History will be the judge of Pete Rose.
Only time will lend perspective to his accomplishments.
“I don’t ever really worry about how people will remember me,” Rose says. “Some people will remember my fight with Bud Harrelson (of the New York Mets in the 1973 playoffs).
“Some people will remember me for running into Ray Fosse at home plate in the 1970 All-Star Game.
“Some people will remember me for the paternity suit against me, and some will remember the divorce.
“That’s why I never worry about that. You can’t worry about something you can’t control.”
Indeed, historians will keep records of those occurences intact somewhere in their chronicles of Pete Rose. But he will be remembered primarily as the feisty little guy with average talent who became the game’s most-prolific hitmaker.
When he broke Ty Cobb’s mark of 4,191 career hits Wednesday night in his hometown of Cincinnati, the Reds’ player-manager ensured that he would be remembered as the game’s greatest hitmaker. Rose broke the record with two hits, giving him 4,193 in his 23rd major league season.
San Diego Manager Dick Williams, against whose team Rose broke the record, said, “Some records won’t be reached -- Cy Young’s victories (511), Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak (56 games), Cobb’s lifetime batting average (.367) and Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games (2,130). And now another is added. Rose is 4,193 and counting.”
Still intent on playing another year while he manages for the Reds, Rose could end his playing career with about 4,300 hits, putting the 4,191 hits of Cobb’s 24-year career well into the shadows of history.
Although Rose has said he doesn’t believe himself to be the greatest player in the game, some of his teammates disagree.
“He is the greatest player in baseball,” says Reds outfielder Dave Parker, who once during his career with Pittsburgh proclaimed himself the best.
It is difficult to imagine anyone ever reaching Rose’s mark. In order to get 4,200 hits, a player would have to have 210 hits in each season of a 20-year career.
“I can’t comprehend 4,000 hits,” Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn says, “and I don’t think anyone else can either.”
Rose holds major league records for most seasons, 10, with 200 or more hits, and most consecutive seasons, 22, with 100 or more hits. With 96 hits after his record-breaking game Wednesday night, Rose easily will increase the 100-hit record.
Lee Weyer, an umpire since 1962, the year before Rose broke in with Cincinnati, also was at third base when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.
“I talked to Pete about three, four, five years ago, and I told him I would be behind the plate when he broke Cobb’s record,” Weyer said. “It was a great thrill. It’s a record that will never be broken.”
That, of course, was what the oddsmakers said about Ruth’s record too after he finished his career with 714 career homers. But Aaron tied and passed that mark in the first week of the 1974 season with the Atlanta Braves, finishing his career with 755 homers, also a remarkable feat.
Since it was broken, that record obviously has been omitted by some from their “unbreakable” list. That is part of the perspective of time.
In a postgame ceremony at Riverfront Stadium, Rose received a telephone call from President Ronald Reagan, who may have some sense of historical perspective.
“I want to congratulate you for breaking one of the most enduring records in sports history,” the President said. “Your record may be broken, but your reputation and legacy are secure. It will be a long time before anyone stands where you stand now.”
Rose believes most longevity records, such as his, will be difficult to break because modern players with multimillion dollar salaries are less inclined to play for 20 years than were the oldtimers.
But Rose has a rather different perspective on his career. Asked if this record was the culmination of a lifetime’s work, he replied:
“I guess you’re absolutely right, but I never approached baseball that way, I never approached it as work. I’m a grown man playing a kid’s game, and I never approached it as a job. When it becomes a job, I’ve often thought I would give it up.”