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MLB's all-time hits leader
Pete Rose's career statistics
Hustle made Rose respected, infamous
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
"[Pete Rose] is not the best hitter I ever saw. He's not the best baseball player I ever saw. But he played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series. He played hard every single day. And I've never seen anyone else do that," said former teammate Joe Morgan on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
Images of Pete Rose flash as vibrantly as his quick-talk personality. Baseball's all-time hits leader was admired by fans for not only what he accomplished but how he did it.
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 Philadelphia to one Series win (and two pennants). He produced a modern National League record 44-game hitting streak in 1978, broke Ty Cobb's 57-year-old career hits record in 1985 and retired a year later with 4,256 hits.
His biggest loss came on Aug. 24, 1989 when commissioner Bart Giamatti suspended him for gambling on baseball. For more than 14 years, Rose claimed he didn't bet on baseball. But then in his second autobiography, "My Prison Without Bars," published in January 2004, Rose said that he had lied for all those years and that he had wagered on major league games, including those involving the Reds. In "My Prison Without Bars," Rose says he started betting regularly on baseball in 1987, when he was Cincinnati's manager. When he wagered on Reds' games, he says he only bet on them to win. With his admission, Rose hopes to be reinstated by Major League Baseball and be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame.
Rose was born on 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, influenced Cincinnati to take a chance on Rose, an infielder who started in Geneva, N.Y.
In 1960, his first pro season, Rose batted .277 and led his Class D league in errors. He lifted weights, gaining bulk and strength, and blossomed the next year. Called "Hollywood," he hit .317 in his three minor-league seasons.
In spring training of 1963, he was sarcastically nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" by Yankees Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford after they watched him run to first on a walk. Rose won the second-base job and went on to hit .273 and be voted Rookie of the Year.
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 as well as right and leftfield, the only player to start an All-Star Game at five positions. 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 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 earned his only MVP in 1973 when he hit .338 to win his third (and last) 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 voted its MVP. The following season, he hit .323, and the Reds swept the Yankees for another championship.
On May 5, 1978, he became the 13th player to reach 3,000 hits
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. Atlanta's 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.
A free agent after 16 seasons with Cincinnati, he signed a four-year deal with Philadelphia in December 1978 for the largest contract in baseball history, $800,000 a season. After five years with the Phillies, he went to Montreal in 1984 and stroked his 4,000th hit, a double off Philadelphia's Jerry Koosman. In August 1984, Rose returned to Cincinnati as player-manager.
On Sept. 8, 1985, in Chicago, Rose singled twice off Reggie Patterson, moving even with Cobb at 4,191 hits. On September 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 Jr.
The applause by the sellout crowd of 47,237 brought 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 RBI and 198 steals. His 2,165 runs scored are fifth all-time.
In the 1980s, 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. While Rose was banned from baseball permanently, he was eligible to apply for reinstatement in one year. (In September 1997, Rose applied for reinstatement, but commissioner Bud Selig has taken no action.) Rose, with a 412-373 record, was replaced by Tommy Helms as manager.
More trouble awaited Rose. Found guilty of federal tax evasion in 1990, he served five months in a minimum-security prison 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.
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