Russell and Duenes

“The Best Years of My Career were the Ones Spent with Pete”

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So said Mike Schmidt, perhaps the greatest third baseman to ever play the game (Sorry, Brooks Robinson, you didn’t have enough offense). Oh, and Schmidt also said about Rose coming to the Phillies: “Right away our games were elevated by watching him everyday. First to park…last to leave. . . He constantly spoke to the media about my ability and how I was the best he ever played with. He told me daily I was the best, in fact he got everyone to believe they were.”

“He got everyone to believe they were.” That’s what I’m taking from the life of Pete Rose. I grew up toward the end of the Rose era. I was only 6 years old when the Big Red Machine won it all in 1975, but I remember well Rose playing for the Phillies when they won the World Series in 1980 (though I was rooting for the Royals). No one who has ever watched Rose play can deny that there’s never been another ballplayer like him, before or since. 

Rose was not nearly the most athletic or talented man on those great Reds teams. Bench, Perez, Morgan, Foster, and Griffey all had more by way of natural gifts than Pete Rose. But his manager, Sparky Anderson, knew best when he made Rose the captain of those teams, and though no one can know for sure, my guess is that the Reds don’t win even one championship in the 70s without Rose. He made all that difference. 

Rose worked tirelessly with what he had, and though it’s clear that Rose thought highly of himself, what I found in reading Kennedy’s book is that Rose consistently, easily and winsomely spoke well of others and wanted those around him to succeed just as he had. To my mind, Rose is a kind of “everyman.” No better, no worse. We only know about his money and gambling problems because he had the temerity to be one of the greatest baseball players ever. He was unfaithful to his wives, and there’s no excusing it, but in this he’s no different than countless other men. Do I look up to him and desire that my sons should be like him as a man? No. But I mean that in a qualified sense. What I do want my sons to emulate about Rose, and I have to think they’re going to learn about him, is his tenacity, his continual optimism about victory, no matter what the scoreboard said, his enthusiasm and energy with which he did everything, his ability to get a lot more out of a lot less than others had, and most of all, the “effusive” praise and uplift he had for those around him. He seems unpretentious, not put out at all to chat up the local nobody who comes to him for an autograph. 

“The best years of my career were the ones spent with Pete.” High praise indeed. I count it a privilege to have watched Rose play. I’d count it a greater privilege to have the effect on others that Rose has had on so many, both inside and outside the lines. 

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

August 12, 2014 at 5:44 pm

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