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Pete Rose, Just Average in Natural Ability, Makes It on Drive, Hard Work and Hustle

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Associated Press

A scrappy little ballplayer named Pete Rose was nothing special in high school.

“Pete was still pretty small, a 5-foot 8-inch, 150-pound football player. That’s why not too many baseball scouts were interested in him,” says Eddie Brinkman, one of Rose’s childhood chums from the Cincinnati public school system.

“But Pete just decided he was going to make himself into a great player and did.”

His dad, Harry, had a lot to do with it, too, teaching the youngster the meaning of the word drive.

Today, Rose’s love for baseball has kept him sliding head first through 23 major league seasons, including nearly 2,000 winning games, more than any other major leaguer in history.

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And his intensity as a hitter has kept him churning toward Ty Cobb’s magical all-time hit mark of 4,191.

“Pete is a self-made person,” said Paul Nohr, his high school baseball coach. “What he’s done has been through hard work, hard practice and hustle.

“Pete will tell you this: he was an average ballplayer,” said Nohr, who coached 11 eventual major leaguers, including Rose, at Western Hills High School. “He was not exceptional.

“I don’t think there’s any question that his desire is what put him ahead. And one of the big influences on Pete was his dad.”

“Charlie Hustle” calls his father, who died of a heart attack in 1970, the “King of Hustle.” A banker, Harry Rose played semipro football in Cincinnati during his ‘40s with the same determination and zest that burn in his son today.

“One day my father broke his hip on a kickoff and then tried to crawl down the field and make a tackle,” Rose wrote in his book on hitting. “That’s dedication. Another night I saw him coming off a field with a knot in his arm as big as a softball. He took a handkerchief, put three pieces of ice in it, tied it to his arm, went back in and made an interception on the next play.

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“Dedication was not something I read about. I lived with it.”

Another relative was instrumental in giving Rose his start in the Cincinnati Reds’ system. His uncle, Buddy Bloebaum, was a Reds scout who helped get him a $7,000 contract out of high school.

It was a modest beginning, but Rose was thrilled.

“They were going to pay me $400 a month to play basebell,” Rose said. “I thought I was Jesse James--I was stealing.”

He spent three years in the minors before being installed as the Reds’ second baseman in 1963. Rose won National League Rookie of the Year honors by hitting .273, and five years later won the first of his three NL batting titles with a .335 average.

Rose followed that with a league-leading .348 average in 1969, and won league Most Valuable Player honors by winning the batting title with a .338 average in 1973.

Along the way, he established his hustle reputation by with belly-slam slides and sprints to first base on walks. Two incidents on national television added to the growing legacy -- bowling over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium, and scrapping with the New York Mets’ Bud Harrelson after a hard second-base slide in the 1973 playoffs.

At age 44, Rose still goes into base head first and throws his body into breaking up double plays. It’s the only way he enjoys playing.

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“I just try to play hard every day,” Rose said.

There have been plenty of milestones: World Series MVP honors in 1975, 17 All-Star Games and six World Series appearances. His long list of major league records includes most games played, at-bats, singles, and highest lifetime fielding percentage by an outfielder.

He collected his 3,000th hit and put together a modern-day league record 44-game hitting streak in 1978, before leaving the Reds as a free agent for Philadelphia.

Rose takes particular pride in his consistency over the years and playing in more than 1,900 winning games--another major-league record.

“I’ve never approached baseball as a job. It’s fun,” Rose said. “The only way to have fun is to win.

“When I take the field I think I’m going to win. I’m not one way or the other--I think I’m going to win. But I’m not a sore loser. You’re going to lose some games in baseball, but you don’t accept it.”

He also hasn’t accepted the popular wisdom that 44-year-olds should take it easy and leave sports to the younger set. Although reduced to a part-time player hitting less than .300, Rose can still line singles with his short, compact swing and find ways to produce in the clutch.

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After each game, he still carefully rubs down his bats with alcohol, checking the contact marks, and then wiping them clean for the next game.

On off days, he still takes batting practice.

There was some question last year whether he’d reach Cobb’s hit mark, when he was fighting for a starting role with the Montreal Expos. Then came one of the Reds’ most popular strokes -- returning Rose as player-manager last August.

The move by former Reds President Bob Howsam revitalized Rose, the sagging Cincinnati franchise and an adoring hometown that had lost interest in baseball through three losing seasons.

Howsam originally approached Rose for solely a managing job, but the switch-hitter convinced Howsam to give him the dual title.

“I asked Bob Howsam if he thought I could still hit,” Rose said. “He said, yes.”

And hit he did. He batted .365 in a Reds uniform last season while turning the ballclub around. The Reds were 15-12 in September, the second-best record in the NL West. And Rose finished the season with 4,097 hits, well within striking distance of Cobb.

One year after Rose returned as player-manager, the Reds again were contending in the NL West. Attendance is up, and fans--including Reds owner Marge Schott--are eager participants in the Cobb countdown.

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“I think he’d break his heart to help this city,” Nohr said of Rose. “His desire to get ahead and hustle sheds off. That’s why the team is doing better this year. He’s a morale builder that way. The team says, if he can do it, so can I.”

Rose, meanwhile, is enjoying all the attention he’s been getting.

“The closer I get to the record, there’s not going to be pressure,” he said. “It’s fun. If I go into the last game of the season needing six hits, then there will be pressure. The closer I get to the record, the more revved up I’m going to get.”

With the record looming, Rose has been asked to rehash the early days when he struggled to get noticed. He admits, with a craggy smile, that he wasn’t particularly adept at fielding, throwing or running as a youngster.

“But no one ever said I couldn’t hit.”

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