Rose then introduced himself to the Reds and held a 10-minute clubhouse meeting, which ended in applause. "I just told them to play hard, have fun and do a good job," said Rose.
He received the first of his standing ovations from the fans at 7:15, when the Shriners gave him a red suitcase while fellow members of the Order of the Syrian Desert Raiders, dressed as clowns, cops and convicts, cavorted on the field. Although it wasn't a sellout, the crowd of 35,056 was about double normal size. The start of the game had to be delayed 10 minutes, until 7:45, to handle the last-minute walk-up sales. The fans stood again when Rose presented his lineup card to the umpires at 7:41. All the while, planes flew overhead trailing such banners as END OF THE WOES/WE'VE GOT ROSE/LOVE MARGE.
The Cubs scored a quick run in the top of the first. In the Reds' half, Gary Redus walked to lead off, and as Rose left the on-deck circle the cheers started anew. Someone in the first row threw out four long-stemmed roses. Rose tipped his cap. "I had tears in my eyes as I took the ring off the bat and walked to the plate," he said. "But the minute I walked into the batter's box, I was ready to hit."
On the first pitch from Dick Ruthven, Rose took a strike, bluffing a bunt to help Redus steal second. The second pitch was a ball. Then, at 7:54, Rose lined the third pitch over shortstop into left center, scoring Redus. The ball got by Bob Dernier, and Rose came tearing around the bases. "I haven't been playing much lately, so when I got to second, third looked like it was at Fifth and Vine. I thought they moved it since I was here last." His last appearance at Riverfront in a Reds uniform had been on Oct. 1, 1978.
Third-base coach Joe Sparks gave Rose the slide sign, even though there was no real play at third. "The outfielder made as if he might throw," said Sparks. "Besides, I knew Pete was going to slide anyway." And there he went, losing his helmet, flying through the air, plowing through the pit, grabbing third. As the manager dusted himself off, his players went wild in the dugout. "We were going crazy," said infielder Wayne Krenchicki. "I told Concepcion, 'Look at the tears in my eyes,' and he said, 'Look at this,' and he points to his arms covered with goose bumps." Rose scored on a single by catcher Brad Gulden, who came in on a double by Concepcion.
Rose didn't have to do much managing with Mario Soto on the mound, although Soto did give up a three-run homer that put the Cubs ahead 4-3. But Cesar Cedeño and Dave Parker hit solo homers to give the Reds a 5-4 lead. Throughout the game, Rose kept yelling encouragement and advice at Gulden and Soto from first base. Although the rules are still a little unclear, Rose will have to abide by the same rules other managers follow in visiting the mound.
In the seventh inning, after Gary Matthews walked, and with Keith Moreland up, Rose smelled a steal. He didn't know the sign for a pitchout, but he motioned to Gulden with his hand, and Gulden picked it up. Matthews was easily nailed attempting to steal second.
In the bottom of the seventh, Rose drove in an insurance run with a bloop opposite-field double. Naturally, and perhaps unnecessarily, he dived headfirst into second. "Actually," said Rose, "it's easier on my legs that way." In his debut as a skipper, Rose almost certainly became the dirtiest manager in the history of baseball. When the game ended, Pete Rose Sr. high-fived his 14-year-old son, Pete Rose II, the new batboy.
Soiled and rumpled, the new manager greeted the media with "I'm tired." But he was smiling and, as is his wont, he answered every question and then some. He said he would probably start Nick Esasky at first base the next night, although he did hedge a bit: "I'm seeing the ball pretty good right now. I wouldn't want to have a big crowd get on Nick if he struck out his first time up."
The one thing Rose said he wanted to accomplish was to make the game fun again for the Reds. "I just don't want the players on this team to put on the uniform on Sept. 30 and say, 'I'm glad I don't have to put this on tomorrow.' I want them to say, 'I can't wait to put this uniform on next spring.' "