September 2007 Issue
Cincinnati's Hall of Fame and Museum honors the city's boys of summer and controversial native son Pete Rose.
The question of whether Pete Rose belongs in baseball's Hall of Fame is certainly a hot-button issue.
Many fans of the sport, especially those who follow the Cincinnati Reds, believe the all-time hit king should have been enshrined in baseball's Holy Grail in Cooperstown, New York, years ago.
But until Major League Baseball's powers-that-be change their stance (which seems unlikely), Rose will remain on baseball's ineligible list. Because he gambled on the sport –– an act that had him banned from baseball while he was managing the Reds in 1989 –– the doors to Cooperstown will remain closed to him.
However, that doesn't mean Rose's on-field accomplishments from 1963 to 1986 shouldn't be celebrated. Cincinnati is doing that in style at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the grounds of the Great American Ball Park. "PETE, The Exhibit," a comprehensive retrospective of Rose's career, is in the spotlight until early next year.
The exhibit celebrates Rose's 24-year playing career –– 18 years of which were spent in Cincinnati –– and details his accomplishments in a Reds uniform, beginning at Crosley Field and ending at Riverfront Stadium. Rose's days with the Philadelphia Phillies (1979-83) and his lone season with the Montreal Expos (in 1984, until he was traded to the Reds and became player-manager late that season) are also chronicled.
The exhibit covers 2,000 square feet, utilizing the gallery in the main lobby of the Reds Hall of Fame and incorporating existing exhibits, as well as the Hall of Fame theater.
The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum was already a popular attraction before "PETE" arrived. It opened in 2004 and includes more than 15,000 square feet of exhibit space on two floors, with tributes to the greatest moments in the long history of Cincinnati baseball, dating back to the formation of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. It also relives the days at Crosley Field, the years at Riverfront Stadium, the dominance of the "Big Red Machine" in the 1970s, and the new era that began when the Great American Ballpark opened in 2003. Legendary figures in Reds history, such as Frank Robinson, Sparky Anderson and Joe Morgan are honored, as are the World Championship teams of 1919, 1940, 1975, 1976 and 1990. Since its inception in 1958, the Reds Hall of Fame has inducted 71 standouts. That includes 65 players, four managers and two front-office executives. Inductees are honored with a bronze plaque containing their likeness.
"I go over a couple of times a month," says Reds fan Frank Hodges, who enjoys dropping by during his lunch hour to try his hand at the museum's interactive displays. One of the most popular is the Strike Zone, where fans can emulate pitchers by trying to throw strikes from 60 feet, 6 inches, the exact distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate.
"Once in awhile I stop by to pitch," says Hodges. "I'm a [memorabilia] collector myself, so I enjoy going through the museum."
A baseball fan could spend hours absorbed in all that the museum offers, and the Rose exhibit has only added to the excitement.
"The primary reason we put together the exhibit was to remind people how great he was, and to show the younger generation why people are so passionate about Pete," says Hall of Fame visitor services manager Chris Eckes. "He did things on the field that people will never do again."
Rose was born in Cincinnati on April 14, 1941. He played baseball and football at Western Hills High School, and signed with the Reds after graduating in 1960, beginning what would become an unforgettable journey.
Rose was in the majors by 1963, having won the second-base job in spring training. It didn't take him long to make his mark. He batted .273 and was named the National League Rookie of the Year. The exhibit contains one of Rose's most prized possessions: the Fred Hutchinson Award, named in honor of the man who managed the Reds from 1959 to 1964 before succumbing to cancer. Rose received it in 1968 after overcoming a wrist injury to win the National League batting title.
Rose was one of the key reasons why the Reds dominated the National League during the 1970s, also known as the "Big Red Machine" years. The team won the NL pennant in 1970, 1972, 1975 and 1976 and the World Series in '75 and '76. Since Rose's career spanned the Reds' days at Crosley Field and Riverfront, the exhibit includes artifacts from both places, including jerseys, gloves, bats, batting gloves, banners and Rose's World Championship rings from 1975 and 1976. Another Rose milestone came in 1978 when he hit in 44 straight games, tying the National League record, second in baseball history behind Joe DiMaggio's record 56 straight games.
In one of the most talked-about moves in Reds history, Rose left Cincinnati and signed with the Phillies following the 1978 season. Philadelphia won the World Series in 1980 and the NL pennant in 1983.
No one ever played the game like Rose did: His hustle, his head-first slides and his constantly dirty uniform are images that will never be forgotten. And Rose is revered for more than what he could do with a bat. He played five positions (second base, left field, right field, third base and first base) and won two Gold Gloves.
A switch-hitter, Rose won three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, was named to the All-Star team 17 times and played in a record 3,562 games. A wall-mounted plasma screen in the museum shows an edited version of a locally produced documentary, titled "The Cincinnati Kid," and the Hall of Fame theater features a nine-minute video tribute to Rose's career. Naturally, he already had a major place in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. A three-story Wall of Balls, with a baseball marking each of Rose's 4,256 career hits, adorns the building's south side.
A hallmark of the exhibit is the items surrounding Rose breaking Ty Cobb's all-time record for base hits in a career. The bat and ball from his 4,192nd career hit in 1985, as well as many of the balls Rose hit that season are on display, and visitors can even see a piece of Astroturf from Riverfront Stadium where hit 4,192 fell.
Ironically, these items are inadvertently linked to a bit of controversy that Rose has nothing to do with. It's been widely accepted that Rose broke Cobb's hit record at 4,192 with a single off San Diego's Eric Show on Sept. 11, 1985, at Riverfront Stadium. However, many statistical sources now list Cobb as having 4,189 career hits instead of 4,191, which was his total when he retired in 1928.
(In the late 1970s and early 1980s, baseball researchers discovered Cobb had been credited with two extra hits in 1910 and one extra hit in 1912. It was also discovered Cobb failed to receive credit for a hit in 1906. The result of these discrepancies shows Cobb has 4,189 career hits. So Rose broke Cobb's actual hit record with his 4,190th career hit, a single off the Cubs' Reggie Patterson on Sept. 8, 1985, at Wrigley Field.)
The exhibit also points out facts that even some of Rose's most ardent followers may not know.
For instance, his original nickname was Scooter because he beat out so many infield hits. That was before he was given the commonly known nickname Charlie Hustle. Depending on which legend you prefer, that label was given to him by either Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford (both former Yankee greats) in a spring training game in the early 1960s because Rose sprinted to first base after drawing a walk.
The nickname was not meant as a compliment, but as the years went on, the label became part of Rose's lore.
The walls of the exhibit feature quotes about Rose from several notable baseball people. One, from a major league scouting report in 1960 says, "Pete Rose can't make a double play, can't throw, can't hit left-handed pitching and can't run."
It's assumed the scout who wrote that report ended up making his living in another line of work.
Great American Ballpark
100 Main St., Cincinnati
Open year-round. For hours and admission, call 513/765-7923 or visit www.reds.com.