By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Happy birthday Pete Rose.
Do you know how to tell you are getting old? How about when your boyhood idol is 72 years old, as Rose turns today.
John Mustain knows just how that feels. The 52-year-old James Monroe baseball coach doesn’t quite remember when Rose collected the first of his 4,256 hits way back in 1963.
“It is hard to believe because I was 2,” said Mustain, an avid Cincinnati Reds fan, with a laugh.
Believe it or not, it has been 50 years and a day since Rose broke out of an season-opening 0-for-11 slump by slashing a triple off Pittsburgh’s Bob Friend for his first major league hit for the Cincinnati Reds on April 13, 1963 on his way to rookie of the year honors.
Who would have thought then that 24 years later, Rose would be the all-time hit king, having passed Ty Cobb’s so-called unbreakable mark of 4,191 with a single to left field off San Diego’s Eric Show in 1985.
Before Rose could catch Cobb, he had to pass Stan Musial for the National League record for hits. When Musial collected his 3,630th and final hit, Rose was there in his inaugural season on a big league diamond.
“I have always heard this and I am assuming this is true that when Stan Musial got his last major league hit, Rose was playing second base and he hit one in the hole past a diving Pete Rose,” Mustain said. “It was his last hit and of course then Rose eventually passed him and passed Cobb.”
Rose was an American success story. He wasn’t supremely talented or wasn’t even a great athlete. He was someone who just loved to play baseball, and worked hard at it, every time he took the field.
“I always give him as a perfect example of someone who is self-made,” Mustain said. “When you say that it sounds like he had no athletic ability at all, but obviously he had some.
“To become what he became, he worked hard to become what he did.”
Rose always felt like he had to prove himself on a major league diamond. He picked up the nickname “Charley Hustle” from Whitey Ford, who said it sarcastically because Rose was playing so hard in a preseason exhibition game.
Yet, Rose played the game the right way. He played to win at all times. He has long been criticized for plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game, but it was a game and Fosse was keeping him from getting home, and the object of the game is to score runs.
That was an era when televised games were rare, and if you hoped to see your heroes in action, you about had to go to a game.
Mustain still remembers his first game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, way back in 1970. It was the first of many for the avid fan, who still follows the Reds to this day, and is hoping to get to Great American Ballpark this season for another game. Same here.
“I live and die with them, I watch them on TV every chance I get, I have got the text message thing that comes through,” Mustain said. “I haven’t been up there for about three years, I hope to get back up there this year.
“I just think back to some of the players I have seen. I got to see Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Willie McCovey. Willie McCovey hit one off Tom Seaver one time that hasn’t landed yet back in ’78. I love going up there.”
It was the same for me. I will never forget seeing Pete Rose for the first time in person.
I was 9 when I got to see my first major league game. Our family of 6 took vacations every summer to see my mother’s family in Indiana, and my father decided we would stop in Cincinnati on June 30, 1973 to see the Reds.
It was Cincinnati and the Dodgers — one of the great rivalries in the game — that has been lost to realignment, but this was truly one of the most memorable moments of my life. Suddenly, my boyhood hero was right there, playing on the turf of Riverfront Stadium.
That was 40 years ago so my memory is a little hazy, but you can find anything on the Internet, and that includes a boxscore from that particular game, which the Reds lost to the Dodgers 8-7 in 13 innings.
Rose had two hits, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Bobby Tolan hit home runs, and Larry Stahl struck in the bottom of the 13th to end the game. I saw 21 of the 25 Reds and 20 of the 25 Dodgers play on that night.
I didn’t want it to ever end. We finally got to Linden, Ind., in the wee hours of the next morning, and I had an earache that wouldn’t quit, but my love for baseball had grown from that experience.
That has never changed. I have been to numerous games over the years, but that one will always stick out.
Much has happened since that game all those years ago. Forty years is a long time. Rose is 72 and I am closing in on 50. But, much like Mustain, I still yearn to be part of baseball.
Mustain reached the zenith of his coaching career three years ago when his Mavericks advanced to the Class AA state championship game. He expressed his feelings on baseball to radio announcer Fred Persinger after his club beat Sissonville to qualify for the title game.
“All the grounds crew guys were out there working and I told him ‘that is my dream job right there,’” Mustain said. “I would love to be a groundskeeper in Cincinnati or any ball park for that matter. It is just fun.”
It is funny how baseball can bring together a pair of fans.
I wore my Reds jacket to a baseball game on Friday between James Monroe and PikeView, and Mustain was quick to notice.
We talked about Rose and the Reds a few minutes before and after the game, but then he had to get ready for another game and I had to get back to Bluefield and write up the Mavericks’ 4-3 win over the Panthers.
Too bad for both us.
“We could stand here and talk about Reds baseball all night,” said Mustain, with a smile.
As for Rose, he is far removed from his playing days, finishing up his career as a player-manager and collecting his final hit in 1986. I have winced at some of the things that have happened with him over the years, but like Mickey Mantle said, and Rose would probably agree, ‘play like me, but don’t be like me.’
Rose’s post-playing career has tainted his legacy somewhat, having admitted to gambling on the game he loved so much, but his performance on the field deserves the one piece of recognition he has been denied; entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“This is the way I feel about the whole Hall of Fame issue, the things that he is accused of doing which he has finally admitted took place basically after his playing days,” Mustain said. “To me, put him in the Hall of Fame. If you want to put on there that he got in trouble for gambling, put it on there, but he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
As Mustain continues on, everyone in the Hall of Fame is not a saint.
“We have got other guys in the Hall of Fame that weren’t exactly the most pleasant characters in the world,” Mustain said. “I am a huge Ty Cobb fan and there is a whole story in itself with him, but personally I think that is what should be done.
“He is the all-time hits leader, he needs to be in there.”
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org