Riverfront Stadium Home Plate
"He's the best thing to happen to the game since . . . well the game"
• Sparky Anderson
I have two very distinct memories of the most passionate ballplayer ever to swing a bat. And neither of them involves him swinging a bat:
Pete Rose ran the bases with abandon. He played the game using only one speed (and it wasn't medium), whether it was a ground out to short, a single to left, or breaking up a double play at second, Rose played at full tilt (he even ran to first after a walk). I can picture him as I type, he is rounding second, under a full head of steam looking over his shoulder to see if he should head home, then sliding into third - head first. While Rose was not the first player to slide head first, he popularized it, so much so that the statue of him outside The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati has him sliding that way.
Starting in the early seventies until the mid-80s, I watched every Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Rose played in every one of them through 1982. During that time period the National League that Rose played for beat the American League . . . every . . . single . . . year. Though Rose's All-Star stats are less than impressive (Avg: .212, HR: 0, RBI: 2), I really believe that Rose's attitude, leadership, and hustle¹ played a role². In fact, when Rose did not make the lineup in 1983, the National League lost. This attitude, leadership, and hustle was quite evident in the 1970 All-Star game which found Rose quite prophetically playing before a hometown crowd at Riverfront Satudum in Cincinnati on July 13, 1970. While I very well may have watched the game I have no recollection of watching it at the time, but trust me in that a certain play from it was replayed during every All-Star game Rose ever played and is therefore seared into my mind as THE indelible Pete Rose memory.
If you are any kind of fan of baseball then you know where I'm going with this. If you are not, then let me set this memory table:
The game is tied 4-4, bottom of the 12th, two out with Pete Rose on second base, Jim Hickman of the Cubs, lines a single to center sending Pete Rose charging around third. Amos Otis of Kansas City fields the ball cleanly and throws it home. The throw sails a few feet up the third baseline. The catcher Ray Fosse of Oakland moves out to catch the ball, straddling the foul line and blocking Rose’s path. Leaving Rose — at least in his mind — no alternative. Just as the ball gets to Fosse, Rose lowers his left shoulder and bowls into Fosse’s left shoulder. The catcher is sent flying backward, losing both ball and glove, and before Fosse realizes what has happened, Rose touches the plate and the National League wins the game (again).
Can one play encapsulate a man's entire career? In this case, yes it can. If you ask any baseball fan to picture Pete Rose, the above paragraph will be pictured. If you ask any fan of a certain age, to relate an All-Star Game memory, this is the one that will be related³.
You can watch it all go down here.
Riverfront Stadium was built in 1970 in the multipurpose cookie-cutter artificial turf architectural style that was quite popular in the 60s (it's interesting how in the 60s, the counter-culture style was flourishing in everything but sports stadium design). Its "claim to fame" was that it was the first artificial turf stadium to implement sliding pits around the bases. In 2000 the left and center field stands were removed to allow for the construction of the immediately adjacent replacement Great American Ballpark, with the balance of the park demolished in 2002.
With the Great American Ball Park directly 300 feet to the east, the site of the above pileup is now located in an underground parking garage, directly beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn, marked by a discreet home plate marker. Take the main stairwell down, then proceed northwest about 20 feet.
Leo Durocher, Pete Rose, Ray Fosse, and Mike Flack (left to right)
After the reenactment, I wondered what Rose did that night? So I immediately proceeded to a nearby bar, had a beer, and then scratched off an Ohio State Lottery Scratch-Off (I lost . . . just like in the end, Rose did).
The garage is a WitFoH twofer, as the world's most famous singing cowboy, Roy Rogers was born on second base (actually born in a 2nd Ave tenement located where Riverfront Stadium was subsequently built). Across the street from the garage, is the above mentioned statue of Rose.
Much like the Grassy Knoll, I have a personal connection to this WitFoH, this time via my wife. Years ago she met Rose a number of times while a guest at the Den of the Little Foxes, a pseudo-Playboy Club atop the Cincinnati Holiday Inn. When asked what she remembered about him, she didn't mention anything about attitude or leadership, instead stating "He was a real horndog."
Epilogue: Ray Fosse's shoulder was separated by the collision with Rose. Though he played in the big leagues another 6+ years, the shoulder never healed properly and he was never the same.
¹ Rose's nickname was "Charlie Hustle", and with the possible exception of "The Iron Horse" (and with apologies to William Perry), it has to be the most apt nickname in sports history. When as a rookie Rose tried to jump as high as he could at the outfield fence to catch a long-gone homer by The Commerce Comet, The Chairman of the Board remarked “Did you see Charlie Hustle out there?”
² Recently I was able to visit Negro League Baseball Museum (for free during Black History Month). There was an exhibit displaying the first black ballplayer to play for each major league team, which appeared to me to indicate that the America League was slower than the National League to integrate - the last team to integrate being the Boston Red Sox in 1959, a full twelve years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Maybe this contributed to the Senior Circuit's winning streak?
³ Actually my brother-in-law's All-Star memory is the 2002 Midsummer Classic where Commissioner Bud Selig declared the game a 7-7 tie after eleven innings. I can still hear him, almost 20 years later, "there's no tying in baseball!!!"
"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball."
• Pete Rose