Rose, Pete (1941—)

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Rose, Pete (1941—)

Although ball player Pete Rose ended a 26-year career with retirement in 1986, at the end of the 1990s he was still actively at the center of controversy in the sport. The holder of several records, including major league records for most career hits, games played, and at bats, he was declared ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame because of allegations that he placed bets on games while both a player and a manager in the major leagues. His reputation as a player has also been thrown into question over the years, with some pundits contesting his abilities and arguing that, gambling charges aside, Rose never displayed the talent necessary to be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Rose started playing professional baseball in 1960 with the minor league Geneva (New York) Red Legs. By 1963 he had reached the majors as a rookie second baseman with the National League's Cincinnati Reds and was named Rookie of the Year. During his subsequent career as a player he broke one of baseball's seemingly unbreakable records, Ty Cobb's career record of 4,191 hits. Rose ended his career with 4,256 hits, 14,053 at-bats, 3,562 games played, and 3,315 singles—figures that remained unsurpassed 13 years after his retirement.

Although his career numbers are impressive, Rose was arguably more famous for his attitude on the baseball diamond. Known as "Charlie Hustle" among fans and fellow players, he was famed for his constant effort, head-first slides, and incredibly competitive demeanor. His presence on the field seemed to energize the players around him, and his willingness to do anything to help his team win was apparent. It was also apparent that Rose was not the most physically gifted player in baseball, but he made up for his lack of physical abilities with an awesome show of determination and persistence that appealed to his fans. Many fans saw Rose as an "average guy" who was willing to give everything he had to win, and he actively encouraged this perception.

When Rose retired as a player in 1986, it was unanimously believed that he would be selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1989, however, everything changed. After months of investigation, Rose was banished from baseball and declared ineligible for the Hall of Fame by Commissioner Bart Giamatti. Giamatti concluded there was substantial and credible evidence that Rose had bet on baseball games, including those involving his own team, the Cincinnati Reds. By 1999, the evidence on which the Commissioner based his decision had not yet been made available to the public. It is a sacrosanct rule of baseball, dating back to the early 1920s, that any player or manager caught gambling on a baseball game is banished for life. After the disaster of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, baseball established a zero-tolerance policy on the gambling issue. Although Rose consistently denied the charges, he signed an agreement with major league baseball and accepted his de facto banishment from the sport.

While there are many who call for Rose's election to the Hall of Fame, others argue that he was never Hall-of-Fame caliber. While it is true that Rose has 65 more hits than Ty Cobb to his credit, it took Rose an extra 2624 at-bats to get those 65 hits. He was never a great home-run hitter, base stealer, or fielder, and did not drive in very many runs, given the number of times he came to the plate; nor did he score very many runs, given the number of times he was on base. In many ways, the argument for Rose's entrance into the Hall is based on his longevity and persistence rather than his abilities. Bill James, base-ball's most famous statistician/historian, argued in 1985 that even at his peak Rose was only the 97th greatest player of all time, fanning the continuing debate that surrounds the player's reputation.

Rose was still fighting his banishment from baseball in the 1990s, petitioning the league to lift his banishment and allow him eligibility for the Hall of Fame, a request supported by legions of his fans who continue to call for his punishment to end.

—Geoff Peterson

Further Reading:

Reston, James. Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti. New York, Edward Burlingame Books, 1991.

Rose, Pete, and Roger Kahn. Pete Rose: My Story. New York, Macmillan, 1989.

——, with Hal McCoy. The Official Pete Rose Scrapbook. New York, New American Library, 1985.

Sokolove, Michael Y. Hustle: The Myth, Life, and Lies of Pete Rose. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1990.