In no uncertain terms, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced this week that not only would baseball likely never reinstate Pete Rose, but that he could also forget about the possibility of ever being inducted into Cooperstown. It was a sad day, although not an unforeseen one, for one of the most divisive figures baseball has ever known.
Before Rose became the pariah we all know and (sort of) love, he enjoyed a 24-year career with the Reds, Phillies, and Expos. Having spent his entire career in the National League before the advent of interleague play, Rose hardly got a chance to bat against the game's most fabled franchise. There was one instance all the way back in 1963 when Rose faced off against the Yankees in spring training, a matchup that led to his now-synonymous nickname. There are two versions of the story; Rose has always said that he drew a walk against Whitey Ford and sprinted down to first base, leading to Mickey Mantle to quip that he was "Charlie Hustle." Mantle himself said that Ford dubbed him "Charlie Hustle" when Rose leaped high in the air to try to catch a Mantle homer that was not even remotely close, perhaps 20 feet over his head. Either way, the moniker stuck.
Rose only faced the Yankees once when the games actually mattered. In fact, it was when the games mattered the most. The Yankees and the Reds squared off in the 1976 World Series. It was a brief overlap of two of the iconic teams of the 1970s. Cincinnati, the defending champion, was looking to defend its title while playing in its third Fall Classic in the last five years. As for the Yankees, '76 was the first of four Series appearances in the ensuing six seasons.
Ultimately, Steinbrenner's first pennant winner was no match for the Big Red Machine. Cincinnati rolled the Yankees in a four-game sweep. Rose went just 3-for-16, contributing one solitary RBI. In fact, of all the Reds' iconic players it was Rose, who to this day owns more hits than anyone who has ever lived, who fared worst at the plate. All seven of Cincinnati's other starters collected more hits than Rose did in the series. Even though the Yankees threw four right-handed pitchers at Rose (Doyle Alexander, Dock Ellis, Ed Figueroa, and Catfish Hunter) the Hit King couldn't capitalize on advantageous platoon matchups. He led off all four contests for the Reds, but was held hitless through the series' first 18 innings.
All told, it was a puzzling performance for Rose. Then again, it wasn't the only time he played poorly in the postseason. In five World Series trips, Rose batted just .237 (27-for-114). For the most durable hit producer the game has ever seen, a man with three batting titles and 4,256 career base knocks, his World Series results are one of the only black marks on an otherwise sterling on-the-field (!!!) legacy.
The wild ride that was Rose's career wound only briefly through the Bronx. Still, the Yankees were privy to one of its defining moments. They had a first-rate view of one of baseball's greatest dynasties and one of the best players to ever button a jersey. Even if he didn't play like it.