If you had to pick one player who best personifies the Cincinnati Reds as a franchise, who would it be? If you’re like many fans of a certain age, the answer is easy, regardless of the baggage that comes along with it: Peter Edward Rose. With just two weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Goodyear, AZ, and with renewed focus on the drama of Pete Rose, it’s fitting that he is Number 14 on our Countdown Team.
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Most Reds fans are well-versed in Rose’s story, but it’s worth remembering, as another season dawns, that Pete was once just another young player trying to make his way in the game he loves. Growing up in a blue-collar Cincinnati household, Rose starred on the diamond at Wester Hills High School and was signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1960.
Rose spent two seasons in Class D and one at Class A Macon, improving each year, before breaking camp with the Reds in 1963. He played in 157 out of 162 team games that first summer and won Rookie of the Year honors by batting .273 and scoring 101 runs to go along with posting an OPS of .705. Fans loved his enthusiasm for the game right away, but Pete was just getting warmed up.
After a slight step back in 1964, Rose recorded his first 200-hit season in 1965 and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting for the first time. He would top 200 hits nine more times and would score a top-ten MVP rating in 14 other seasons, including a first-place tally in 1973.
Of course, Rose was more than a standout individual player, as he formed a vital cog for the famed Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s and was also the spark plug, at age 39, for the 1980 “Wheeze Kids” Philadelphia Phillies.
As the “Machine” broke up, Rose exited town for more money in Philly, but he came home in 1984 as his career was winding down and just as the Reds started to rise out of their abyss of the early 1980s. As player-manager, Rose led the Reds to second-place finishes in the old National League West each season from 1985-1988, and, along the way, he broke Ty Cobb’s record for most career hits. By the end of his playing career in 1986, Rose had extended the record to 4256 base knocks, and even 30 years later, there have been no challengers to the throne.
Rose’s fall from grace due to gambling on baseball has been rehashed ad nauseam, but the door for his reinstatement opened, just a crack, when Rob Manfred replaced Bud Selig as commissioner of Major League Baseball late last month. While Manfred maintains that Rose is not a priority, we can expect a groundswell of Rose support among fans as the 2015 All-Star game at Great American Ball Park approaches.
For the first time in a long time, Pete Rose has some reason for optimism as Spring Training opens, and it’s not all about the Reds’ chances in 2015.