For Pete's Sake - Richard Summers
I'll remember the catch.
One out, ninth inning, Game Six of the 1980 World Series. Frank White hits a foul pop to the first base side. Catcher Bob Boone bobbles the ball, and it falls out of his glove.
It must have seemed like an eternity to veteran Phils fans. The ones who had witnessed decades of losing seasons, the sweep in 1950, the calamity of 1964. For them, it must have been, "Oh, no, not again!"
Then came Pete Rose.
It was the off-season of 1978 that the Phillies courted Pete Rose, free agent recently completing a long stint in Cincinnati, winning four pennants and two World Series championships in his 15 years with the Reds. The Phillies had to do some adjustment to its TV contract in order to pay Rose enough to make him spurn other, more financially lucrative offers, to come to Philadelphia to be the final piece of the puzzle.
Of course, the 1979 season was a disaster. But not because of Rose. Rose hit .331 and garnered over 200 hits for the tenth and final time in his career, setting a major league record. He learned a new position, first base, well enough to help his infield mates Manny Trillo and Mike Schmidt win Gold Gloves. He helped take some of the media glare off brooding superstar Mike Schmidt. However, he could not overcome a rash of injuries and incompetence in the Phils' pitching staff as the team floundered into a fourth place finish, with only a last-month resurgence with then-interim manager Dallas Green salvaging a plus-.500 season.
Statistically, 1980 was a down year for Pete Rose. His .282 batting average was his worst since his sophomore year in the majors, 1964, and he missed the top ten in batting average for the first time since 1974. His on-base percentage (.352) was the lowest since 1966. He had 185 hits, the lowest since 1967, when he had 176 in only 148 games. He had a sole home run, and 64 RBI. His slugging percentage slumped to a mere .354.
However, his mere presence in the lineup helped to spark the talent-laden but previously underachieving Phillies to do something no Philadelphia National League team had ever done before- win the World Series. It was never easy: catching the Expos to win the division on the second-to-last game of the season; going to the wire, winning the deciding game of the NLCS in a see-saw, ten-inning affair; and, finally, making that possibly Series-saving catch of Boone's drop to help cement the Phils' 4-1 victory that clinched the first (and still only) World Series championship that crisp October night in 1980.
Rose may not have had a great season (by his standards) statistically, but he was often there when he was needed most. Throughout the season, and especially in the post-season, Rose was there to do the little things, and sometimes the big things, to win ballgames for the Phillies in their quest for the championship.
It was Rose who singled in the 11th inning to put a runner on ahead of Mike Schmidt. Schmidt may or may not have homered without Rose on base, but Rose did add a distraction to the pitcher, and the two-run homer gave a slightly bigger cushion as Tug McGraw cemented the division title for the Phils in the bottom of the eleventh. Rose also scored one of the two Phillies runs in the 2-1 victory the day before the clincher, which put the Phillies on top of the East and put the pressure on Montreal in the clinching game.
Rose hit .400 in the NLCS and was on base in over half of his plate appearances. Of course, the play almost all Phillies fans remember is the one in which Rose bowled over Houston catcher Bruce Bochy to score the winning run in a game in which the Phils were on the brink of elimination. Reminiscent of the 1970 play in which Roy Fosse was injured by a hard-playing Rose, that determination seemed to rub off on the Phillies, who came back from a 2-1 deficit to take the five-game series.
In the World Series, Pete did the little things that were needed. In one game, he took a pitch off the leg to get on base. In another, he laid a perfect bunt to get a hit. He got in the face of Kansas City manager Jim Frey when Frey asked umpires to eject Dickie Noles after Noles had brushed back George Brett in Game Four. Of course, he made the Phillies' version of "The Catch," a play he probably should have made in the first place, instead of Boone.
One of the greatest things about Pete Rose was that, in spite of his braggadocio, he was a team player. He cared about his individual stats, but he cared more about whether his team won that day. His attitude helped salve the fractured relationship between players and Dallas Green during the season.
Pete Rose had definitely had his share of troubles since retiring from playing baseball after the 1986 season. His banishment from baseball and his stint in jail for tax evasion are both well known. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is also well-documented.
Without rehashing the tired argument about whether Rose should be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame, there is no denying the value of Peter Edward Rose to the 1980 Phillies. His swagger, his hustle, his bravado helped spur his teammates that season to new heights, heights never before achieved by the National League's Philadelphia entry- namely, a World Series title.
For Pete's sake, the Phillies were a better team in 1980 than in 1979. Or, according to the ultimate result of that season, any other team in Phillies' history.