I was at good ol’ Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on Aug. 10, 1981, when Pete Rose led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single through the hole between third base and shortstop off St. Louis Cardinals right-handed reliever Mark Littel.
The single gave Rose 3,631 hits for his career, passing Cardinals legend Stan Musial (congratulating Rose in the picture) to become the all-time National League hits leader. I will remember that night for as long I live.
In fact, I already remember it better than Pete himself. During a family trip to Florida in 1993, we were driving down to Miami for a Phillies-Marlins game that night (it was the Marlins’ inaugural season and the Phils were on their way to a NL title that year). On the way down, we decided to look for the restaurant Pete Rose had opened in Boca Raton. After going the wrong way for about an hour, we finally decided to backtrack and it turned out it was less than five minutes from the highway going the other direction.
Anyway, we get there and it turns out Pete’s place is running a bus trip down to the game that night. There were still some tickets left so we just took the bus from there.
There were still a few hours before the bus left, though, so we ate there. Now, in those days, Pete was doing a radio show from the restaurant and would hang around with the crowd before going on the air. He came out just as we were finishing eating and my dad was telling me to go up to him and at least shake his hand.
Now, Pete was my favorite baseball player when I was a kid and I still respect how he played the game (I’m not going to get into the gambling stuff because I just don’t have the time). But there people approaching him and I just didn’t feel right about joining in. So I went to play some video games instead (his place had a pretty decent arcade section).
About 10 minutes later, I was on some game that required you to sit on a fake motorcycle. Suddenly, my dad yanks me off the faux bike and tells me, “I’ve told Pete all about you and he wants to meet you.”
So now I am forced into meeting Pete Rose. My dad goes up to him and says, “Pete, this is my son, Brian, the one I was telling you about.” I shake Pete’s hand and I said something like, “Wow! You know, whenever I played baseball as a kid, I insisted on wearing No. 14.” My dad then mentioned he had to pull me away from the video games and Pete jokingly (well, that’s what I thought at the time) said, “Oh, get back over there. Those things make me a lot of money!”
However, I stayed and said, “We were at the game when you broke Stan Musial’s National League hit record.”
Pete replied, “Oh yeah, that was the last game before the strike,” referring to that year’s players’ strike, which started following the completion of all games played June 11, 1981. Baseball resumed Aug. 10, with the Cardinals-Phillies matchup the nationally broadcast Monday Night Baseball game on ABC (yes, there used to be such a thing for the younger set that reads this blog).
Now, here is where things got weird. Pete had always been known as a walking baseball encyclopedia, but I guess time and everything he had gone through were starting to take its toll. However, my memory was working perfectly fine.
So I said, “No…it was the first game back from the strike. You tied Musial with a first-inning single off Nolan Ryan in the last game before the strike (June 10, 1981)…and then he struck you out three times.”
Pete was stunned I remembered that and said something like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t know how I got that hit off Ryan. He was dealin’ that night.”
All that aside, it turned out to be a really cool moment in my life (thanks, dad, for pulling me off the motorcycle) and I have a picture of me and Pete that I will try to get around to scanning so I can add it to this post (and get rid of the one I “borrowed” from some memorabilia site).