Pete Rose strode into the National League clubhouse brimming with eventual Hall of Famers, hoping only to fit in.
A third-year player in 1965, he saw where his No. 14 jersey hung for the All-Star Game inside Met Stadium: directly between the lockers of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
The young Cincinnati Reds infielder hardly had a moment to be nervous before one of the legends — he doesn’t remember which — gave him a slap on the derrière, a glare and a quick “Let’s go win.”
Twenty years later but just a few miles away, Rose had swapped roles. First-time All-Stars Ron Darling and Jeff Reardon walked to their lockers in 1985 at the Metrodome and saw a different Rose. The aging veteran, on the cusp of breaking the major league record for career hits, had gotten the nod one final time.
Rose’s baseball career — highlighted by becoming the game’s hit king, lowlighted by a lifetime ban — was bookended by a pair of All-Star Games in the Twin Cities.
“The last one and the first one at Minnesota,” Rose said, sounding pleased. “You have to be an old man to play two of them in one place.”
Nearly 30 years later, the All-Star Game is back in the Twin Cities. This time, like others in the 25 years since has been banned, the 73-year-old Rose was not invited.
His memories of his 17 All-Star Games, though, come unfettered by the barrier put between him and his sport, as sturdy as his reputation behind the plate. It’s as good a time as any for him to share them.
His ‘made it’ moment
With his thick brown hair cut close, exposing his baby face, Rose was 24 when he was invited to his first Midsummer Classic, and well on his way to his first 200-hit season. Mays and Aaron were already giants.
The clubhouse at Met Stadium told Rose he was in new company.
“Where are you?” Rose remembers asking himself. “You’re here.”
Always a stickler for intense preparation — Rose studied each stadium’s unique characteristics going into every series — he had gathered a scouting report for his big debut. He had phoned a friend, Washington Senators shortstop Ed Brinkman, to probe him about AL All-Star pitcher Sam McDowell. The scoop from Brinkman: The Cleveland lefty had a great fastball and a great slider.
Facing McDowell in the game, and down two strikes in the count, Rose had fastball and slider on his mind.
In came a changeup, then a curveball, and down went Rose swinging.
Rose called Brinkman, an old classmate from Cincinnati’s Western Hills High School, afterward. “Well, thanks for telling me he had a curveball,” Rose said.
“Hey, buddy,” Brinkman shot back. “I’m trying to help my league win, not yours.”
Before that game, Rose watched as National League President Warren Giles entered the clubhouse and addressed the team before the game, as he always did. As Giles spoke, his voice grew louder and louder until Rose thought the veins in the president’s neck — blue and swelling — might burst.
“He was so passionate about the game,” Rose said. “He believed the All-Star Game was the chance to show the world that the National League was superior to the American League.”