Big Red Machine / Pete

On Pete

Earlier this week, we had a couple of interesting takes on Pete Rose here at Redleg Nation. Check out Art Bidwell’s piece on The Paradoxical King, and Wesley Jenkins’ look at Rose from the perspective of someone who never saw him play.

Both are worth a read, and I encourage you to check them out. They are honest appraisals of Pete from different perspectives, and I’m glad we published atthem here at RN. But there have been plenty of takes on Pete Rose over the last couple of weeks, as Cincinnati celebrated their favorite son last week. First came the 1976 Reds reunion, then Pete was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame, and finally, Rose’s number 14 was retired by the club. It was a weekend full of nostalgia and big crowds at the ballyard, and hundreds of column inches were filled by stories of Rose, his career highs and lows, his successes and his failures. The hot takes on social media were hotter than ever.

So I’m providing exactly what you need: yet another take.

Over on Twitter last week, I said this:

Predictably, that was misconstrued by a certain element that reacts with internet anger any time someone says something that doesn’t fawn over Rose, or call him the greatest player ever. Which basically proved my point. If you’re one of the particular Reds fans who believe Pete is the most bestest of them all, I’m sorry to have to break it to you:

No, Pete Rose was not the greatest hitter ever. Honestly, it’s not even close.

But that’s not a criticism! I’m seriously fascinated by Pete’s actual playing career. Go look at his baseball-reference page. It’s such a fascinating career.

And I’m not just talking about the 4,256 hits and 17 All-Star Games. There are so many interesting nuggets about his career.

–Ten times he had more than 200 hits, and he led the league in that category seven times.
–That includes 1980, when Rose led the National League in hits as a 40 year old!
–In 1984, Pete actually posted an OBP of .395 at age 44.
–Rose led the league in doubles for the first time at age 33, but then went on to lead the league in two-base hits five times, including at age 39.
–He played at least 500 games at five different positions in the big leagues.

I could go on all day, and those little statistical morsels are dwarfed by all the fun stories that have been told over the years about the guy. Pete was just a unique player in baseball history and yes, Pete was legitimately great. But I’m sorry, devoted Reds fans: he’s not the greatest hitter in history. Guys like Ruth, Bonds, Mays, Williams, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan…all much better hitters than Rose.

But Pete was one of the best players in the history of baseball. It shouldn’t be considered a criticism to say that he wasn’t the absolute best.

So yes, some in Cincinnati tend to overrate Rose as a player. The flip side of that coin is that all of the nonsense surrounding Pete — gambling, tax evasion, banishment, the Hall of Fame debate — has obscured Rose’s greatness to many. And I completely understand that: Pete has been an embarrassment more often than not in his post-playing career, and he has created every problem in his life. I’m not here to defend that.

But I am here to ask you to go look at his baseball-reference page. Just spend some time marveling over it. Try to forget that Rose is PETE ROSE: HIT KING, and just enjoy what those numbers say about a west side kid who grew up to play for his favorite team. Your favorite team.

Yes, in order to recognize Pete’s incredible career, you have to ignore the post-career junk. That’s hard to do, and I completely understand that some don’t want to eliminate that from the conversation. That’s why I say that people outside Cincinnati have forgotten how good Rose actuall was as a player, because his greatness is hidden by all the talk of the banishment and the ridiculous assertions that he was the greatest hitter ever.

As for me, I’m tired of talking about Pete and the Hall of Fame. No, I’m completely exhausted by it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve written about Pete at all since I declared that exhaustion right here in the digital pages of Redleg Nation all the way back in 2010.

But if you want to talk about his exploits on the playing field, let me know. I’m always up for that, because it was an amazing career.

—–

You know, I really didn’t get to see Rose play much as a kid. I had heard all the stories, the legends, from adults around me who had worshiped the Big Red Machine. I vaguely remember when Rose returned to Cincinnati, but I really got into it when Rose was chasing the hit record the following season.

I remember being at Riverfront Stadium when Rose got a hit late in the chase; I think the hit moved him to within 19 hits of Ty Cobb’s record, but I’m not certain on that point. I do remember exactly where I was when Rose got 4,192. It was a big deal to a pre-teen kid who had fallen completely and desperately in love with the Cincinnati Reds.

So that’s the Rose — Pete the player — that more often comes to mind when I think about him, especially since I’m actively trying to avoid the discussion and vitriol that emerge when gambling and the Hall of Fame are brought up. It’s another example of me trying to be a gooey, Field of Dreams-type baseball fan, who still wants to see the game as he did when he was 11 years old.

And if it weren’t for one thing, I wouldn’t care less whether Rose ever gets into the Hall of Fame. In that 2010 piece I linked above, I wrote this:

My grandmother was a big fan of the Big Red Machine. Her husband, my grandfather, is largely responsible for my baseball obsession, but he passed away when I was nine. My grandmother, however, collected baseball cards with me — only the Reds! — and she was almost as excited as I was when Rose broke the record. During that chase in 1985, she made me promise that I would take her to Cooperstown to see Pete Rose get inducted into the Hall of Fame when that day came.

She will turn 83 next month. She is still going strong; I hope I’m that active when I’m her age. Meanwhile, Rose remains on the outside of the Hall of Fame, looking in. Pete Rose does not deserve anyone’s sympathy; he is responsible for this mess.

While Rose probably doesn’t deserve it, I have a personal reason for hoping baseball does an about-turn and figures out some way to get him in the Hall of Fame.

I want to take my grandmother to Cooperstown for the ceremony.

My grandmother will turn 89 in a few months. She’s slowing down some, but still doing well. She remains a Pete Rose fan.

And so am I, for better or (more often) worse. Feel free to criticize Rose for his many faults; I won’t defend him and I won’t argue with you. He deserves it.

But that guy could flat-out play some baseball. That’s the Pete Rose I like remembering. Seems like most of Cincinnati agreed with me last weekend.

21 thoughts on “On Pete

  1. Great article and right on the button about Pete. I watched Pete from the time he came up as a rookie until his infamous removal from baseball. I want to remember Pete as a guy who played the game the right way. He gave a 100% all the time and he wanted to win more than play a particular position. He got probably way more out of ability than anyone could have ever predicted. I hope you get to take your grandmother to the Hall of Fame. If so I will see you there.

  2. Pete Rose was the glue that held the greatest team in National League history, one of the best all time, together. Nothing else about him matters.

  3. Takes guts to write an article that doesn’t worship at the feet of Pete Rose (you can’t just compliment; you must canonize) so I appreciate and respect this.
    I would not classify the gambling as “post career,” though. That very much happened while he was in uniform both as a manager and a player, which is why we’re all suffering this endless soap opera with him in the first place. Personally I don’t care if he opened his own personal betting window at Riverfront the day after he retired, but his constant assumption that the rules just didn’t apply to him was incredibly selfish and a detriment to both the team and the fans.
    I think the relationship between the fanbase and Rose is extremely dysfunctional. I’ve never seen anything like it. The vast majority seem OK with being lied to by Rose for many years and being made to look like fools for defending him when he flat out denied the gambling… and people STILL think he can do no wrong! All the worship, I’m sure, contributed to his near-daily decision to place himself over his team and the game itself. For someone who keeps claiming to love baseball soooooo much, he sure had a funny way of showing it. His *career* of gambling just wasn’t “messing up” or “making a mistake.” Pete Rose held himself above the game of baseball and the team and fans who paid him.
    I keep hearing the argument that Rose “has suffered enough.” I wasn’t aware that he has been breaking rocks in Siberia the past 30 years. Really his only “punishment” has been to NOT receive one particular honor. Our HOF is a shrine to him. His records stand. It’s not like the ban wiped him off the face of the Earth, and there’s no reason he ever has to pay for a single meal all throughout Reds country for the rest of his life. As for not being able to make a living, you can’t tell me that generations of parents wouldn’t pay big bucks to the Pete Rose Hitting Academy or the Hit King Fantasty Camp. He could have commentated or done any number of things still baseball-related.
    But no. He lives in Vegas while telling us he regrets his gambling and makes totes hilarious commercial telling us that “you can bet on it.” In the end, he is Pete Rose: Excellent hitter, fine hustler, horrible moral decision maker.

  4. In 1995, the #3 rated television show was a mediocre comedy called the Single Guy. Why was a mediocre show so highly rated? It was on between Friends and Seinfeld in an era before DVR’s.

    Rose was a great player….who was the least dangerous player amongst the top 6 in the Reds line up. If Joey Votto saw nothing but fastballs, he’d hit .450.

    Rose made more outs than anyone ever. He played in the 4th most losing games. He played 500 games at multiple positions because he wasn’t particularly good at any of them.

    I loved watching him play, but Morgan and Bench were vastly superior players.

    • Hmmm. Least dangerous, Morgan and Bench vastly superior???…how do you measure that? Rose (vs Morgan) (vs Bench) avg data per game played as a Red…1.5 hits (1.0) (,9), .8 runs (.7) (.5), .3 dbls (.2) (.2), .5 RBIs (.5) (.6). ,

      He played multiple positions (and played them as an all star) because he was good enough to play them all … 2nd, 3rd, left field, right field, 1st base…c’mon who does that now (or then).

  5. Chad, you should try to get your grandmother to go to the HOF with you. Pete getting inducted probably won’t happen. But the two of you can still see him mentioned for most career hits, enjoy the Reds display and see the plaques of all the Big Red machine players and Sparky who are honored. It is quite a few years since I went, but it was an enjoyable experience.

  6. Take your grandmother now. Pete IS in the Hall of Fame in several displays. He just hasn’t been inducted into the HOF with a plaque. She’d get a kick out of all the REDS stuff there.

  7. Quite possibly the best heartfelt article about the whole situation I”ve ever read.

  8. I grew up during the heyday of the Big Red Machine but was never a huge Rose fan. Bench and Perez were more my favorites. That said, I think the article is a fair assessment or Rose’s baseball greatness and puts it in the proper perspective. Pete wasn’t so much a great athlete as a great ballplayer. A grinder who had good hand eye coordination but nothing else about him physically (speed, power, arm) that was particularly impressive. Out of that he not only got the most hits in MLB history but was also a perennial winner who played in six World Series, winning three. Would I want my sons to grow up to be like Pete Rose? Hell no. In many ways, especially off the field, Pete has been a despicable human being. But I do hope they grow up to make as much of their God-given abilities as he did.

  9. I saw Pete Rose play. He was better than you can imagine. He made the game exciting in a way that might only be seen with a handful today (Trout comes to mind). You had to watch him because he was a force of nature. He loved the game, he loved the city. His baseball career speaks for itself.

  10. I was fortunate enough to be getting an advanced degree at U.C. during the BRM years of the 1970’s. Saw a lot of games at Riverfront, including the 1975 WS home games. As a ballplayer, I will forever see Rose as the consummate overachiever, who worked and willed his way to becoming a truly great ballplayer even though endowed with very ordinary talent. In my own profession, I’d like to hope and think that I have gotten the best out of myself by working at it as hard as Pete did in baseball. That’s my take-away of Pete. I modeled my work ethic on the one he showed as an athlete. No doubt that he’s been far, far below a model citizen, but I remain among those that think his HOF credentials should only reflect what he was on the field. Besides his personal shortcomings, I think that the still-East Coast dominated media continue to, and have for decades, ripped him because of the Bud Harrelson thing in the playoffs. How dare that Midwest guy defile an arrogant New York player in the post-season! (Still remember that clenched fist after Pete homered in Shea not too long afterward, so much in his character as a competitor.) I grew up in Cleveland as a Reds’ fan from the get-go and it was priceless to finally see the Great Eight play in person for a few years. Few live events that I have witnessed in life compare. Pete was the guts, heart, and soul…JB was the consummate talent, Doggie was the ultimate clutch player, and Joe was some of everything with a never-stopping heart. And hey, the other 4 weren’t exactly chump change. Watching the HOF ceremony and remembering how great the BRM was, I was reminded that the Reds, in their 147 years, do not have a single pitcher in the National HOF. Think about how those 70’s Reds teams would have dominated with a couple of true power # 1/#2 starters. Gullett at times came close, but I don’t think ever truly fulfilled what he could have been as a # 1. The rest, journeyman level to a hair above. What Sparky did with the likes of Fred Norman, Clay Kirby, Pat Darcy. Jack Billingham, etc. as his rotation anchors is still pretty amazing. (Wish Nolan would have had a healthy career so we could have witnessed the what-if…)

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