Pete Rose sat back comfortably in his chair, donning his Cincinnati Reds hat while he sipped his beverage on a warm day in what is quite certainly the most ironic place he could be — Cooperstown, New York.
“It’s a great village,” said Rose during my sit-down interview with him just a few buildings down from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “I’ve been in Cooperstown many times before, and every time I come here it is very nice.”
Known as the “Hit King,” Rose is arguably the best hitter in baseball history. His 4,256 hits are the most all-time, and he also holds the record for the most games played (3,562), at-bats, (14,053), and outs (10,328). He won three World Series titles, three batting titles, the 1973 NL MVP award, and made 17 appearances in the All-Star game.
Although these numbers are reminiscent of a hall-of-famer, Rose has yet to find himself in the hall. That said, he enjoys returning to Cooperstown for the annual induction weekend festivities around the town. This year’s class included Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick, and Bert Blyleven.
“It’s a baseball weekend,” Rose said of the Induction weekend. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Because his playing and managing days are now becoming more of a distant memory with each passing day, the 70-year old Rose has been returning to Cooperstown more often. He played his last game in 1986 and most people will tell you that plenty of things have changed in the game of baseball in the last 25 years. Rose would disagree.
“I don’t think the game has changed,” he said, besides a higher emphasis on home runs. “The press is the one thing that has changed. You can find out everything that happened in a game that same night, and now I don’t want to read about it tomorrow morning. There is so much media going on today that everyone goes for the controversial stories.”
Rose brought up that he also has no issues with the way that salaries have changed for players since he was in the game and he believes players have every right to fight for their salary. According to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, the average salary for players in 1986 when Rose retired was $412,000. The average salary for a player in 2010 was $3,014,572.
“That’s fine,” he said of the salary differential. “You’re as good as you negotiate, that’s how good you are.”
I also had the chance to ask Rose about his playing days and his accomplishments. Besides his records for hits and games played, he feels that his next biggest accomplishment was being a part of six world series teams. He also felt that it was all or nothing, and if his team didn’t compete in the world series then it didn’t mean much.
“In my 24 years, six included World Series competition,” he said. “That’s 18 years that were wasted, but the reason why you play the game is to win.”
Rose spent the bulk of his career with the Reds before he went to the Phillies and Expos. He eventually wound back up in Cincinnati when he was traded from the Expos in 1984. Upon his return to the Reds, Rose was named player-manager and remained in that position until November of 1986 when he retired as a player but continued as manager. I asked Rose what it was like to be a player-manager considering most people of today’s generation have never witnessed such a thing.
“When I was player-manager, there were certain things I had to do,” said Rose, tapping each finger with his hand to count how many things he had to do. “I had to keep my skills honed by practicing every day, I had to give time to the press, and I had to give time to the players. Otherwise, something will mess up. I couldn’t take less time with the press and I couldn’t take time from the players, so I didn’t have time to practice and that’s why I retired. I just ran out of hours in the day to do what I had to do”
“There’s too much going on to be a player manager today,” he concluded.
To begin wrapping up the interview, I decided to ask Rose a question he has probably been asked several times before. I asked what he thought was the most memorable moment of his career. He listed his three favorite moments as if he had memorized the answer to that question long ago, and he said he did not have one favorite moment but instead several.
“First World Series.”
Finally, as a follow-up question considering Rose had such a long career and had an emphasis on his first and last at-bat as his most memorable moments, I concluded the interview by asking him what the difference was between his first and last at-bat in the big leagues. While I didn’t expect him to go into great detail, I assumed he might have a few things to say considering he had such a long career.
“24 years,” he said, nodding his head.
With that simple answer, Rose and I shook hands and he continued on with his special weekend in historic downtown Cooperstown.