On This Date in Sports August 1, 1978
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds goes hitless in four at-bats against the Atlanta Braves during a 16-4 loss at Fulton County Stadium ending his 44-game hitting streak. The 44-game hitting streak equaled the National League record set by Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles set in 1897. Rose’s hitting streak of 44 games is the only one that has topped 40 since Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak in 1941.
At the age of 37, Pete Rose was still going strong in his 16th season with his hometown Cincinnati Reds. Rose was the definition of a hardnosed scrappy player, as he ran hard on every play even when he was walked. Even in exhibition games, Pete Rose played like it was life or death as he famously ran over Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. Such play helped him earn the nickname Charlie Hustle. The name came from Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle during a spring training game against the New York Yankees in 1963.
Born in Cincinnati on April 14, 1941, Pete Rose made his major league debut one day before his 22nd birthday and became a fan favorite right away in Cincinnati as he went on to win the Rookie of the Year in 1963. While never a power hitter, Pete Rose was the sparkplug that helped run the “Big Red Machine” at the top of the lineup. He would win three batting crowns (1968, 1969 and 1973). Adding the MVP award in 1973 and a World Series MVP in 1975 as the Reds won the first of back-to-back Fall Classics.
Pete Rose was still one of baseball’s top hitters as the 1978 season began. On May 5th against Steve Rogers of the Montreal Expos, he joined a list of immortals by collecting his 3,000th career hit. However, Rose soon into a slump after the milestone and was hitting .267 as he went into a game on June 14th against the Chicago Cubs in a 5-for-44 slump. That afternoon Pete Rose collected two hits as the Reds beat the Cubs 3-1. That game would start Rose on a tear as he quickly climbed back up towards .300. Over the next month, he would collect a hit in every game and had a 25-game streak at the All-Star Break. Naturally, Pete Rose got a hit in the mid-summer classic in San Diego though it would not count. On July 25th against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, Rose with three hits against Craig Swan, the first of which came in the third inning, leading the crowd of nearly 40,000 to give him a standing ovation. The 38-game hitting streak set the modern-day record in the National League previously set by Tommy Holmes with the Boston Braves in 1945. Holmes at the time working with the Mets was there to greet him.
By now, the streak had become national news with all eyes on Pete Rose as he tried to go after the famous streak of 56 games set by Joe DiMaggio with the New York Yankees in 1941. The streak reached 41 games on July 28th when he got hits in both games of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. Day by day fans turned to the box score to see if the streak continued. On July 31st, Pete Rose equaled the National League record set by Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles in 1897, that last hurdle on the way to perusing the record held by Joe DiMaggio.
Looking to sit alone with the National League record, Pete Rose was in his normal leadoff spot as the Reds faced the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium. In his first at-bat, Rose drew a walk and scored as the Reds put three runs on the board in the first inning against Larry McWilliams. The Reds were unable to hold the lead as the Braves answered with two runs as Fred Norman did not retire a batter before he was removed by manager Sparky Anderson. Pedro Borbon would not do much better giving up six runs as the Braves erupted for 16 runs in a 16-4 win. Rose meanwhile lined out in the second and grounded out to short in the fifth against McWilliams. In the seventh against Gene Garber, Rose lined into a double play, putting the future of his streak in jeopardy. With the game out of reach, he would get one more shot to extend the hitting streak to 45 games but struck out to end the game.
The 44-game hitting streak is as close as anyone ever came to the record of Joe DiMaggio. In the last 40 years, the longest streak was the 39-game streak of Paul Molitor with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987. Rose meanwhile went on to become baseball’s all-time hit king with 4,256 career hits.