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EDITOR'S NOTE: Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was 13 years old when Pete Rose made his major league debut on April 8, 1963. They eventually were teammates on the Philadelphia Phillies.
I grew up in Dayton, 50 miles from Cincinnati. I followed the Reds' every move, knew everything about them, watched their games whenever and listened on radio.
Pete made the team in spring training 1963. Johnny Temple and Don Blasingame were the Reds' previous second basemen, as I remember. Pete was nicknamed Charlie Hustle because he ran to first base after drawing a walk, which to this day is unprecedented. I know of no other player who has done that, before or since.
Pete also brought the headfirst slide to the game. It's now commonplace. In fact, it's used more often than the standard slide. Pete didn't just slide headfirst — he dove into the bag with a vengeance, inciting the opposition and igniting the Reds.
Reds fans loved him, visiting crowds hated and booed him, visiting teams were confused and intimidated. This went on his entire career, wherever he played.
His biggest asset was his toughness. While respecting and often fraternizing with the opposition before and after games, he was the modern-day version of Ty Cobb.
I marveled at his confidence and courage in the face of pressure. He is/was probably the greatest "money" player of all time.
My grandmother tailored my Little League baseball uniform pants to be skintight like Pete's. I had a flattop haircut like Pete. In fact, in high school I became a switch-hitter and went to Pete's uncle Buddy Bloebaum for hitting lessons. The same guy who taught Pete as a kid.
As a young boy the Reds were my idols. Johnny Temple, Jerry Lynch, Bob Purkey, Ed Bailey, Tommy Harper, Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Gene Freese, Leo Cardenas and Tommy Helms, then came Pete, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench through my college days.
By the grace of God, I can think of no other reason, my dream of playing pro ball came true, and I joined many of those men in the majors.
It's unbelievable that in 1979 Pete joined the Phillies. The player I wanted so much to be like as a kid was now my teammate, friend and mentor. Even more unbelievable is that he led us to a World Series championship in 1980.
Never will his hit record be broken, never will there be a player who can set the tone of a series simply by diving into a base, never will there be a player who will play in more winning games, never will there be a player who can affect the careers of those around him in such a positive way.
There will never be another Pete Rose.
A side note: Maybe the saddest story in sports history, for sure in baseball, is that arguably the most unique and famous player in the game's history has been forced to become a forgotten man.
His actions surely are a major part of the reason. However, in the world in which we exist today, with what we see and experience in sports on a daily basis, where many are forgiven for their choices, allowing Pete Rose to be banished for life and refused access to the Hall of Fame is a tragedy of major proportions.