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On This Date in Sports December 5, 1978: Philly Rose

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A week after, Sparky Anderson was fired, another key part of the Big Red Machine departs Cincinnati as Pete Rose signs a four-year deal worth $3.2 million the richest contract in the history of baseball. The 37-year old Rose was coming off a historic season with the Reds, collecting his 3,000th career hit and embarking on a 44-game hitting streak the longest in National League history.

Peter Edward Rose was born on April 14, 1941, in Cincinnati. A grinder who also played football in high school. Rose was signed by his hometown team after high school, with the help of his uncle, Buddy Bloebaum a scout who worked in the Reds organization. In 1963, after an injury to Don Blasingame, Pete Rose got his chance in 1963 and impressed the team with his hard-nosed style of play. Though some mocked it, as Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle came up with the nickname “Charlie Hustle” after he was sprinted down to first base on a walk. He would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year.

Pete Rose would become a fan favorite in Cincinnati, as he was the ultimate blue-collar player, who would run through a wall to get on base and score. He took the name Charlie Hustle and wore it like a badge of honor. In short, Pete Rose was the type of player that weekend warriors claimed they would be if they could get a chance to play in the majors. Rose used his skill and hustle to become one of the top hitters in the National League, winning three batting titles in 1968, 1969 and 1973. Occasionally his hardnosed take no prisoner style of play became the story as he crashed into Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium.

As the Cincinnati Reds became the best team in the National League, Pete Rose was the spark at the top of the lineup that featured three future Hall of Famers. In 1973 Rose won the National League MVP and when the Reds won the World Series in 1975, he was named the MVP as his head first dive into third base became one of the signature plays. The Reds would win a second straight World Series in 1976. In 1978, he was still going strong at the age of 37, reaching the 3,000-hit milestone and embarking on a 44-game hitting streak. The streak was the second longest in MLB history, tying the National League record set by Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles in 1896.

The Philadelphia Phillies a team that had forever been struggling to win a championship had entered the 1978 season, looking for that last piece. After losing in the NLCS three straight years, from 1976-1978, the Phillies made a big push to sign Pete Rose and move him to first base after he had played third base for a few seasons. Rose had moved his position throughout his career, starting a second baseman, moving to the outfield and then to third base as the Big Red Machine came together. As hit the free agency for the first time, Pete Rose aggressively marketed himself, receiving offers from the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kansas City Royals before choosing to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Pete Rose would have a strong season in 1979, batting .331 but it would not help boost the Phillies any further and finished in fourth place with a disappointing record of 84-78. However, in 1980 with Rose playing a key role, the Phillies, at last, won their first World Championship, ending 97 years of frustration. Pete Rose would stay in Philadelphia for five seasons, signing with the Montreal Expos in 1984. After a few months in Montreal, he was traded back to the Reds returning home to serve as player-manager. As his career came to an end, Pete Rose became baseball’s all-time hit king in 1985, retiring a year later with 4,256 career hits.