It was one of those records that they said would never be broken. The 4,191 hits in the career of Ty Cobb. But then came along Peter Edward Rose, breaking into the major leagues in 1963. He was young and brash with a flattop haircut, like he’d just gotten out of the army. And there was the hustle. The thing that most endeared him to the Cincinnati fans was his hustle. It didn’t matter what the situation was, or the score. Pete hustled. What was meant to be a derisive nickname bestowed upon him by a member of the media, “Charlie Hustle” turned out to be his calling card and one he was most proud of.
Pete was a guy who was in the lineup almost every day, and the one thing he talked most when previewing each season’s goals was getting 200 hits. He was driven toward getting 200 hits in a season. He did it first in 1965 at age 24. Did it again the following season. In all, Pete did it 10 times over his career. The last time was for Philadelphia in 1979, the year before he won the final of three World Championships. He played in the World Series six times.
As with most athletes, it looked like age was catching up to him in 1983. His average had fallen 80 points from where it was two seasons earlier, as he mustered a .245 average in 151 games at the age of 42. The 1983 season was also the first in his career where he didn’t accumulate as many hits (121) as games played (151). Even though he hit .375 in the ’83 NLCS, and .313 in the ’83 World Series, the Phillies decided to let him go on October 19.
He finished the 1983 season with 3,990 hits, just 10 short of 4,000. He wouldn’t stop now, and he didn’t want to go to a team as a reserve player. Reaching the 4,000 hit club as a reserve player in his final year was not Pete’s style. He wanted to play every day and work toward passing Cobb’s 4,191. He found what he was looking for in Montreal. He reached a contract agreement with the Expos and took his hustle north of the border. It was the same story in Montreal as it was the year before in Philly, a .259 average and 72 hits in 95 games. His hometown team was struggling on the field and at the gate. What happened next surprised everyone.
The Reds reached a deal with Montreal, trading Tom Lawless for the once-thought-of future Hall of Famer. But Rose wouldn’t be coming just to play. He would be the manager, too. The city was electric. Local channels broke into midday programming to air the press conference announcing his return live. The Reds announced that Pete would be in the starting lineup the first night. And the fans came out. Over 35,000 made their way to the ballpark to watch Rose’s return. Pete did not disappoint. He got an RBI single in his first at-bat, and finished 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs and a run scored in a 6-4 victory over the soon-to-be NL East Champion Chicago Cubs. The rejuvenated Rose would bat .365 over his final 26 games of the season. Needing 94 hits, he would return to chase Cobb in 1985.
He entered a September 6 weekend series at Chicago needing five hits to tie Cobb. The baseball world began to revolve around Rose. Over 150 media were assigned to follow Rose until he got the hit. The fans at Wrigley gave Rose a standing ovation when he came to bat in the top of the 1st. His last home run came off of Derek Botelho an inning later. Not only did the fans not throw the ball back, they continued to cheer him until he gave them a curtain call. Pete finished with two hits that day. It got interesting for Reds fans then. Rose didn’t play against lefthanded starters that year. Dennis Eckersley would start for the Cubs on Saturday. A lefty was supposed to start on Sunday. The Reds returned home on Monday. Could Rose get three hits vs. “The Eck?” Would he still need a couple of hits when he got home? Rose went 0-for-5 on Saturday and majority owner Marge Schott flew back to Cincinnati after the game to watch her other team on Sunday. She was a minority owner of the Bengals. Cubs manager Jim Frey made a pitching change before Sunday’s game and started RIGHTHANDER Reggie Patterson. So, there was Marge at Riverfront Stadium in a luxury suite with a radio to her ear doing a slow burn that she left Chicago. Like most fans, she didn’t want to be denied seeing “The Big Knock” in person. Rose threw a couple logs on her fire when he singled his first time up to get hit #4,190. Rose had an RBI groundout in the 3rd, but singled to tie Cobb in the 5th.
Quite honestly, to tie Cobb at Wrigley Field was poetic. For that record to be tied in a legendary ballpark that was in use in the days of Cobb was special. But Pete was Cincinnati’s son. And folks in these parts wanted to be there, wanted to share in the moment. Ironically, Pete had always gotten his milestone hits at home. #3,000 came in Cincinnati. #3,631 came in Philadelphia when he was a Phillie. #4,000 came in Montreal as an Expo. And here he was on the brink of 4,192 with at least one more at-bat at Wrigley Field. He would lead off the top of the 7th. He grounded to short. He would get another AB in the 9th. With the shadows deep in a ballpark without lights and runners on 1st and 2nd, Lee Smith struck Rose out. The next 10 Reds games were in Cincinnati. Surely he would get the hit at home.
Monday, September 9: Lefty Dave Dravecky started for San Diego. Tony Perez is starting at 1st base. Only 29,000 make their way to Riverfront. Pete doesn’t see the field that night. The Reds win 2-1 as Dave Concepcion gets a 2-out single off of Rich “Goose” Gossage to score Dave Parker in the bottom of the 9th.
Tuesday, September 10: Righty LaMarr Hoyt starts for San Diego. Pete will be in the lineup and 51,045 fill the stadium. The Reds delay the game’s start time by 20 minutes so everyone can easily be in their seats for Rose’s first plate appearance in the 1st. He pops to Garry Templeton at short. He leads off the bottom of the 4th. Rose flies out to Carmelo Martinez in left and the waiting continues. Rose popped again to Templeton in the 6th. He faced Lance McCullers in the 8th. Rose connected on a looper to left-center field, but Martinez was there and the waiting would go on another day. The Padres won 3-2.
Wednesday, September 11: 29-year-old righthander Eric Show would get the start for San Diego. 47,237 make their way to the Stadium as, again, the start time is delayed. Rose wastes no time on this night, singling on a looper to left-center that Martinez couldn’t get this time, and the celebration began. The Reds team mobbed Rose and lifted him on their shoulders. The Padres players came over to shake the new Hit King’s hand. And, as legendary announcer Ken Wilson said, “Rose has eclipsed Cobb!” Wilson and Joe Morgan then toasted Rose on camera with cans of Bud Light, a Reds TV sponsor at the time. Rose would triple in the 7th to get #4193. He scored the Reds only runs in the game as Cincinnati won 2-0 behind Tom Browning, John Franco and Ted Power. And the last out? Steve Garvey grounded wide of first, Rose grabbed it and threw to Power while falling on his backside to get the out to win the game. It was truly Pete Rose’s night.
Of course, so much has happened since that night, around Rose. The allegations of gambling on baseball as manager, the agreement to ban Rose from baseball, the pressure from Jim Gray at the unveiling of the All-Century team to admit betting on baseball, and the much-later admission of that. All of that is unfortunate. But as a player, no one got more hits or played in more wins than Rose. He even received 9.5% of the vote for admission into the Hall of Fame in 1992, despite his banishment. But we’re not going to get into that here.
Rose played the game the way it should be played. Growing up in Cincinnati, I emulated my game after his – right down to the batting stance and wearing #14. The funny thing is, I never had any luck with seeing any of Pete’s milestones in person. I was there the day after 3,000, the day before 4,000 and the day before 4,192. But I did get to watch the man play in person, and that was truly special.
Major League Baseball allowed Rose back on the field to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the milestone in Cincinnati. Special permission was asked for and granted. Many members of the Big Red Machine attended to share the moment with Pete. It was a special time during a special season. And the bat that cranked out 4192 – and the ball used – are pictured in the mural on the back of the scoreboard at Great American Ball Park. No matter where you go around Reds baseball, 4192 is never too far away.
About the Author
Written by Dave Allen
I'm a lifelong Cincinnati sports fan who has been following the Reds and Bengals ever since I can remember. My first Reds game was Game 6 of the '72 World Series and my first Bengals game was an October 1975 clash with the Steelers. I've been involved in sports media since Junior High, when I assisted with scores for Bob Trumpy SportsTalk in 1979 on WLW Radio. My biggest Reds highlight came in 1998 when I was chosen to be the public address announcer at Riverfront Stadium (then called Cinergy Field) for Opening Day and the entire first homestand. I am thrilled to be involved with PSB and I hope you enjoy my entries!