CINCINNATI -- When Pete Rose invited a scribe into the Diamond Club at Great American Ball Park Saturday to talk hitting during the completion of Friday night's rain-delayed Reds' game – they watched on TV as Adam Duvall put the Reds ahead with a 2-run homer in the eighth inning – there were five watermelon slices piled up in front of Rose, next to an iced tea.
It's exactly the way Rose's player-manager's desk looked back in the day at Riverfront Stadium.
Some things never change.
The Reds commemorated the 30th anniversary of Rose's record-breaking Hit No. 4,192 (it actually occurred 30 years-and-a-day earlier, Sept. 11, 1985) by giving away 41,137 bobbleheads Saturday at GABP.
Just for the record, it's not a great lookalike bobblehead – I'd call it a cross between Mike Lum (Rose's 1976-78 Big Red Machine teammate) and '50's crooner Pat Boone – but the artist has an out:
They threw away the mold when they made Rose.
Which begs the question: Where else, and for whom else, does a major league club draw 41,137 fans for a Saturday baseball game on a college football afternoon when the home team going into the day's play is 29 ½ games out of first?
Which in turn, raises another question: Just how bad ARE these Reds? In 1982, when the Reds finished last in the National League West, they lost 100 games (61-101) and ended up 28 games back. The '15 club better keep winning if they're going to finish fewer than 28 games back; after all, they can't play St. Louis every day.
They've now beaten St. Louis three in a row in this series, and go for the sweep Sunday.
I asked Rose when did he begin thinking seriously about breaking what everybody had always assumed was Ty Cobb's unbreakable hit record? Was it when Rose reached 3,000 hits as a 37-year-old?
“I don't think I was thinking about it then,” he said. “But I admit to thinking about it when I hit .365 down the stretch playing every day after I returned here (Cincinnati) as player-manager in August, 1984. That gave me the chance to play in 1985. If I hit .165, I couldn't take a roster spot in 1985.”
I'd forgotten that Rose batted .365 as a Red in 1984, but that's typical of the Hit King. I've talked hitting with him countless times over the past 30 years, and he never fails to surprise me with some number.
Although it was only 26 games, the .365 BA is impressive, especially when you consider he was 43 years old. Also impressive was his .430 on-base percentage – which like his .365 BA topped any single-season mark of his 24-year career – and his on-base plus slugging (OPS) was his second-best (888), and his slugging percentage (.458), his fourth-best.
It was more fun talking hitting Saturday with Rose than anytime I can remember since 1989, when Baseball launched its gambling investigation that wound up getting him banned from the game.
At least now there is some kind of closure in sight for Rose, because first-year commissioner Rob Manfred has promised to rule on Rose's reinstatement petition – yay or nay or something in between – by year's end.
I showed Rose the list that my friend, Fox Sports Ohio's Reds' game statistician Joel Luckhaupt had given me: “Most Hits by a Player from Age 30-Season On.”
The Hit King gave the list a long look, pondering the numbers – Rose had 163 more hits than the next closest player (Sam Rice), 510 more than Honus Wagner, 671 more than Cobb; all eight players on the list are Hall of Famers except Rose and the still-active Ichiro Suzuki – and had this to say:
“The first 3,000 hits are kind of easy to get if you're a good player and you stay healthy and you play a lot,” Rose said. “If you want to ask somebody what it's like after 3,000, ask Derek Jeter. Four years ago he was going to beat my record, but he came up something like 700 short" (actually, 791 short).
Rose said there are two big reasons why he was able to get so many hits at age 30 and beyond: 1.) He stayed healthy, and 2.) He played for strong offensive teams, allowing for a lot of at-bats.
I asked Rose who he thinks among the trio of younger-than-26-year-olds -- Starlin Castro (966 hits, 25 years old, turns 26 this offseason); Jose Altuve (797 hits, turns 26 next May) and Mike Trout (716 hits, turns 26 in August of 2017) – has a good chance at breaking his record.
None of them, Rose said in as many words, while crediting all of them for being “great” players.
Even though Trout broke in at 19, three years earlier than did Rose, he probably walks too much to catch Rose.
“He hasn't had 200 hits in a season yet, has he?” asked Rose, not totally certain, but yes, he's right: 190 was Trout's best, in 2013.
“I don't think guys are going to play 20 years anymore,” Rose said. “They make too much money to play 20 years... There aren't many guys over 40 playing baseball today... And even if guys do play to 40 and beyond, it's hard to play every day. When you have a long-term contract, it's especially hard. I didn't have a long-term contract until 1979 when I went to Philadelphia (16 seasons into his career).”
Rose even turned his Bobblehead Day into a statistical one-liner when I asked if it this day had any special meaning for him.
“Sure,” he said, his eyes twinkling at the opportunity. “Fans love it!... Would you believe I'm going into the Bobblehead Hall of Fame? I've had more bobbleheads – 11, I think it is --- than anybody.”
True, Saturday was Rose's first official Reds' bobblehead, but as only he would remember and note, “the day we played our softball game (the last 'game' before Riverfront Stadium was imploded), we gave away 42,000 bobbleheads.”
And, yes, he's right about the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame. It opens next year in Bud Selig's hometown of Milwaukee, and Rose has either already been voted in as the first inductee, or is about to be.
Rose and I shook hands and I headed for the door. He stayed at the table to sign more bobbleheads amidst the watermelon slices and iced tea.
Shortly later, I watched from the press box as Rose received a key to the city from Vice Mayor David Mann, bringing a standing ovation from the 30,000 Reds fans already at their seats.
As I watched, two things occurred to me.
One, I couldn't help but think that anybody who doesn't get why Rose would receive a key to the city and a standing ovation – and, most importantly, a free pass in Cincinnati, despite his transgressions – either didn't see him play or forgot what it felt like.
Nobody I ever saw – and my first memory of “seeing” a major league game was on TV, when San Francisco Giants slugger Willie McCovey scorched the last pitch of the 1962 World Series into the glove of New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson – ever showed the intensity and unbridled joy of Rose on the field.
And, two, I totally get why Rose isn't in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, even though I'd vote for him.
But if I were Reds owner Bob Castellini, within two seconds after Manfred makes his ruling on Rose – whatever it is – I'd commission the next statue outside Great American Ball Park to be of a certain someone sliding head-first into second base, and I would then immediately direct the Reds Hall of Fame Board to place that certain someone on their next ballot.
The next honor Peter Edward Rose receives in Cincinnati should be a lot more enduring than a bobblehead.