Pete Rose (born 1941), who got more hits than any player in professional baseball history, was banned from any further association with the game for allegedly betting on baseball games while he was a player and manager. Rose was suspended for life by baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 and thus denied certain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Named to the game's All-Century Team in 1999, Rose continued to plead for his reinstatement, gaining the support of many fans, players, and baseball officials.
Anative of Cincinnati, Rose was a player of limited physical talents but unlimited heart. He scrapped and fought for his teams throughout a twenty-four-year career. His intensity on the field earned him the nickname "Charlie Hustle." Playing five different positions, Rose secured many major league records for longevity. Finally, in 1985, he surpassed Ty Cobb's all-time record for career hits, finishing with 4,256. But the gambling scandal and his lifetime ban overshadowed Rose's career. Long after his playing days, Rose remained a controversial figure, one of the game's greatest stars but also one of its most famous black sheep.
Pete Rose was born and raised in Cincinnati, the town where he would become famous on the ball diamond. His father, Harry Rose, who once played semi-pro football, pushed his son into athletics at an early age. One day, the story goes, Harry went to the store to buy a pair of shoes for his daughter and came back with a pair of boxing gloves for Pete. From then on, sports dominated Pete's life.
After hustling his way through several sports in grade school and high school, Rose settled on baseball. Though he was not considered a top prospect, his hometown Cincinnati Reds signed him to a professional contract. Rose began his pro career in 1960 with the Geneva Red Legs of the New York-Penn League and spent several years laboring in the minors, cementing his reputation for energetic play. He was about to turn 22 when he got the nickname "Charlie Hustle" during spring training of 1963. New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford bestowed it on him after he saw Rose running out a base on balls. His hustle helped him make the Reds that year, and Rose immediately became the regular second baseman. He was named Rookie of the Year.
Right away, Rose was a solid contributor. In 1965, Rose batted .312 and led the league in hits with 209. It was the first of 15 seasons in which he would hit at least .300, the first of 10 seasons with 200 or more hits (a major league record) and the first of five years leading the league in hits. In 1968, he won the first of his three batting championships, hitting for a .335 batting average, and the following year he recorded a career-high .348 average.
Rose became the sparkplug of a young team that was developing many stars. In 1967, after four years at second base, Rose was switched to the outfield to make room for future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. Never a spectacular fielder, Rose nonetheless was recognized with two Gold Gloves for fielding excellence as an outfielder, in 1969 and 1970. Rose spent eight seasons playing left field or right field before moving to third base in 1975.
In the first seven years of the 1970s, Cincinnati was the most successful team in the National League. Five times, the Reds won their division and four times-in 1970, 1972, 1975 and 1976-they made it to the World Series. Known as the "Big Red Machine," the Reds were led by such future Hall of Famers as Joe Morgan, catcher Johnny Bench, and first baseman Tony Perez. Rose was the backbone of the team and its spirited leader. He became known for his head first slides and for running out every single ball he hit. Though he had only average speed, he stole 198 bases in his career.
In 1972, Rose helped the Reds win Game Five of the World Series over the Oakland As, opening the game with a home run and driving in the winning run in the ninth inning with a single. Nevertheless, the Reds lost the series, as they had in 1970. In 1975, Rose was named the World Series Most Valuable Player for batting .370 and leading the Reds to a memorable victory over Boston in the seven-game series, considered by many to be the greatest of the modern era. In 1976, the Reds swept the Yankees in four games, but Rose batted only .188.
When the wheels fell off the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati no longer could afford to keep Rose. After the 1978 season, during which Rose established a modern National League record with a 44-game hitting streak, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, getting a four-year, $3.2 million contract that at the time was the biggest in baseball history. Again, he became a leader on a successful team. The Phillies made the playoffs in 1980, 1981 and 1983. They won the World Series in 1980 and lost it in 1983. On the Phillies, the aging Rose played for the most part at first base. He led the league in doubles at age 39 and in hits at age 40, when he batted .321 during the strike-shortened 1981 season.
With his glory days behind him, Rose focused on the goal of overtaking the legendary Cobb and his all-time hits record, which many experts had considered unbreakable. After a 1983 season in which he batted only .245, Rose did not seem likely to make it. Ten hits short of becoming the second man in baseball history with 4,000 hits, Rose was let go by Philadelphia. He was picked up by the Montreal Expos and surpassed the 4,000-hit mark. Later in that 1984 season, he returned to Cincinnati in a trade for fringe player Tom Lawless, and was named manager of the team.
Now the way was clear for Rose to pursue his quest of Cobb. As manager, he could put himself in the lineup whenever he liked, and he was not about to quit until he reached his goal. "I'd go through hell in a gasoline suit to keep playing baseball," Rose said at the time. At the start of the 1985 season, he was turning 44 years old and was still 94 hits behind Cobb's record of 4,191. Finally, on September 11, he surpassed the record. Rose played one more season, batting only .219, before hanging up his spikes at age 45. He remained as manager of the Reds through the 1989 season, and though his teams never won a pennant, they won 414 games against 373 losses.
Although Rose was the all-time hit king of major league baseball, he had plenty of critics among baseball experts. Few considered him to be in the same class as Cobb as a hitter. For his career, Cobb batted .369, Rose .303. Rose had more than 2,600 at-bats than Cobb. Rose's endurance was an impressive testament to his determination. Rose's 14,053 career at-bats and 3,562 games were both all-time records, and he placed second on the all-time list in doubles, with 746, and fourth in runs, with 2,165. No one else ever played at least 100 games or got at least 100 hits during 23 different seasons. Yet Rose won only three batting championships and hit only 160 career home runs. His slugging percentage of .409 and on-base percentage of .373-considered by modern baseball experts to be the best measures of batting prowess-were not impressive.
Despite these shortcomings, Rose was virtually certain to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Rose epitomized the hard-nosed player who made the most out of his talents through tremendous desire. As "Charlie Hustle," he was an American icon, a hero to the people of Cincinnati and to many Americans. And though Rose often seemed egotistical, speaking his mind and irritating reporters and baseball officials, his personality was irrelevant to his on-field accomplishments.
The knocks against Rose paled in significance to the storm that was brewing about his association with gamblers. Starting in 1984, Rose had begun hanging out with a group of men he had met at a Cincinnati gym. Through them he met bookmakers. He allegedly developed a betting habit that reached the vicinity of $15,000 a day. To pay gambling debts he even gave bookies one of his World Series rings and the bat he used to break Cobb's record.
In 1989, after a lengthy investigation, Giamatti, the baseball commissioner, concluded that Rose had bet on baseball games, including some involving Cincinnati, his own team. Two of his friends from the gym-who had both been convicted of felony drug charges-claimed Rose had gambled on baseball. According to baseball rules, Rose had to be banished. After waging a legal fight, Rose signed an agreement in which he accepted his suspension but did not admit to gambling on baseball games. He admitted he was a compulsive gambler but said he was guilty only of having a poor selection of friends.
Things got worse for Rose in 1990, when he served five months in prison for tax evasion. After getting out of jail, he became a fixture on the autograph circuit, hawking memorabilia, earning more money, and trying to polish his tarnished image.
According to the rules of Major League baseball, Rose can petition for reinstatement. No one banned from the sport has ever been let back in, but if he succeeded, Rose would be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Rose's campaign for reinstatement became as single-minded and determined as his quest for Cobb's record. Among his supporters was former President Jimmy Carter, who said that "evidence about [Rose] specifically betting on baseball is less than compelling." Many players and managers also rallied to his cause. Philadelphia teammate Mike Schmidt, speaking during his own Hall of Fame induction, said: "I hope some day, some day soon, Pete Rose will be standing right here."
Rose was married twice and has a son and a daughter from each marriage. His son from his first marriage, Pete Rose, Jr., enjoyed a mediocre career in professional baseball, mostly in the minor leagues. Rose Sr. relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, where he entered the restaurant business and hosted a radio talk show. "I've paid for what I did, and that still doesn't seem to be good enough," he told an interviewer in 1999.
In 1999, Major League baseball selected its All-Century team, and fans voted Rose a spot among the elite. Despite the ban, Rose was allowed to stand on a podium at the All-Star Game in Atlanta alongside the other living members of the team. Of all the game's great stars who were introduced that evening, Rose received the loudest ovation from the fans. In a nationally televised interview after the ceremony, Rose refused to apologize and continued to deny he had bet on baseball.
In the summer of 2000, teammate Perez and Sparky Anderson, who managed the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. On the day of their induction, Rose sat at a table outside a souvenir shop in the town, signing autographs and telling a reporter: "Fans realize I made mistakes. They know I've paid for my mistakes. They're willing to turn the page."
Reston, James, Jr., Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti, University of Nebraska, 1997.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 23, 1994; November 2, 1995; January 12, 1999; July 22, 2000.
Sport, March, 2000.
"Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Pete Rose," The Baseball Archive, http://baseball1.com/bb-data/rose/
"The Pete Rose Hall of Fame Controversy," Cosmic Baseball Association, http://www.clark.net/pub/cosmic/prhof.html
"Pete Rose," Total Baseball, http://www.totalbaseball.com/player/r/rosep001/rosep001.html