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As Reds head to Fenway, legendary Pete Rose recalls teams’ classic battle in ’75 World Series

05.05.14 at 12:15 pm ET
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As the Reds head to Boston to play the Red Sox nearly 40 years after the franchises met in arguably the greatest World Series ever, exiled baseball legend Pete Rose reflected on his first visit to Fenway Park.

“I had never been to Boston,” said Rose, who captured the Most Valuable Player award when his Reds defeated the Sox in the 1975 World Series. The best-of-seven series featured five one-run games, including the drama of Game 6 that finished with the Sox winning on a Carlton Fisk walk-off he appeared to will into fair territory.

“I’d heard about Fenway Park so much,” Rose continued. “I played against Carl Yastrzemski and Fisk in all those All-Star Games, so it was finally good to get there. That was probably the greatest World Series ever.”

The teams split the first four games, and Cincinnati captured a pivotal Game 5 victory at Riverfront Stadium before venturing back to Fenway for the remainder of the series. The teams sat through the October rain in Boston, causing a five-day wait from Game 5 to Game 6.

“We couldn’t even work out in those rainout days at Fenway,” said Rose. “We had to go to Tufts University to work out indoors.”

Rose did not mind the inclement weather. In fact, he thought the rain simply added suspense to the series.

“That’s the only World Series in the history of baseball that had a Super Bowl flavor,” Rose explained. “I remember our PR director, Jimmy Ferguson, called me during one of the rainouts and asked me to meet with the media at 1 o’clock. Yaz was going at 2 o’clock, Johnny Bench was going at 3 o’clock, and Dwight Evans at 4 o’clock. There was so much personality on both teams. That World Series lifted baseball in the minds of the United States fans better than any other time.”

After jumping out to a 6-3 lead in Game 6, the Reds could taste the victory champagne in the cramped visitors clubhouse. The Sox, however, postponed the celebration.

“A lot of people who weren’t even baseball fans were watching that World Series,” recalled Rose, “just because of how intense and how entertaining the games were. Look at Game 6. We’re up 3-0, then it’s tied 3-3, we’re up 6-3, then we’re tied again, 6-6.”

With two outs in the eighth on a 2-2 count, Sox pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo crushed a ball to deep center field for a three-run homer to tie the game.

“That swing Carbo had before he hit the home run was one of the worst swings I’ve ever seen someone take in my life,” said Rose. “He barely tipped it out of Johnny’s glove. The next pitch, he hit the ball straight away, center field, to tie the game. I went up at my next at-bat and said to Carlton, ‘Man, this is fun playing this game, isn’t it?’ He must have agreed with me, ’cause the next inning he hit a damn home run over my head.”

Fisk’s 12th-inning home run extended the series into a decisive Game 7, and it put Reds manager Sparky Anderson in an extremely dour mood.

“I remember just sitting in that clubhouse after we lost that game,” said Rose. “Sparky was down in the dumps. He’d wanted to win it right there, just like we all did, but we didn’t. He stared right at me and said, ‘Big Red Machine, my ass.’ ”

For a moment, the Reds — a powerhouse of a club that had finished the regular season with 108 wins and swept the Pirates in the National League Championship Series — were merely frauds in the eyes of their panicking manager.

“I said, ‘Sparky, relax,’ ” said Rose. ” ‘You see that celebration they had at home plate? Spark, they’ve got to come back tomorrow. They’ve got to do it again.’ ”

Rose’s calm words soothed his manager’s nerves, but on the inside he was buzzing. Baseball’s “Charlie Hustle,” who was born in Cincinnati, could not wait to fulfill a boyhood dream and play a Game 7 in the World Series for his hometown Reds.

“It’€™s not that I wanted the series to go seven games,” said Rose. “But I’€™m one of those guys who believes, when the World Series goes seven games, it’s better for the sport. The next year, in 1976, we swept the Yankees in the World Series. That was great for us to be world champions again, but compared to Boston, it was kind of boring.”

Game 7 was anything but boring. The Sox stormed out to a 3-0 lead through the first five innings.

The game turned in the top of the sixth, and Rose, naturally, served as the catalyst for the Reds. He led off the inning with a single, and after Joe Morgan flew out to right, Bench hit a grounder to short. Rose slid into second in an attempt to break up the inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“I knocked [second baseman] Denny Doyle on his ass,” said Rose. “He threw a double-play ball into the Boston dugout.”

With the inning extended, Sox lefty Bill Lee checked the runner and then threw his signature eephus pitch to Reds slugger Tony Perez, who ripped a two-run home run. Instead of the Reds ending the inning still down by three runs, Rose’s play to break up a double play ignited his team and awoke the Cincinnati offense.

“Now,” said Rose, with the excitement in his voice still clear, “the Big Red Machine, down just a run, had some momentum.”

The Reds tied the game in the seventh on an RBI single from Rose, and captured the championship after scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth inning on a Morgan RBI single (after Rose was intentionally walked). With a .370 batting average and OPS of .966, Rose was awarded the World Series MVP award.

“That was actually the first time I won a World Series,” said Rose. “That was a very big series for me, especially being from Cincinnati. It meant more to me than Morgan, Bench, or Perez — and it meant a lot to them — because any time your hometown wins, it means even more.”

Rose, Major League Baseball‘s “Hit King” with the all-time record of 4,256 hits, also recalled a meeting with the greatest hitter in Red Sox history — and arguably of all-time — Ted Williams.

“I met Ted during a spring training in Tampa,” recalled Rose. “To be honest with you, after talking with Ted Williams for 10 minutes, I was so confused about hitting. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at him and said, ‘Mr. Williams, you may have been the greatest hitter ever, but my philosophy is to see the ball and hit the ball.’ And he said, ‘Well, you do it pretty good, son. Just keep doing it.’ ”

After a 44-game hitting streak in 1978, Rose and the Reds parted ways after the season, allowing him to enter free agency for the first time. He never considered Boston a as destination, primarily because he was worried American League teams would prefer him to DH.

“I don’t think I ever could have DH’d,” said Rose. “Ninety-nine out of 100 DHs are power hitters. I was a run-producer, but I scored a lot of runs. I knocked in my share, but most DHs aren’t guys who are daring on the bases. They aren’t guys who are going to lead the league in hits.”

Rose led the majors in hits on seven occasions, and he completed the feat in three decades during his 24-year career. He also holds the major league record for highest fielding percentage by an outfielder in 1,000 or more games.

“I took a lot of pride in playing defense,” said Rose. “I worked my ass off in the field.”

Rose’s journey into free agency provides an interesting look at how baseball teams recruited and consummated deals with their players. Rose dealt directly with team owners and was offered some appealing perks.

Ted Turner from Atlanta wanted me, John Galbreath from Pittsburgh wanted me, Gussie Busch from St. Louis wanted me, Ewing Kauffman from Kansas City wanted me, and of course, Ruly Carpenter from the Phillies wanted me,” recalled Rose.

“I remember when I met with Mr. Kauffman. He said, ‘I did research on you. Your dad played football until he was 42 years old. If you come over to the American League and DH, you can play until you beat Ty Cobb‘s all-time hits record.’ I just wasn’t ready to change leagues and DH.

“Ted Turner picked me up at the airport and said he needed me to help sell TV, and he offered me the most money. Then I went to St. Louis to talk with Gussie Busch, who offered me a Budweiser distributorship. I liked that, but he wanted me to replace Lou Brock, and I didn’t want to get in that situation. And then with Pittsburgh, I didn’t think I could help them because, all along, I wanted to go to Philly. I knew all they needed was some type of leader.”

Not that Rose could just walk in the clubhouse and say, ‘OK, I’m a leader.’ He produced his first year, with 208 hits and a .331 batting average, and his attitude epitomized the Phillies. Rose helped Philadelphia win the World Series in 1980, which was a good 17 years after he won Rookie of the Year.

Rose later played with the Montreal Expos, where he was teammates with a young Terry Francona.

“When we were teammates in Montreal, if you took a vote of who was most likely to be a manager in the big leagues, Francona would have been last,” said Rose. “It’s not that he didn’t know baseball, but he was a jokester. He’€™d always be giving hot-foots and [expletive] like that.

“Francona was a really good player, but you wouldn’t have looked at him to be the leader of 25 guys and win the World Series,” said Rose. “When he went to Philadelphia and failed, that woke him up. He’s ended up being a really good manager, and he won two championships with Boston and Manager of the Year last year, but you wouldn’t have picked him to be a manager in the big leagues off that team we had in Montreal.”

As for the present and future, Rose remains permanently banned from baseball and ineligible for the Hall of Fame. If he ever switched roles with Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Rose knows exactly how he would handle such a delicate situation.

“If I was commissioner, I would realize this is America and, if you keep your nose clean and you take responsibility for what you did, eventually — eventually — you should be given a second chance,” said Rose. “Everybody knows, including myself, that I screwed up. So I’m not complaining, but if I’m ever bestowed that honor, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world.”

Rose still hopes Selig will give him that elusive second chance.

“He’s still got a year to go, we’ll see what happens. Bud’s a pretty good guy and he’s done a good job as commissioner, but I’€m not one to knock Bud Selig or knock baseball. I still love the game, still watch the game every night.”

Before retiring for the evening to watch his beloved Reds, the 73-year-old Rose thanked his fans for their continued support and acknowledged how much he misses baseball.

“I’m the one who made the mistake. I just wish sometimes Bud Selig would take it upon himself to give me a second chance,” he said. “Believe me, I won’€™t need a third.”

Read More: Bud Selig, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan
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