With the news that Derek Jeter recently became the 28th player to achieve 3000 hits in a career, it brought back to mind the day I saw Pete Rose tie or possibly break Ty Cobb’s record. It all depends on whether you accept Cobb had 4191 hits or 4189 as has been re-adjusted in the past several years.
On Sunday, September 8, 1985, I had tickets to see the Chicago Cubs play the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Buying the tickets well in advance, I had no idea that this game had a chance to develop into something special. Pete Rose was both managing and playing for the Reds and was a couple of hits shy of overtaking Cobb for the most hits ever by a ballplayer.
It seemed as if the crowd, including myself, was rooting more for Rose than for the hometown favorites. Part of this was due to the bitter disappointment of the previous year when the Cubbies had a great winning season atop the National League’s Eastern Division with a record of 96-65. They then proceeded to blow the five game series in the first round of the playoffs to the San Diego Padres after winning the first two at home. In 1985, all five starters from the year before landed on the disabled list at one time or another starting in June and the team imploded. By September most Cub fans were jaded and lacked patience. Seeing Rose possibly create history would allay a good part of the suffering.
Rose was very popular in National League ballparks. The fans called him Charley Hustle. He would run to first base even on a walk. During the 1970 all star game he slid very hard into home with the winning run on a bang-bang play colliding with catcher Ray Fosse, essentially causing injuries that ruined Ray’s career. Everything Rose did on the field was for the purpose to win even in a game that didn’t affect a won-loss record.
Initially, Pete did not want to play on that Sunday in 1985 so that he could break the record back in Cincy. The commissioner insisted he hold up the integrity of the game. Pete did not disappoint the fans early on in that game. He got hits to tie the record. It was a matter now of whether he would pull himself out of the game to save the historic opportunity for the Cincinnati crowd as the Reds were returning back home after the game.
The weatherman had warned us that there was a chance of rain later in the day. Sitting in the mid level boxes on the right field side near the bullpen, my group and I noticed that dark clouds were moving in and it would not be long before it started raining. How heavy it would be and how long it would last was the pall cast over the exciting event.
At one point, we looked up at the Wrigley Field iconic wooden scoreboard and noticed the halftime results displayed for the Chicago Bears season opening game against Tampa Bay down South. It showed that the hometown favorite was losing 28-14 and we thought for sure it would be another long fall sports season in Chicago. However, the Bears surprised us and went on to win the game 38-28. This started the ball rolling for an amazing season where they only lost once late in the season at Miami, going on to pitch two shutouts in the playoffs and eventually win the Super Bowl.
The rain started to fall heavily and the grounds crew were instructed to roll out the protective infield tarp. Our group went under the stands for cover. As the rain delay took quite a while, we debated whether to stay or leave also figuring that Rose would take himself out of the game when it resumed, if indeed it did. This was three years before lights were installed so a couple of lengthy delays would put concluding the game into doubt.
We elected to leave and later found out that Rose did stay in the game when it resumed after an almost two hour delay. He did not get that four thousandth, one hundred ninety-second hit to put him over the top until the next game in Cincy.
Years later, a research statistician with time to kill re-tabulated the box scores of every game in which Cobb participated. He came to the conclusion that the Georgia Peach had two hits less, or 4189, due to a possible double counting of a game played in 1910. So, maybe I did witness history when I saw Rose get 4190 and 4191 that Sunday in the Park with Pete.