He had known it would come. He had even known approximately when it would come. And he had anticipated how he would feel when it did come. Pete Rose leaves little to chance. He even rubs his bat clean with alcohol before each game so that afterward he will know from the fresh stains on it where he has made contact with the ball. "Pardon me for not getting too revved up over this," he had been saying throughout what should have been a tense week. But when his 3,000th hit did come last Friday evening in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, Rose surprised himself for one of the few times in his life by nearly coming to tears. Achieving immortality will do that to a person.
Rose admitted being a little restive before the game that night with Montreal. Though cordial as always, he had avoided reporters in the clubhouse, where he normally holds court at considerable length, reasoning perhaps that he had nothing to say that he had not already said dozens of times during the week. He was also steeling himself for the task ahead. He needed two hits to reach the fabled number, and in Steve Rogers of the Expos he was dealing with a pitcher who had won 17 games in 1977. Rose decided he would be aggressive as usual, but that this time he would wait for just the right pitches, would take more pitches than he ordinarily does.
As he came to bat leading off the Reds' half of the first inning, the crowd of 37,823 rose in great waves to roar acclaim. Batting lefthanded against the righthanded Rogers, Rose, the game's most prolific switch hitter, lined a two-ball, one-strike pitch softly to leftfield, where Warren Cromartie dropped the ball and then threw it away for a two-base error. Rose belly-slid into second, only to remain there as the next three Reds went out in order.
In the third inning, amid another standing ovation, Rose stepped up with Cesar Geronimo on second and one out. He hit Rogers' first pitch straight down onto the hard-packed dirt in front of the plate, producing a Baltimore chop. Rogers fidgeted impatiently under the high bouncer, and when he finally gloved it he tried to throw before he had a good grip on the ball. The ball slipped from his hand and rolled harmlessly behind the mound as Rose scrambled safely across first. Official scorer Earl Lawson of the
did not hesitate to call it a hit—Rose's 2,999th. The crowd cheered its approbation of this decision, but in the press box, Lawson, the hometown writer, was subjected to some friendly gibing about favoritism. In truth, had Rogers thrown perfectly, Rose probably would have beaten the ball to the bag, because as he said later, "I have never run harder to first." And he always runs hard.
The skyscraper-high stadium message board proclaimed 2999—1 TO GO when Rose stepped up in the fifth with two outs and nobody on base. He watched Rogers' first pitch sail outside, following it with his eyes into Gary Carter's catcher's mitt and then swiveling his head upward for Umpire Jerry Dale's call, which was ball one. The next delivery was "a fastball," Rose would say later, "about this big around," and he would hold his hands far enough apart for a bowling ball to pass between them. He lined this fat pitch over the head of Third Baseman Larry Parrish and into leftfield for an untainted single.
It was 9:22 p.m., E.D.T., and for the next five minutes the fans set up a clamor of a magnitude not heard in Cincinnati since the 1976 World Series. Rose's teammates hurried onto the field to bear-hug him and grasp his hand. He hugged and grasped back and waved his red cap at the adoring crowd. Then he was alone for a moment, standing just off first base. The fans would not let up and the game could not resume. Rose stood there looking like a lost boy about to cry. Finally Tony Perez, Rose's old teammate and friend who is now the Expos' first baseman, nudged him playfully. Rose wheeled about and embraced him. He smiled and the moment passed. The game went on—anticlimactically, it turned out—to a 4-3 Reds loss.
Thus did Pete Rose join an exalted company of 12, the leader of which is his prototype, Ty Cobb. Of all baseball achievements, the accumulation of 3,000 hits is the surest indication that a player is extraordinarily talented, extraordinarily durable and extraordinarily consistent. And it is a feat that virtually ensures the achiever enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Of Rose's 12 predecessors, nine are in the Hall; the three who are not—Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Al Kaline—will be admitted the moment they become eligible after five years of retirement. Some of the game's most celebrated players. Hall of Famers themselves, have fallen short of the milestone Rose reached. Injuries and wartime service kept Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams from it. Four years as a full-time pitcher kept Babe Ruth from it. Fatal illness kept Lou Gehrig from it. Involvement in the Black Sox scandal and subsequent expulsion from the game most likely kept Shoeless Joe Jackson from it. A near-fatal beaning may well have kept Ducky Medwick from it. But there have been numerous other superb hitters who enjoyed full and relatively injury-free careers who have not gotten 3,000 hits. That list fairly glitters with the likes of Rogers Hornsby, Al Simmons, George Sisler, Sam Crawford, Wee Willie Keeler, Jimmie Foxx, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott and Frank Robinson.
While Rose is the fifth player to get his 3,000th hit in the past decade, joining Aaron, Mays, Roberto Clemente and Kaline on the list of recent inductees, most members of the 3,000 club were in their prime before the New Deal began. Rose reached 3,000 one month into his 16th season—sooner, in point of service, than any other member of the elite. Cobb did not get his 3,000th hit until his 17th season but at the time he was only 34, three years younger than Rose. Aaron was 36, and Stan Musial and Tris Speaker were, like Rose, 37. Cap Anson was the oldest when he reached 3,000; he was 46 when he did it in 1897.
Rose is convinced that Cobb's career total of 4,191 hits, the major league record, is beyond his grasp, so he has set his sights on Musial's National League record of 3,630, a figure he could attain in as few as three years. Aaron's 3,771 hits (171 in the American League), the majors' second-highest total, also seems within Rose's reach, barring the sort of serious injury he has thus far escaped, or an unlikely capitulation to the infirmities of middle age. Rose passed Clemente's total of 3,000 hits last Saturday and should whiz past Kaline's 3,007 in a matter of moments. If he bangs out his usual 200 hits this year, he will also pass Anson (3,081) and Paul Waner (3,152) and finish the season ninth, behind Napoleon Lajoie (3,251), who, with Mays (3,283) and Eddie Collins (3,311), should fall in '79. That would leave Rose trailing only Honus Wagner (3,430), Speaker (3,515), Musial, Aaron and Cobb.
This is heady stuff to ponder, but though Rose is keenly aware of his figures, he would prefer to let his hits accumulate without further ado until Musial's record comes into view. Except for the final moment Friday, he wasted little mental energy on his 3,000th, a blow that engendered tremendous excitement despite its inevitability. Rose knew that he needed only 34 hits to reach 3,000 this season and that, as he so pithily advised Cincinnati's Insiders Club at a luncheon early last week, "It would be a lousy year for me if I went 33 for 650."