, Don Grothaus. "He just worked harder at it."
Despite weighing 140 pounds, Rose showed more potential in football than baseball at Western Hills High School. Bloebaum, a Reds scout, led Cincinnati to take a chance on Rose, an infielder who started in Geneva, N.Y.
In his first pro season, 1960, Rose batted .277 and led his Class D league in errors. He lifted weights, gaining bulk and strength, and blossomed the next year. In 1963, the player who was known as "Hollywood" in the minors became the Reds' second baseman and hit .273, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
Two years later, Rose delivered 209 hits and batted .312, the first of his 10 seasons with 200-plus hits and the first of 15 years hitting at least .300. He was durable, too, getting more than 600 at-bats for 17 of his 24 seasons. He appeared in 3,562 games and had 14,053 at-bats, both major-league records.
Rose was no natural talent, but at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he had a body for wear. "I'm built like my dad. Stocky, strong," said Rose, who had 27-inch thighs. "My body is my best asset."
Never a great fielder, he was versatile enough to play second, third and first base and the outfield. He also had extraordinary eyes, picking up pitches by the spin of the ball. Though no intellectual, he showed an uncanny ability to recall pitchers' traits and many kinds of statistics, particularly his own.
Most of all, he played hard. "I don't mind lazy players," he said, "as long as they're on the other side."
Typifying his style, he scored the winning run for the National League in the 1970 All-Star Game by slamming into catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning, injuring Fosse's shoulder. In the 1973 playoffs, Rose's rambunctious play again made headlines when he crashed into New York Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson in trying to break up a double play, starting a bench-clearing melee. The next day a pumped-up Rose homered in the 12th to win the game.
By the mid-1970s, Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez were the leaders of the Big Red Machine, one of sports' legendary teams. Rose was the MVP in 1973 when he hit .338 to win his third batting title and had a career-high 230 hits.
In 1975, the Reds beat the Red Sox in a celebrated World Series that included a Game 6 thriller won by Boston's Carlton Fisk's home run. Afterward, Rose marveled at that game's drama. "Wasn't that the greatest game you've ever seen?" he asked his manager, Sparky Anderson. "Wasn't it fun?"
Rose batted .370 in the Series and was the MVP. The following season, he batted .323, and the Reds swept the Yankees for another title.
On May 5, 1978, he became the 13th player to reach 3,000 hits when he singled off the Montreal Expos' Steve Rogers. Later that season he broke Tommy Holmes' modern-day NL record 37-game hitting streak. His single off the Mets' Craig Swan extended his string to 38 games.
With media hordes following him, Rose gave chase to Joe DiMaggio's major-league record of 56. He passed Cobb's best streak, 40 games, and went after Wee Willie Keeler's 44, the all-time league record. His sixth-inning single off the Braves' Phil Niekro stretched the streak to 44, but Rose cautioned, "It's a long way from 44 to 56."
And so it was. Larry McWilliams and Gene Garber stopped him the next game, Rose going 0-for-4 despite hitting the ball hard twice. Garber struck him out to end the streak, throwing him a fastball that Rose tried to bunt, then two sliders and two changeups. "I suppose it's a load off my shoulders," said Rose, who batted .385 during the streak, "but we got beat 16-4 and I don't feel relieved about anything."
A free agent after the 1978 season, he signed with Philadelphia in December and played there five seasons. He went to Montreal in 1984 and got his 4,000th hit, a double off the Phillies' Jerry Koosman. In August 1984, Rose returned to Cincinnati as player-manager.
On Sept. 8, 1985, in Chicago, Rose singled twice off the Cubs' Reggie Patterson, moving even with Cobb at 4,191 hits. On Sept. 11 in Cincinnati, 57 years to the day of Cobb's final game, Rose singled off San Diego's Eric Show for the record. He was greeted on the field by his 15-year-old son, Pete Rose II, who later would briefly play for the Reds.
The sellout crowd of 47,237 applauded for seven minutes, bringing Rose to tears. "I was doing all right until I looked up and started thinking about my father," said Rose, whose dad died in 1970. "I saw him up there. Right behind him was Ty Cobb."
Rose played through the 1986 season, but continued as Reds manager. He finished with a .303 batting average, 160 homers, 1,314 runs batted in and 198 steals. His 2,165 runs scored are fourth all-time.
In the eighties, Rose gambled heavily on several sports, and by most accounts, lost large sums. Amid reports that Rose had bet on baseball while Reds manager, he was questioned in February 1989 by outgoing commissioner Peter Ueberroth and his replacement, Giamatti. Three days later, lawyer John Dowd was retained to investigate charges against Rose.
The Dowd Report asserted that Rose bet on 52 Reds' games in 1987, a minimum of $10,000 a day. On August 24, 1989, he was banned from baseball permanently, though he was eligible to apply for reinstatement in one year. Rose, with a 412-373 record, was replaced by Tommy Helms as manager.
Rose was found guilty of federal tax evasion in 1990 and served five months in jail and three months in a Cincinnati halfway house.
Rose stays in contact with the game he played with such passion as a sports talk-show host.