When baseball legend Ty Cobb retired in 1928 with the all time career hits record, few people felt his record would ever be eclipsed. He hit for a whopping .367 average over 24 seasons, and accumulated an amazing 4,191 hits.
And then as the following decades went by and player batting averages went down, Cobb’s record seemed even more cemented in stone—a record that truly might never be broken.
But if anyone could possibly break the seemingly untouchable record, Pete Rose was certainly not considered a candidate to surpass the legendary Cobb. He was a player considered an overachiever at every level of the sport he reached during his ascension through the sport’s ranks in the 1950s and 60s—a player who got where he was through work and relentlessness.
As an amateur, he was not regarded as an outstanding talent, and probably would not have even gotten a minor league contract without the help of his uncle, an associate scout with the Reds organization.
And though he approached his early role in the minor leagues with enthusiasm and eagerness, to the rest of the world he was just a skinny kid who was one of numerous minor leaguers that were long shots to even step foot in one Major League game. In his first year as a professional in 1960, playing for a Geneva team of the Red’s organization that was a perennial loser in a one of the most lowly-regarded minor leagues, Pete batted a so-so .277, but his almost all singles, and committed way too many fielding errors.
The Cincinnati Reds organization didn’t think much of him after that year, as evidenced by their end of season scouting report that stated: “Rose hustles a lot, but he can’t field, throw, or hit.”
But notwithstanding the Reds’ far-from-promising view of him, Pete was still convinced that he would inevitably become a success in the Major Leagues, even though hardly anyone besides his father shared his sentiment.
And after that first minor league season, Pete steadily improved and climbed the minor league ranks. He consistently hit for high averages, and also grew a couple of inches and added more muscle mass.
By 1963, the twenty-two year old Pete had earned his long awaited move up to the Major Leagues.
And it was not long into his Major League career that people discovered he was certainly not an ordinary player. In early exhibition games during his rookie season, his teammates and opponents curiously observed him intensely sprint to first base every time he drew a walk—a move that Pete copied, under the urging of Pete’s father, from baseball legend Enos Slaughter.
And in one particular exhibition game versus the Yankees, players from the opposing team laughed at and ridiculed Pete’s hustling style, while pitcher Whitey Ford heckled him by remarking, “Look at that ‘Charlie Hustle’”—a phrase used at the time as an insulting way to call someone a show off. Whitey Ford and his Yankees team clearly did not understand Pete Rose’s game, nor did many of Pete’s own teammates, who themselves were often annoyed by his rookie year enthusiasm.
But Pete remained undaunted by Ford’s insult, and by all means ended up having the last laugh. The name “Charlie Hustle” stuck to him—but instead of an insult, it became an honorary title that described his intense hustling style of play that helped make him a legend in the sport.
And of course, Pete eventually got the ultimate last laugh when his hustling earned him the all time hits record in 1985. By then, no one would dare ridicule him for his consistently high effort level.
Interestingly enough, Pete’s style of play was much like his hit record predecessor. In fact, Pete Rose had great admiration for Ty Cobb’s fierce brand of baseball, and he followed Cobb’s ideology of turning every play into a fight for supremacy. And both he and Cobb took their intensity to such a high level, that many people considered their fervor insane (and in Cobb’s case, he very well might have been insane)
Pete out-hustled and outworked the opposition in virtually every game he played throughout his career, causing longtime teammate and baseball legend Joe Morgan to once admiringly remark that Pete “played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series … I’ve never seen anyone else do that.” Another Pete Rose teammate and baseball legend, Johnny Bench, described Pete as “insatiable.”
Throughout his baseball career, Pete was always trying to gain an advantage. From scouting opposing players in order to discover and exploit their weaknesses, to sprinting to first base any time he hit the ball in play, to taking advantage of “napping” fielders while he was at bat, to never surrendering when he got caught in a rundown, to running over catchers who blocked the plate while he approached home base to score (including one infamous incident in an All-Star game)—whenever Pete Rose went on the field, Pete Rose really meant business.
And Pete even took as much care and pride in preparing his uniform and equipment as he did in his game. He always entered each game as the cleanest looking player on the field—and after his hustling play, he almost always left each game as the dirtiest looking one.
By 1985, Pete had hustled his way to the career Major League hits title, making him a hero to many as he exemplified the enthusiastic blue-collar player with self-belief who made it all the way to the top.
He retired the next year, marking the end of a 24 season Major League career that saw him achieve accolades such as six World Series appearances and three wins, seventeen All Star game appearances, three batting titles, two Golden Glove awards, an NL MVP, a World Series MVP, and the “record for most records”
And Pete also “invented” a few more records that no one ever kept track of, such as 1,972 games he played in where his team won—a record Pete calculated himself and considers his most cherished.
But to Pete’s fans, it is not that record or even his career hits record that define him. Instead, it is the tremendous attitude he took to the field for every game over his long and storied career.