The sport of baseball lends itself to some colourful characters and some wonderful nicknames but when you attract the tag of ‘Charlie Hustle’, then you must be standing out from the crowd. In the case of Pete Rose, that uniqueness isn’t necessarily for all the right reasons but he’s certainly been one of the biggest characters that Major League baseball has ever known.
A successful player and manager, his later career was clouded by controversy so let’s take some time to get to know Pete Rose – AKA Charlie Hustle.
Over a long and productive playing career, Rose came away as the record holder in a number of MLB categories. He’s the all-time leader in terms of games played (3,562), and he achieved more at-bats, more hits, more outs and more singles than any other player in history.
That’s a hugely impressive set of landmarks but how did his career become so tarnished that he became ineligible for the MLB Hall of Fame? To answer that, we’ll begin by going right back to the start.
Early Baseball Years
Pete Rose excelled at Baseball in High School and had started to make a mark at amateur level when he decided the time was right to step up. In 1963, he joined up with the Cincinnati Reds and embarked on a spell with the side that would last for fifteen years.
Rose made his mark on debut in April 1963 when he drew a walk while he made his first hit five days later against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would finish the season as the National League Rookie of the Year and it was around this time that he would earn his infamous nickname.
There is, however, differing opinions as to how the tag, Charlie Hustle came about. Some say that it was coined when Rose sprinted to first base after initially drawing a walk. Another story claims that it came about when he climbed a fence to attempt a catch on a Mickey Mantle home run that sailed many yards over his head.
Whatever the truth may be in this respect, the MLB clearly had a colourful character on its hands but Pete Rose was a successful one too. He stayed with the Reds until 1978 and in that time, he was a World Series champion on two occasions – in 1975 and 1976. Rose was also the National League’s MVP in 1973 and the World Series MVP in 1975.
He received many of his All Star recognitions during his spell in Cincinnati and, while the club would draw him back in later on, the 1979 season saw the first switch of the player’s pro career.
1979 – 1983: The Phillies Years
In 1979, after a long spell with the Reds, Rose signed for the Philadelphia Phillies in a deal that was said to be worth $3.2 million. The Phillies had won the National League for three years in succession from 1976 to 1978 but on each occasion, they failed to make it to the World Series. Believing that Pete Rose was the man to take them that crucial step further, the Philadelphia franchise made their move.
The decision was set to pay off for both parties: The Phillies failed to make it beyond the regular season in 1979 but the following year was a whole different story. In the remaining four years of Pete Rose’s spell in Philadelphia, the club won now fewer than three divisional titles, they appeared in the World Series twice and they won their first ever World Series title in 1980.
Pete Rose played his part in that 1980 success but a poor batting display in 1983 suggested that his career was in decline. He was 42 at that stage and while things picked up in the postseason, it was time to move on once again.
1984 Onwards: Montreal and back to the Reds
It’s claimed that the Phillies wanted to retain the services of Pete Rose but the player wasn’t happy to accept a limited role on the pitch. In order to be more active, he needed to move on and, in 1984, he headed north of the border to the Montreal Expos.
The deal was intended to be for one year and there were some highlights but it was to be cut short. In August of 1984, Rose was traded back to his old club, the Cincinnati Reds, in return for Tom Lawless.
Management and Controversy
Back at the Reds, Pete Rose’s role wasn’t just limited to the pitch. With one eye on the future and in recognition of his age, Cincinnati had brought him back to the club as the player manager.
His averages immediately improved from his time in Canada and from this point, Rose started to break the many records that he holds today. The all-time hit record landed in his first season back and the rest followed across the next two campaigns. Despite this, the player was never the same as in his first spell with the Reds and in 1986, Pete Rose announced his retirement.
He stayed on as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and he would last until 1989. He would help the side secure three second placed finishes but the glory days were long gone. Rose did leave with his credibility intact but sadly, that situation wouldn’t last for long.
Reports emerged in early 1989 stating that Pete Rose had bet on baseball, thereby breaking a host of regulations. He was formally questioned in February of that year but he denied the allegations at that time. Findings under the Dowd report suggested he had bet on 52 Reds games during the 1987 season.
He continued to deny the accusations but in August 1989, Pete Rose accepted to go on the Hall of Fame ineligibility list.
How will we remember Pete Rose?
While there is never any excuse for transgressing obvious rules on betting, the only positive thing that can be said is that Pete Rose was backing with his team. Therefore, there was never any suggestion that his Cincinnati Reds side were throwing games.
As a negative to that positive, he continued to deny any involvement until finally admitting his guilt in 2004. An original admission, while not saving face, would have certainly saved a whole load of time and money on initial enquiries while the baseball-loving public might just have looked on his actions with more sympathy.
He was a great player that’s true and, while that Hall of Fame place may never come, perhaps future generations will finally remember Pete Rose for all the right reasons.