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.
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.”
‘Wasn’t trying to hurt nobody’
The National League won all but one of the All-Star Games that Rose participated in. But he thought everything began to change in 1970. After the previous season, Giles had retired, with Chub Feeney taking his place. Before the All-Star Game held at Rose’s home ballpark in Cincinnati, players waited in the NL clubhouse for their yearly pep talk, but this time it never came.
“We were all sitting there like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ” Rose said.
Out the NL went anyway, channeling the same passion Giles had delivered for many seasons, and the NL tied the score 4-4 with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the bottom of the 12th, Rose hit the first of three NL singles in the inning, and he headed for home on the third. AL catcher Ray Fosse got the throw from center fielder Amos Otis in time to tag Rose, but the Reds star bowled him over, Fosse dropped the ball, and the NL won 5-4.
Both players were injured. Rose has signed countless photos of that moment. Despite making the All-Star Game the following season, Fosse has long claimed that his career was never the same after that hit because of the damage to his right shoulder.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt nobody,” Rose said. “I was trying to be safe. … Nobody wants it, but we were happy we won the game.”
At the Metrodome in ’85, he remembered the way Aaron and Mays had ushered him into the All-Star club 20 years prior. That year, pitchers Darling and Reardon, along with five other NL players, were first-time All-Stars.
“When you’re a young player, all you want is for people to make you feel you belong,” Rose said. “I tried to do the same thing.”
Rose pinch-hit in the eighth inning that day, grounding out to second. That was his last All-Star at-bat.
That September, he broke Ty Cobb’s record with his 4,192nd hit. A year later, Rose retired from playing. Most know the story line that follows.
The Cincinnati native managed the Reds for most of five years before being banned for life on Aug. 23, 1989, for betting on baseball. Rose, who denied the charges for years before eventually confessing, remains banned from his sport and its Hall of Fame.
Watching from afar — he resides in Las Vegas now, where he makes a living on endorsement deals and autograph shows — Rose sees a big change in the All-Star Game, an event that had always been a big source of pride for him.
Now, it’s not uncommon for players to eschew playing in an All-Star Game, and many players get only a few innings of work before getting in their rest. The excitement of one league facing off against the other’s stars has dwindled with the expansion of interleague play.
“I’m not blaming the players,” Rose said. “We’re not trying to prove now that the National League is better than the American League. That thing is gone.
“But it’s kind of sad to me. … I think guys should have the attitude of if you make an All-Star team in your league, it’s an honor. It should be an honor to represent your league.”