Baseball legend Rose appears in Macon

mlough@macon.comFebruary 4, 2014 

Pete Rose hadn’t played in Macon since 1962.

But he brought a high level of playfulness back to town in front of more than 500 fans at Hawkins Arena as the guest speaker at Mercer’s annual “First Pitch Classic.”

The autograph session and dinner raise funds for the Mercer baseball program, and Rose did his best to make the night worthwhile.

He touched on everything from living at the YMCA when he played for the Macon Peaches, to almost joining the Atlanta Braves, to his lifetime ban from baseball to stories from one of sport’s most legendary careers.

The ban in 1989 for gambling certainly wasn’t on Rose’s mind Tuesday as he spoke for about 15 minutes and took questions for another 30.

Only one naughty word slipped in from the fairly raw and always blunt Cincinnati native, who is well aware of his occasional lack of polish.

“You can tell from the last 15, 20 minutes of me being up here I didn’t go to college,” Rose said. “Unless your deaf. … But I’m still getting’ my ass paid (Tuesday).”

Rose has one of the most honor-filled resumes of anybody who has visited the University Center, and certainly tops the list of sports figures who have done so.

He leads the majors in hits (4,256), game played (3,562), at-bats (14,043), has three batting titles and World Series rings, two Gold Gloves and was rookie of the year as well as MVP. Rose was also an All-Star at five positions.

His dad was behind the effort that led to his nickname of “Charlie Hustle” and his all-out play. One time, Rose guessed wrong on a pitch, in his hometown of Cincinnati, and was bugged by it. His dad was outside waiting after the game, in the late 1960s.

“‘Did you run hard to first?’” his father asked. “I had to think, because I missed the pitch. … I said, ‘No, I didn’t.’

“He says, ‘Didn’t I teach you better than that? Don’t embarrass me in this town.’ I said, ‘I won’t,’ and I never did again.”

That set the stage for Rose leading Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” to some powerful seasons in the mid-1970s, then Philadelphia to long-awaited postseason success, and after that the record for hits, passing Ty Cobb.

“He was probably the greatest hitter ever,” Rose said of Cobb the native Georgian. “I just got the most hits. He had a .367 lifetime batting average. That’s pretty hard to do.”

Rose, who turns 73 on April 14, made 17 All-Star appearances and retired with a career average of .303. He managed Cincinnati from 1984-89, going 412-373.

It was in the late summer of 1989 that that Rose’s legacy added the nasty chapter regarding gambling on baseball, leading to the lifetime ban from the game which he denied until almost a decade ago.

His discussion of the topic -- and noting he only bet on the Reds to win -- brought some applause, and he said the decision is the commissioner’s and commissioner’s alone.

Most of the evening was much lighter as Rose touched on a handful of topics:

Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman is one of his favorite current players. Sandy Koufax was the pitcher who had his number more than anybody else. A man who admitted being a Chicago Cubs fan caught some serious grief, and the Braves took some hits. He doesn’t believe Roger Clemens has taken steroids. His $810,000 salary when he signed in 1979 with Philadelphia’s was the richest contract in sports, ahead of NBA star David Thompson by $10,000.

He said he has played with the game’s greatest catcher (Johnny Bench), third baseman (Mike Schmidt) and second baseman (Joe Morgan).

“There’s only eight positions on the field, and I played with three of the best at their position,” He said. “How fun was it for me to go to the ballpark?”.

Rose was asked by the mother of three about travel baseball in the summer.

“I don’t like travel baseball.” Rose asked before answering. “I think you’re just going to burn them out. … You can learn something from every sport.

“By the time they’re 16, they’re not gonna want to play, because they haven’t met girls yet. Get ready. You got three boys? You got problems, babe.”

Rose ended the night by exchanging jerseys with Mercer third baseman Chesny Young, who was the A-Sun player of the year after last season and carries the same preseason honor this year.

Young’s 105 hits ranked second nationally in 2013.

Rose: “The guy that led the country, how many’d he get?”

Young: “He got 107, but, uh --”

Rose: “You couldn’t get three more hits …?”

Young: “I think he played 10 more games than I did.”

Rose: “Oh, that’s, we won’t count that, then.”

And as Young departed the stage, Rose offered a final shot of encouragement: “I’ll see you in the big leagues.”

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