When I think of old-timers in baseball, I don’t always think of my childhood….I think before those days, but now that I’m approaching, uh, five decades of life, I suppose I need to keep in mind that the players of my youth are old-timers now, too.
I was (am) an unapologetic Pete Rose fan. I give 110% to everything that I do, and when I played baseball I, being of mediocre ability, tried to work every angle to win the game just as I knew Pete Rose would do. I challenged the defense and even slid on blacktop pavement to avoid being out in kickball games, much to my mother’s chagrin (thank goodness for “toughskin” bluejeans back then). I still do.
However, under current baseball rules, I do not believe he belongs in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Now, I do think the rules need to be changed, but, the rules being what they are, the regulations disallow Rose’s induction. I think the ban from Reds ceremonies and other such things cheat the fans now more than hurt Rose, but be that as it may, he may be have been the most praised and highly regarded player of the 1970’s, like him or not.
Now, it may surprise many of you that the “sabermetric” community (the baseball “geeks” who do stats analysis) don’t really appreciate Rose’s accomplishments. Yes, he played too long (your judgment as to whether he or the Reds’ attendance figures are to blame…) which distorted many of his statistics. That is to say, his decline phase is very long which negatively distorts his rate stats, but he put some huge counting numbers.
The following is taken from Bill James’s book “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract,” where Rose is listed as the 33rd greatest player of all time…out of about 16,000 player candidates (to let you know, Joe Morgan is rated 15th, Frank Robinson, 24th; Johnny Bench, 44th, Ken Griffey, Jr., 77th, Barry Larkin, 93rd). The book was written in 2001, before Rose made his public admission in 2004. I don’t know how, or if, this changed James’ feelings about Rose the player. But I can tell you that, for years, James did not write nice things about Rose as a player (at the end of his career). However, I do think James uses the paragraphs below to give a pretty balanced view of a way to evaluate Rose’s contributions as a baseball player.
“Let me write just a few paragraphs here for young readers, who don’t remember Pete Rose’s career. Pete Rose played the game differently than anyone else. When he drew a walk, he dashed to first base as if he were being chased by a leopard, as fast as he would run on a ground ball to short. He ran to his defensive position at the start of the inning; he ran full tilt back after the inning was over. He actually ran from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box; if he struck out he raced back to the dugout. If he had to back up another fielder, he backed him up at full speed, as if he fully expected that he would have to make a play. He was not blessed with great speed or strength or quickness or agility, but he was perhaps the most competitive player who ever lived. He hustled, from April first to the end of the season; he was called Charlie Hustle. He loved the game of baseball, he loved playing baseball for a living, and he made sure that it showed every day.
Sportswriters worshiped him. This was the guy, the one guy, who played the game the way it was supposed to be played, the human training film. More glowing, ecstatic prose was written about Pete Rose than about Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, John Elway, Mark McGwire, and Twinkie Teletubbie combined. When Pete Rose was discovered to have feet of clay, the sportswriters who had lionized him turned on him like a pack of vultures.
Now, I never particularly liked the Pete Rose show, and for a long time about the only thing I ever wrote about him was that he wasn’t as good as everybody said he was. But Pete Rose was never my hero, so his personal failings were never a source of pain to me. He is what he is. The man did get 4,256 hits in his career, more than a thousand of them for extra bases. He scored 2,165 runs, a staggering number, led the National League in hits seven times, in doubles five times, in runs scored four times. He drew more than 85 walks six times, won Gold Gloves as an outfielder, made the All-Star team at four positions, led the league in fielding percentage at three positions, led the league in outfield assists twice, won three batting titles, led the league twice in on-base percentage, had a 44-game hitting streak, had two streaks of 500 or more consecutive games played, and took six teams to the World Series.
Pete Rose had more extra base hits in his career than Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Al Simmons, Eddie Mathews, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, or Joe DiMaggio. The SABR (Society of American Baseball Researchers) poll had Pete Rose ranked below Roy Campanella. Pete Rose had almost as many extra base hits in his career as Campanella had hits. Which is better to start a pennant race with, a guy that you think might be the MVP, or a guy that you know is going to hustle every day and get 200 hits?”
Rose holds many baseball records and was among the league leaders in countless statistical categories. If you want, check out baseball-reference.com or wikipedia for lists and more specific achievements. Here’s a list of awards:
National League Rookie of the Year–1963
National League Most Valuable Player–1973
World Series MVP–1975
17 All-star selections
Three World Series championships–1975, 1976, 1980
Two Gold Glove Awards (as an outfielder)–1969 and 1970
Roberto Clemente Award–1975 (for character and charitable community contributions)
The Sporting News Player of the Year (1968)…during the year of the pitcher
The Sporting News Sportsman of the Year (1985)
The Sporting News Player of the Decade (1970’s)
For those who don’t know…the Sporting News was the pre-eminent sports publication of it’s time…and it’s time lasted over 100 years.
Why does this all matter? The question was asked the other day as to what advice to give to a new Reds fan…doesn’t it all kind of begin and stop right here?