With apologies to National League schedule makers, here is one to stir the ashes in the hot stove:
The 1985 season was almost over before Pete Rose finally caught Ty Cobb. He got his 4,190th career hit, one short of the Georgia Peach's allegedly unassailable record, in the first game of Cincinnati's last road series. It was a humpback single off Steve Rogers of Montreal. Rose immediately took himself out of the lineup and didn't play in any of the succeeding games against the Expos.
Frankly, this scared some people in the Cincinnati organization a little bit. A whole week would be left in the season when the Reds returned home, with series against the Phillies and the Pirates, and Rose needed only two more hits—one to tie and then the big one to break the record—but there was no guarantee he could pull that off. To be sure, the Reds were out of the race (as were the Phils and Pirates, for that matter), so nobody had to worry about the integrity of the game, but the Reds didn't want this Cobb business to drag over into 1986. It was time for Charlie Hustle to hang up the spikes and become a full-time manager.
"Maybe you should stay in the lineup in Montreal till you get four-one-nine-one," Bob Howsam, the club's vice-chairman, suggested gingerly over the phone. "Then when you come back here you'll need only one to break it."
"No, I want to tie it back home," Rose said, and that was that.
But Howsam still fretted. Only a good stretch late in August had pulled Rose up to .250, and there had been droughts earlier in the season when it appeared that he wouldn't be able to catch Cobb if he played all century, let alone all year. Suppose Rose fell into another slump?
There was also the question of when to schedule Tie Ty Tie Night, which was being promoted by Hudepohl Beer. Every paying customer would receive a necktie that had likenesses of both Rose and Cobb and the number 4,191 (they had been made, as you might imagine, in Taiwan). The Reds' front office naturally wanted Tie Ty Tie Night to coincide with the game in which Rose tied the record, but then suppose he got another hit in that game? Just equaling the record would seem secondary. At last the club decided to schedule Tie Ty Tie Night for the evening the Reds returned from Montreal. If Rose actually got the tying hit in that game, perfect; if not, at least the spirit was willing.
Steve Carlton was the pitcher for the Phillies on Tie Ty Tie Night. This, of course, was appropriate on many counts. Old Lefty was a former teammate of Rose's, was also a future Hall of Famer, and, as observers endlessly pointed out, here was the least talkative man in sports going up against the most talkative.
Unfortunately for Rose, and for the Reds, the evening was a disaster. Rose had been especially tepid as a righthanded hitter, and on this evening against Carlton he was clearly overmatched. The best he could do—the best!—was a comebacker to Carlton. Otherwise, Rose struck out, grounded weakly to second (he was fooled; he wasn't trying to go with the pitch) and popped foul to Mike Schmidt in the third-base coach's box. Cincinnati management was not overjoyed to learn that the Phils would be throwing another lefthander, Jerry Koosman, the next night, and without the cravat giveaway, Riverfront failed to sell out by several thousand.
"How 'bout it, Koos?" the media asked the canny veteran southpaw before the game. "What would you feel like, being the man who gave up the hit that broke Ty Cobb's record?"
"Gentlemen," he said, "the possibility that Rose will get two hits in one game, combined with the fact that I would be in the game long enough to give up two hits to one man, is so remote that I have little fear that I will be given a place of dishonor in the record books."
"But suppose he gets a hit off of you early in the game to tie the mark. Will you be afraid to pitch to him next time?"
"My hunch will be that I'll never get that choice," Koosman joked. "If I give up a hit to Rose, I'll probably be summarily yanked from the mound."
Rose himself, as was always his custom, had snapped back from the depressing events of the night before. He reminisced about Koosman, providing chapter and verse on virtually every hit he had ever made against the man, going back to April 1967. "And," Pete said, chuckling, "it would only be appropriate if I got the big hit against Koosman, because he's the only pitcher left in the game who also pitched to Ty Cobb."
Koosman ambled over to have his photograph taken with Rose, and the media picked up on the crack. "Who's harder to pitch to, Cobb or Rose?" they asked.
Koosman thought. "Well, I know Pete's struggling now, but I'd still give him the edge." Long pause. "Of course, Cobb's dead." There was a lot more banter, as a veritable horde of pressmen gathered. Koosman threatened to dust Rose off, and Rose threatened to lay down a bunt and then spike Koosman if he covered first.
"You better not bunt your way past Ty Cobb," Koosman said.
"Well, tell Schmidt he better not lay back the way he was last night," Rose replied. "A hit's a hit."
And an out's an out. Rose, batting second, looked absolutely terrible his first time up. He did get a bit of a rise out of the crowd when he choked up on the first pitch, but he was only taking, and after Schmidt moved in a step and Koos missed on a curve outside for 1 and 1, Rose got completely fooled on a change-up and popped up weakly to Ivan DeJesus at short.
The Reds got a couple of base hits in the second inning but couldn't score, and Philadelphia led 1-0 in the bottom of the third when Rose came up again, two out, nobody on. As he dug in and held the bat back, perpendicular almost, the way he does, a thought crossed his mind that Koosman might just start him off with a change this time.
And Rose was right. Koosman shook off a fastball, pulled the string and flipped up the change. Rose was ready. He saw the pitch every bit as good as once upon a time when he saw a Bob Veale fastball. He waited and slashed it on a line between short and third. Neither Schmidt or DeJesus even waved at the ball; it was as clean a hit as you'd ever see, and the stadium exploded as Rose dashed to first base, made his turn and then came back to the bag.
The scoreboard immediately lit up: TIES TY!, flashing that news alternately with 4191!
The throw came in, and Koosman made sure he got the ball himself. If he gave up the damn hit, he wasn't going to let some fool umpire hand the ball to Rose. Instead, as the crowd stood and roared, Koosman himself gave the ball to Rose and shook his hand. "A change," he said, shaking his head, grinning. "You have no shame."
"A hit's a hit," Charlie Hustle said.
"Well, you won't see that again," Koosman said. "And I'm throwin' pretty good tonight, too. You might see me the next time."
Rose just shook his head. "No, Koos, go put your jacket on and sit down." And then he pointed over to the Reds dugout and signaled. At first no one understood what he wanted, but then they realized he was beckoning for the microphone that was there for him to use to address the crowd—and America—when he finally broke the record. At that moment, too, his wife and infant son—the one he had named Ty—got up from their seats and headed down onto the field, along with Pete Jr., Rose's teenage son.
In the press box, the writers shook their heads. "If he does all this just when he ties the thing, he may talk all night when he actually breaks it," one said. But the crowd hushed.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Rose began. "Thank you. This has been the greatest moment of my life, and now I'm leaving the game. I'm not going to play no more."
There was a hush, then more and more boos. This wasn't fair, for Rose to wait another night before going for 4,192. But nobody understood.
"Yeah, I could beat old Ty tonight or tomorrow, but I decided I don't want to do that. If I'd come first, he'da played longer to beat my record, just the way I did to beat his. I'd rather stop right here, and this way I'll always be linked with Ty Cobb." That was the word he used: linked. "I like it better that way. Thanks a lot."
And before anybody even knew what happened, Pete Rose walked off the field with his family, sent in a kid, No. 57, just up from Wichita to run for him, signed a paper that said he was voluntarily retired as soon as he got to the dugout, and went down in history as the man who was tied with Ty Cobb with 4,191 hits.