CINCINNATI — Pete Rose’s speech on his induction day to the Reds Hall of Fame was a testament to why Cincinnati places Rose at the top its icon list.
He was funny. Irreverent. Decidedly un-politically correct. And his love for the game of baseball and the Reds fairly oozed from his every pore.
No has ever questioned the city’s love for Rose. Flaws and all, Rose’s popularity never wavered. The simple explanation for that is he was a great baseball player and he was and is a hometown guy.
But I think goes beyond that. It is the way Rose played. He’s best know for breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record and being the Hit King, but neither of the two plays he’s best remembered for were hits: The fight with Bud Harrelson in the 1973 playoffs and running over Ray Fosse in 1970 All-Star Game.
Both were classic Rose. He wasn’t going to take guff from anyone and was going to play to win at any cost — even in an exhibition game.
Rose learned that down at Bold Face Park as a Knothole player. He says it’s the Cincinnati way. He mentioned Barry Larkin, Buddy Bell, Dave Parker, Billy Doran in his induction speech.
“Why did we all play the same?” he said earlier. “Was it Knothole baseball? Everybody I just mentioned was a bust-ass type. Think about that. You don’t see that in other towns. I think that’s what Knothole baseball learned us. We didn’t have Little League rules. We had good coaching and they taught us the right way to play. There ain’t no question in my mind that this is baseball capital of the world.”
“God love Knothole baseball.”
Larkin thinks Rose reflects his hometown better than anyone.
“Cincinnati is a blue-collar town,” Larkin said. “Pete represented that.”
No one was more blue-collar than Rose. But he was more than that. He was driven, or as Johnny Bench put it, dissatisfied.
“Pete Rose is the most dissatisfied person I’ve even met,” Bench said. “Every day, he was not happy until he got four hits. Every day, it was like that. It wasn’t the day before. He was never satisfied.
“He was never, ever happy with three hits. He wanted four. The next game he wanted to start it all over again.”
Bench says that’s what made Rose what he was.
“The greatness of this man is he was never satisfied,” Bench said. “He instilled that in everybody. He led by example.”
Rose got his reward for that Saturday. He knows he’ll never make the National Hall of Fame.
“This is good as it’s going to get with me,” he said. "This will be the ultimate thing to happen to me so far in my baseball career.”
The wait — the 30-year waiting — made it all the sweeter.
“I guess good things are worth waiting for,” Rose said. “Great things are even better to wait for.”
Rose’s speech ran a little over the five minutes he was allotted. When the music started playing, he said: “Does that mean it’s time for me to go? The music playing? The hell with it. I waited 30 years.”
The crowd, of course, loved that. With the current state of the team, they would have preferred that Rose keeping talking and game wait. It did start six minutes late.
Rose wrapped up by thanking the fans.
“You motivated me to play the way I did,” he said. “I was diving for you. I was getting those hits for you.”
That’s why Cincinnati loves him so.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.