A few weeks ago, Pete Rose was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. It was an over due induction and most of his teammates, members of “The Big Red Machine,” were on hand for Pete’s big day.
This induction was allowed by the Major League Baseball powers after Pete saw most of his teammates inducted some time ago. Rose is still denied induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Maybe the greatest all-around baseball player ever, and still no national Hall of Fame.
I have been fortunate to have lived during the time when the Big Red Machine, with Rose at the helm, performed maybe baseball’s finest hour. If you follow baseball, you know about those great Reds teams and players and none were greater than Peter Edward Rose.
I doubt I will see the day but hopefully many of you reading this will live long enough to see Rose inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It is long over due.
I want to tell you two short stories that took place during this period. On June 23rd, 1971, when the Big Red Machine was coming together, I decided to take my then 11-year-old son Brian to his first Reds game.
All the way to Riverfront Stadium, Brian said he planned to get the autographs of Rose and Johnny Bench. Knowing how almost impossible this would be, I tried to tell him that the players were very involved in pregame warm-ups and that he should not be disappointed if he did not secure those signatures.
We bought tickets right behind home plate, entered the stadium and walked down to the open end of the Reds dugout. I was hoping we would, at least, “see” several of the Reds as they came out of the locker room. Almost at the same time we arrived, Rose and Bench came up the dugout steps engaged in what appeared to be a serious conversation. Brian reached over the railing, stuck out his program and a pen, and without even looking at him they continued to talk and both signed the program. I could not believe what I saw.
But there is more. Rick Wise was pitching for Philadelphia and what we were about to see was fantastic, maybe the greatest feat I have ever witnessed and I have watched thousands of baseball games. At his first major league baseball game, my son saw Wise pitch a no-hitter and also hit two home runs. It would have been a perfect game except Wise walked Reds shortstop Dave Contraception for the only Reds base runner. What a night.
A year later I was athletic director at Clinton-Massie and we had the Reds play our faculty in a charity basketball game as a money-raiser. We had a young bunch of coaches and felt we could stay with them. I met the Reds team led by Rose, Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, Jack Billingham, Bobby Tolan, George Foster, Lee May and their ringer, an All-America basketball player from Georgetown College, Ky., Dick Vories.
As I shook hands with Rose, very seriously, he said, “We do not want a clown game. We want to play all-out basketball. Do you understand?” What was not to understand. With the look in his eyes, I thought we were playing for possession of the gym.
And what a rough game we played. Vories made the difference and we lost by 10 points. Rose and Bunning played like it was a World Series game.
The following year they came back minus Rose and Bunning. They were attending a memorial event for Roberto Clemente, the great Pittsburgh outfielder who died in a plane crash delivering food and clothing to Puerto Rico. Bobby Tolan was in charge and the game ended in a tie at 80-80.
One event stands out in my mind . Lee May, well over six foot tall, was being out-rebounded by our track coach, Jim Boyd who was a high jumper in college and almost went to the Olympics. May got mad and chased Boyd out of the gym door, down the hall, and through another door. The fans went crazy!
I approached Tolan about an overtime and he said, “We don’t get paid for overtime.” Our fans booed them out of the gym and I will never forget what our principal told them as they left. He said, “We never want to see you in this building again.” A classic line.
I often thought had Rose been there, we might still be playing.
Tony Lamke is a former coach. He has researched the history of Clinton County sports and writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.