Sports

Pete Rose pays visit to GCS Ballpark

Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose speaks with media and fans before appearing at the Gateway Grizzlies’ season opener Friday at GCS Ballpark in Sauget.
Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose speaks with media and fans before appearing at the Gateway Grizzlies’ season opener Friday at GCS Ballpark in Sauget. Paul Baillargeon

Pete Rose came to GCS Ballpark to wave his cap, shake some hands, and talk baseball with VIP fans who paid for a $100 ticket to meet the game's all-time hits king.

But Rose — who appeared as part of the Gateway Grizzlies opening day festivities — wouldn't entertain discussion of his lifetime ban from baseball, his admission that he bet on games, or any chance that he’ll someday be reinstated.

He kept his comments with the media and the VIP fans contained to the current state of the game and recollections from his days as a player.

He stood in the batter's box for the ceremonial first pitch, coached an inning each at first base and third base wearing a Grizzlies jersey and cap, chatted up fans, and signed autographs for those who paid for the privilege.

Rose retired in 1986 after a 24-year career that yielded three batting championships, a most valuable player award, three World Series Rings and six National League records.

Two of those records — his lifetime 4,256 hits and his participation in 1,972 victories — likely will last forever, he said.

"Like I said the other day on Fox, they won't break them while I'm alive and if they do after I'm dead I don't give a (darn)," he said. "Players don't need to play 20 years today and if you're a good player you can't afford to pay them that long. A-rod would have to get another $250 million contract to play in 1,972 winning games.

"But, then again, you never say never. I guarantee when Ty Cobb retired he didn't think anybody would beat his record."

Rose, who was elected to 17 All-Star games at five different positions, recalled that Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson would bench players who didn't participate in pregame infield practice. Some teams don’t even take infield practice at all anymore, he lamented, adding that it has led to a decline in the fundamentals.

"The fundamentals just aren't there," he said. "I used to have guys that I would tell my son to watch — you know, watch Ozzie Smith field ground balls, watch Mike Schmidt take grounds balls at third, watch Dave Winfield make a throw from right field, and if you want to watch hitting, watch your old man. That's what I used to tell him, but now you can't do that."

Long-term, high-dollar contracts have something to do with that, too, Rose said. Rose's career began in 1963, 12 years before the reserve clause was struck down in baseball. To that point, he said, his salary was determined annually based on prior year performance.

A lifetime .303 hitter, “Charlie Hustle” was in the big leagues 15 years before becoming eligible for free agency.

"Sparky said it one time and I'm not so sure he wasn't correct. He said ' give me 25 players in spring training every year on the last year of their contract and I'll got the World Series every year," Rose said. "If you've got a five-year contract making $15 million a year and you're in the second year of it, how can there be pressure for you getting hit?”

As a rookie with the Cincinnati Reds in 1963, Rose was at second base at the original Busch Stadium for St. Louis Cardinals' legend Stan Musial's final game. Musial's final career hit, which set the National League record at. 3,630, skipped past Rose into right field.

Rose broke that record 18 years later as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

"The day before that game, Stan wrote on a ball for me and it said 'To Pete Rose, best wishes for many hits,'" he recalled. "I don't think he had any idea I was going to break his record."

Three years after his final game as player, Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball amid allegations he gambled on games as a player-manager for the Cincinnati Reds. The Hall of Fame formally declared banned players ineligible for induction.

Rose denied the allegations for years before finally coming clean in his 2004 autobiography "My Prison Without Bars,” though he remains steadfast in his claim that he never bet against his own team.

Though he did not entertain questions about his lifetime ban, the Hall of Fame, or his relationship with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, the 250 fans who paid to meet him were happy to speak on his behalf.

Many of them were wearing Cincinnati Reds jerseys with Rose's name and familiar No. 14 on their backs. Rick Mathis, of Webster Groves, Mo. attended the event wearing a red t-shirt that said "lift the ban."

"What he did on the field speaks to why he should be reinstated into baseball," Mathis said. “If I may say so, he was kind of an idiot for everything he's done, but that doesn't change what he did on the field. Let's put it this way, if my kids would have played baseball the way Pete Rose played baseball, I would have thought it was fantastic and been proud of them.

“I grew up playing baseball and I was always No. 14. He was my hero because I like the way he played the game."

J.R. O'Donnell, a recent Cincinnati-area transplant who currently resides in Mascoutah, said meeting with Rose made him "giddy like a little kid." He said his hero has long paid his debt to baseball and belongs in the Hall of Fame.

He also believes the fans have forgiven Rose and that baseball should too.

"I believe the ban is unfair," he said. "What he did was wrong, but he's admitted as much and what he did he did did not affect his ability to play baseball or manage a game. That's what should matter.

"Outside the commissioner's office, I think he has been forgiven otherwise there wouldn't be all the St. Louis Cardinals fans her who paid $100 too."

Sports Editor Todd Eschman can be reached at teschman@bnd.com or 239-2540. Follow him on Twitter: @tceschman.

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