Rose set to return to Macon

sports@macon.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Pete Rose is not a Macon native, but we have claimed him as one of our own since he played minor league baseball at Luther Williams Field back in the early 1960s.

Rose, actually a native of Cincinnati, the city in which he gained fame as one of baseball’s all-time greats, spent just the summer of 1962 in Macon as a member of the Macon Peaches, arguably the finest minor league team to ever play here. During that season, Rose batted .330 with 178 hits, but he was not the league MVP. That honor went to Rose’s teammate, Tommy Helms, who hit .340.

Since his departure, when he went straight from Single-A to the big-league Reds, he has been back “home” to Macon only twice. He came to town at the behest of the late Bob Bonifay, who was his general manager in Macon, to speak to the now defunct Macon Dugout Club back in the 1980s, and he was here again in the summer of 2003 to throw out the first pitch at a game involving the independent Southeastern League’s Macon Peaches, which played at Luther Williams Field during the summer immediately following the Macon Braves’ departure to Rome.

His third trip will come Feb. 4, when he will be at Mercer for the sixth annual First Pitch Classic. He joins a list of notables who have appeared at the event, including former Braves Jeff Francoeur, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy and current Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham.

To me, Rose has always been what a baseball player is supposed to look like, and he has left an indelible mark on America’s pastime. He was given the name “Charlie Hustle” by New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford at a spring training game after sprinting to first base when he was walked.

Who will ever forget him bowling over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star game or his 44-game hitting streak, a modern NL record (Wee Willie Keeler had a 45-game streak for Baltimore in 1896-97) and second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game mark set in 1941? He is baseball’s all-time hits king with 4,256, of which only 160 were home runs.

Pete still holds 14 major league records, and he hasn’t played in more than a quarter of a century. In addition to his all-time hit total, he holds the record for most games played (3,562), most singles (3,315) and most at-bats (14,053).

Rose played on three world championship teams, twice with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and with Philadelphia in 1980, was Rookie of the Year in 1963, NL MVP in 1973, World Series MVP in 1975, NL batting champion in 1968, 1969 and 1973, and he was on 17 all-star teams, playing five different positions (first, second and third bases and left and right field).

Rose admittedly has made some mistakes along the way, with a major indiscretion keeping him out of a place he belongs, and that is the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was suspended in 1989 by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on baseball while he managed the Reds.

Unlike “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, I don’t think Rose ever bet against his own team. Just looking at Rose during his playing and managerial days, he wanted to win every time his team took the field. Was it wrong to bet on his team? Sure it was, but enough time has passed for him to be back as part of the game he so dearly loves. He has been in “baseball jail” for 24 years with no indication that a pardon is coming. Individuals who have committed murder have served less time than Rose.

Rose remains one of baseball’s all-time most popular players and will be warmly received on his visit to Mercer next month. Tickets and tables, as well as admission for an autograph session, are still available and can be purchased by calling Mercer assistant baseball coach Jake Long at 301-2738.

Welcome home, Pete.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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