On September 11th, 1985, Pete Rose surpassed Ty Cobb’s career hit record and became the all-time hits leader in major league baseball. Rose collected hit number 4,192 off San Diego Padres’ pitcher Eric Show in front of a home crowd at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. Rose was 44 years old at the time and was selected to his 17th All-Star Game appearance earlier that summer. Rose’s 23 year playing career began in Cincinnati in 1963, he spent 5 years with the Phillies followed by a partial year with the Expos before returning to the Reds as a player/manager in the middle of the 1984 season. Rose hung up his spikes for good in 1986 but would stay on as the Reds’ manager until 1989 (we’ll get to that later).
In addition to his 17 All-Star selections, Rose was a 3-time NL batting champion, MLB All-Century Team outfielder, and leader of “The Big Red Machine” in their 3 World Series titles. Rose also got a hit in 44 straight games in 1978, becoming one of the only serious challengers to Joe DiMaggio’s mark of 56 in the 73 years since DiMaggio set the record. He holds MLB’s all-time records for hits (4,256), singles, games played, at-bats, and plate appearances, and finished with a career batting average of .303.
Rose was nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” for his reputation for going 100% every time he stepped on a field, regardless of the game or situation. Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford first called him that after he sprinted to first after being walked in a spring training game during his rookie season. Even though Ford didn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment, Rose adopted the nickname as a badge of honor. The most iconic image of Rose as a player is of him diving into a base a few feet off the ground with his helmet nowhere in sight. While most of the time this style of play was endearing to fans and teammates, he wasn’t always popular with opponents and especially opposing fans. He sometimes enticed bench-clearing brawls, and even a near riot like at Shea Stadium in the 1973 NLCS after Rose went particularly hard into 2nd base to break up a double play. Another example came in the 1970 All-Star Game in which he separated and broke the shoulder of Indians’ catcher Ray Fosse in a collision at the plate. Not only is running into the catcher frowned upon in an exhibition game, but the throw had gone past Fosse and his collision wasn’t even necessary. Fosse’s injuries would plague him for the rest of his career. Rose’s competitiveness spilled over into his managing career as he was suspended for 30 days in 1988 after he pushed an umpire following a questionable call.
Rose’s illustrious baseball career came to an abrupt end in August of 1989 after an investigation by the Commissioner’s office revealed that Rose had bet on Major League Baseball games in the 80’s. The report documented his alleged bets on 52 Reds games in 1987, where Rose wagered a minimum of $10,000 a day. Despite Rose’s adamant denial of these charges, he was banned from baseball for life, which also meant he was ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball has very strict rules about gambling. Rule 21 regarding misconduct states “Any player, umpire, or club, or league official, or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.” Rose continued to deny the charges and applied for reinstatement in 1992 and again in 1999, but to no avail. He finally came clean in his 2004 autobiography My Prison Without Bars in which Rose finally admitted to betting on games he played and/or managed. He hoped that his admission would lead to reinstatement, while claiming that he never bet against the Reds. There has never been evidence to suggest the contrary. In a 2007 interview on The Dan Patrick Show he said “I bet on my team every night. I didn’t bet on my team four nights a week. I bet on my team to win every night because I loved my team, I believed in my team,” he said. “I did everything in my power every night to win that game.” In his opinion, since he didn’t bet against the Reds, he did nothing to jeopardize the integrity of the game. While that may be true, and while it’s certainly debatable whether or not the punishment fits the crime, MLB rules make no distinction whatsoever between betting for or against your own team. Betting on the game at all is considered by some to be a “cardinal sin”. Comparisons have been made to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who would also be a sure-fire first-ballot HOF inductee if not for his banishment for taking bribes, along with 7 other players to throw the 1919 World Series; a World Series in which Jackson hit .375 and didn’t record an error. The problem is that Jackson took the money even if he didn’t act on it or even completely understand what was going on. Others have pointed out that the use of performance enhancing drugs is a worse offense since it strikes directly at the integrity of the game, yet the MLB rulebook doesn’t see it that way.
Don’t completely pity Rose. He makes about $1 million/year in autographs, endorsements, and other public appearances. Often he appears near events without actually being a part of them. But it’s a shame that one of the greatest players and competitors in the history of the sport isn’t eligible for its highest honor. What’s worse is that his career has been relegated to a side show.