By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Pete Rose is the man who collected more base hits than any other player in baseball history.
Four-thousand-two-hundred-and-twenty-eight of them, to be exact.
Most players don’t get 700 hits in a career. Rose got 700 or more while playing at each of five different positions.
Pete Rose is also the man who signed more autographs than any athlete in history.
No one has a count on them, but it’s a higher total than his base hits, and Wednesday morning he was getting ready “to go to work,” as he put it, meaning setting up shop signing those autographs at the Mandolin Bay Hotel in Las Vegas when tracked down.
See, there’s been a lot of talk about the Hall of Fame these days and while Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame (and that’s a discussion for another place, where there is much beer at hand, and another time), he knows a thing or two about it, and it figured to be fun to talk to him about it.
He certainly knows something about Hall of Fame players, having had 10 as teammates throughout his career and having faced 20 Hall of Fame pitchers.
The first Hall of Famer he played with was Frank Robinson, the last Hall of Famer was Barry Larkin. Then there was Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson, along with Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.
“I was hoping Dave Parker would make it. Vada Pinson just came up short of that 3,000 hits … and if they’re talking about Alan Trammel as a Hall of Famer, they have to talk about Davey Concepcion.”
Rose, of course, is not in the Hall of Fame because of the gambling scandal he got himself caught up in when he was managing Cincinnati after what no one can deny was a Hall of Fame-quality career as a player.
Amazingly, Rose’s career batting average against the Hall of Fame pitchers he faced was considerably higher than his career average of .303 at .315.
So who was the best of the best pitchers Rose faced in his 24-year career?
“The best pitcher, as far as being a pitcher, I ever hit against was Juan Marichal of the Giants, I thought, and I hit .341 off him. Seemed like every year he was 20-4 or 20-5. He wasn’t one of those guys who was 20-15 or 20-16. He had this high winning percentage, and I think he pitched 280 complete games,” Rose said.
It was 244 complete games, with a .631 winning percentage and 2.89 career ERA.
And even though Rose hit .341 against Marichal, the right-hander struck Rose out 20 times, more than any other pitcher.
“The most competitive pitcher I ever hit against was Bob Gibson of the Cardinals. That doesn’t mean Tom Seaver wasn’t competitive or Steve Carlton wasn’t competitive, but the guy who gave me the most trouble was Koufax,” Rose proclaimed, speaking of the Dodgers’ great left-hander Sandy Koufax.
Rose had a lot of company there as Koufax took a while before coming into his own but blossomed just as Rose arrived on the major league scene. Koufax’s last four years before retiring prematurely with an arthritic elbow he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 19-5 with a 1.74 ERA, 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA and 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA.
Rose batted .175 against Koufax.
“I couldn’t hit him with a boat oar,” he said.
“My first three years in the league, I believe Koufax struck out over 1,000 batters. He got 382 in ’65. I really didn’t learn to hit until after I went to Venezuela after the ’64 season. Then I started hitting .300. Most of the hits I got off Koufax were in ’65, after I started hitting .300, but there’s no question he gave me the biggest fits in the world,” Rose said.
Perhaps, but that led Luke Walker, a one-time Pittsburgh Pirate left-hander no one confused with Koufax but against whom Rose went 1-for-22, an .045 average.
“You know why I couldn’t hit him? Because I don’t even know who the hell he is,” Rose said. “I had guys like that. There’s certain guys – like, he wasn’t a Hall of Famer but Randy Jones was one of them.
“I had so much trouble with him one time Sparky told me, ‘Move up in the batter’s box.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What the hell do you know about hitting, Sparky?’” Rose recalled, laughing at the memory.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sparky Anderson played one big league season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959 and set the major league record, since broken by Dal Maxvill, for fewest hits (104) and lowest batting average (.214) of anyone who played 150 or more games in a season)
“I even went up left-handed against Randy Jones one time,” said Rose, a switch-hitter who only once before had batted left-handed against a southpaw, facing Dodger relief ace Jim Brewer that way in an attempt to neutralize his screwball.
It’s funny, Rose couldn’t Randy Jones or Luke Walker, but another left-hander named Warren Spahn, who won 363 games, couldn’t get Rose out. Rose had a career average of .531 against Spahn, not quite the .857 he hit against his former Cincinnati teammate Will McEnaney with six hits in seven tries, but better than anyone else hit Spahn.
“I got that 5-for-5 off him that game he started when he was with the Mets. I kind of caught him at the end of his career,” said Rose, almost apologizing while forgetting he caught Koufax at the end of his career, too.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.