Twenty-some years ago, Peter Edward Rose was just another tough kid growing up in the river wards of Cincinnati. He was a tough kid who liked girls and fast and fancy cars and baseball. Today, at the age of 38, not much has changed about Pete Rose. The girls have turned to women and fast cars are getting more expensive. But Rose, who makes his living–and a very good one, at that–playing baseball, is still tough. And he is still very much a kid.
Rose may play with different toys now–a $4000 fur coat, an $8000 gold-and-diamond watch and a $44,000 car that goes 130 miles an hour–but he hasn’t really changed. Baseball has. The game has become big business and he has grabbed more than his share of the big bucks that go along with it. At an age when the major decision facing most players is whether to become a car salesman or to open a taproom, Rose was faced with the enviable task of choosing from among a slew of major-league teams offering him millions of dollars for starters. And Rose, who had never played a home baseball game outside Cincinnati, picked the Philadelphia Phillies, who would pay him at least $3,200,000 over four years.
But how, many asked, could Rose be worth the money? Well, he packs ball parks. And while, as a technician, he really can’t be ranked up there with the Dave Parkers, the Rod Carews and the Jim Rices, Rose has one very important thing going for him. He has become perhaps the most famous white sports star in the world.
Just last year, a world far beyond baseball watched as Rose look on the seemingly unbreakable record of Yankee great Joe DiMaggio–who hit safely in 56 straight games. In a streak that started in mid-June, Rose scratched, clawed, hustled and bunted his way to one plateau after another. On July 31, 1978, he set a National League mark of 44 straight games. The streak would stop there, but Pete Rose would go on to a White House visit with Jimmy Carter, a highly heralded tour of Japan and commercial deals that would make him millions. And while Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was only a line drive away from his boyhood home, Rose had come a long way.
Rose is the son of a bank employee. His father’s passion for sports rubbed off easily on him. Too small to make it as a football player, he concentrated on baseball. He played hard and tough, but he never had a great deal of natural talent. Luckily, he knew somebody in the business. His uncle was a minor-league scout for his hometown team, the Reds. He talked them into giving the kid a tryout. Rose was impressive enough to be signed to a minor-league contract. He spent three years riding the battered buses of thefarm teams. The Reds finally called him up in 1963.
That’s when baseball people really started to take notice of this hard-nosed kid who ran to first on a base on balls, the hustling hot-shot who, instead of sliding, dove headfirst into bases. They noticed him enough to vote him Rookie of the Year. Read the rest of this entry »