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:
I have a theory. Pete Rose, the player, is wildly overrated in Cincinnati, but he’s underrated everywhere else.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) June 27, 2016
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.
Blame Chad for creating this mess.
Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds” is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad’s musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine.
You can email Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.