It was a Wednesday at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Phillies were playing host to the Houston Astros. A forty-year-old Pete Rose led off the bottom of the first inning facing a thirty-four-year-old Nolan Ryan. Ryan, whose season was shortened to 21 starts, was arguably having his best year. His 1.69 ERA led the league, as did his 195 ERA+, 6.0 hits and 0.1 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched. This was complemented by a 2.28 FIP and a very respectable, yet not league leading 1.121 WHIP. He also tossed his 5th career no-hitter, which surpassed Sandy Koufax for the most by an individual pitcher in the history of the game.
“Charlie Hustle” was still amazingly five years away from retirement. In an injury-shortened season, Rose still managed to slash .325/.391/.390 in 107 games with an OPS+ of 118. Kind of incredible for a guy on the severe backside of the assumed longevity for a career in baseball. Back to the bottom of the first inning, shall we?
Rose came to the plate and promptly singled off “The Ryan Express”. The hit pushed Rose into a tie with Stan “The Man” Musial as the National League’s all-time leader in hits with 3,630. Obviously, once Rose surpassed Musial, he would never relinquish that lead and go on to be the all-time Hit King. Too bad he couldn’t curb his urges to gamble, because he really should be in the Hall of Fame – I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, the Hall is a museum meant to record the history of the game, not moralize participants of the games problems with drugs, gambling or personality defects.
Back on track – yes I meander, but with purpose – to this fun intersection of three of the game’s greats. You have Charlie Hustle momentarily hopping on The Ryan Express’s fastball to move into rarefied air and soon surpass Stan The Man. I live and breathe and love for these moments in baseball. Sometimes they are hard to recognize when you are seeing them transpire. I’m sure that plenty of folks at Veterans Stadium that day where squarely aware of what a complex and richly historical moment that first inning single was.
Pete Rose wound up with 4,256 career hits, which eclipsed his idol Ty Cobb – also the only other member of the 4,000 hit club. Most importantly to this historical snapshot is that it reminds me of my favorite bit of Stan Musial trivia. Of his 3,630 career hits, exactly 1,815 came on the road, as well as at home. That’s a model of consistency that even Charlie Hustle couldn’t quite replicate (he had 2,123 hits at home and 2,133 on the road…pretty damn close). So raise a glass to Stan The Man!