Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 1985: Hit King

CINCINNATI - When he debuted, he was 22-year-old second baseman, blessed with the ability to hit from both sides of the plate and brimming with the confidence that backed up his talent.

At the end, he was 44-year-old part-time first baseman and full-time manager, still getting hits 22 years after he first broke into the league. When he got the hit that gave him no equal in the history of the game, it was the culmination of a career of unfathomable consistency and durability.

Pete Rose's entire career had led to this. The career with 15 seasons where he hit .300 or better, with 10 seasons with at least 200 hits, with 17 All Star Games and 3 world championships, all peaked on the evening of September 11, 1985, when he blooped a first-inning single off San Diego pitcher Eric Show to become baseball's all time hits leader.

After passing Ty Cobb with his 4,192nd hit, Rose lifted his helmet to acknowledge the hometown cheers. His son, Pete Jr., came out to hug him, and the normally stoic, ultra-competitive Rose broke down crying. He later said that during the celebration - which included a long standing ovation from the Cincinnati fans - he saw Cobb and his father standing next to each other in the sky, smiling, and that vision is what made him break down.

Rose got his 4,256 career hits the old-fashioned way. He never watched a second of film and he rarely lifted weights or did any baseball activities in the offseason. His offseason workout regimen was to play full-court basketball to stay in shape. And yet he kept getting hits, despite switching positions five times in his career.

When Rose broke Cobb's record, the only question about his Hall of Fame eligibility seemed to be whether he'd be voted in unanimously. That changed, though, when allegations of his gambling came out. Now, Rose is disgraced, banned from baseball for betting on the game, and therefore ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Memorabilia from his playing career is in the Hall of Fame, including the bat he used for hit number 4,192, but his plaque is not, and he's not even allowed in the building.

Nobody knew what was coming, though, that evening in 1985. And if they did, they didn't care. It was Rose's night, after all, a night to honor baseball's new hit king.

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