Pete Rose

May 2, 2007



Here is a happy man, a man immersed in the blissful ache of focusing on something both difficult and ferociously beloved. He seems to have just laced a line drive to left field and is about to sprint toward first base with every fiber of his being. The photo is from the 1978 season, in which he attained the immortality-clinching milestone of 3,000 hits, and then went on to hit safely in 44 straight games, tying an 81-year-old National League record.

Happiness comes and goes. The man pictured here had been born and raised in Cincinnati, and had at the time of this photo played for 16 seasons for his hometown team, winning a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, two World Series championship rings, two Gold Glove awards, three batting titles, and 12 National League All-Star team selections. In later years he would win another World Series title with the Philadelphia Phillies; would, while playing for the Montreal Expos, become only the second man to amass 4,000 hits; and would bring his career full cycle by returning to his Reds (I married into a Cincinnati Reds family, and I can tell you that even now the team belongs to nobody so much as to the man pictured here) to break Ty Cobb’s record for career hits, a record long thought impossible to approach, let alone break. But all this seems, in light of this 1979 card, something of an aftermath. An epilogue. He would play for another team the season this card came out, which broke the spell of permanence that Pete Rose had cast, that feeling that he always had been and always would be playing baseball with all his might for the Cincinnati Reds.

Pete Rose’s epilogue continues, of course, defined by his quest for reinstatement to the game he loved as much as anyone ever has, the game that banned him after deciding (rightfully, as Pete Rose himself admitted several years after the fact) that he bet on baseball while managing the Reds. He wants the permanence of a Hall of Fame plaque and the happiness of a job in baseball. It seems less and less likely that he’ll get either. My wife met him last year at a sports memorabilia store. It was a big moment for her, getting to meet the man who had been something like a god in her family’s home when she was growing up. But for him it was just another stop in an endless tour of a world of blurred faces seen from behind a folding table, pen in hand to write the same words over and over:

“Good luck, [your name here]. Pete Rose.”

He did not seem happy.


  1. 1.  Well done Josh.

    Just yesterday I googled and youtubed “Pete Rose slide”, because my 11-year old daughter said she wanted to learn how to slide that way. I knew that the only prototype was Rose. Damn, that slide was agressive, and explosive. Anyone know where on the net I can view that poetic beauty? The other day I watched the ’75 all-star game on VHS again. Rose was his typical self, one of the most amazing and exciting players ever to watch.

  2. 2.  I did enjoy Rose’s hitting streak in 1978, if I didn’t really care for him otherwise. What year did he grow his hair out? Anyone know? I had that hairstyle as a kid, because that’s what my mom knew how to cut and there were seven of us. I don’t think that I got a haircut at a barber or stylist until I was in HS.

  3. 3.  I know Rose had gone from the crewcut to the bowl by ’73 when he tangled with Buddy Harrelson in the playoffs. That second major league hairstyle of Rose’s helped usher in a time, very early in my life, when I thought that he and Jimmy Connors were the same person.

  4. 4.  Great series.

    My brother had a Pete Rose poster on his door at some point when we were growing up, and he had written on a piece of tape “3,000 hits” that he placed across the top. I countered with something about 200 hit-seasons for the player on the poster on my door, Steve Garvey.

    Since Rose was part of the Big Red Machine that was ever the threat to my Dodgers, I didn’t much like him, and I didn’t understand why my brother, another Dodger fan, did.

    It is hard to imagine Pete Rose being happy now, so far removed from the game and banished as he is, even amongst those who’d forgive him his offense(s) and heap semi-anonymous adoration upon him. I wonder if I still have that card: it looks too familiar to me.

  5. 5.  3 I’m lost in hysterics after reading that. How to explain why that is funny to my Australian boss??? My sister teased me as a kid by saying Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch grew up to be John Denver…and I believed her.

  6. I couldn’t stand Pete Rose in 1979, long before his issues came up, and I must have gotten literally ten copies of this card. It drove me crazy. It infuriated me that he was sainted an “All Star.” I couldn’t stand anything about him. In 1980, I despised him for bouncing the ball on the Turf in Philly, his haircut and everything else you could mention. Even though I hated the Yankees even more, I enjoyed the lyrics from the Billy Joel song, “Rose he knows he’s such a credit to the game/ But the Yankees grab the headlines everytime.” Mostly, I just miss 1978 baseball. Now, with time, I at least appreciate that Rose loved the game, if nothing else.

    (By the way, I think this hit went up the middle.)

  7. Has a cardboard god ever fallen harder than Pete?

    As a kid I was devastated when the Reds let him go. After reading “Hustle: The Myth, Life, and Lies of Pete Rose” I wondered how the team kept him for so long.

    When I visited the Reds Hall of Fame a few years back they had a special exhibit on Pete. Even knowing what a s*#$ he was/is, the schmaltzy 15-minute video bio still had me close to tearing up.

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