Rose is the career leader in hits (4,256), singles (3,215), at-bats (14,053) and games played (3,562). He is second all-time in doubles, fourth in runs, and collected at least 100 hits in his first 23 seasons, a record. He had more than 200 hits in a season 10 times, also a record, led the league in hits in seven seasons, and is the most prolific switch-hitter in history. He is the only player to play 500 games at five different positions and was named the Player of the Decade for the 1970s by TSN. He revived the head-first slide and popularized running to first base on a walk after seeing Enos Slaughter do it. Because of his seemingly boundless enthusiasm, he was nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” by Whitey Ford. Rose once said that he’d “walk through hell in a gasoline suit to keep playing baseball.” He has also been endlessly compared to Ty Cobb, including allegations of betting on his own team, an accusation Cobb faced in the final years of his career. Rose’s statistical standing in major league history is ensured, but his reputation and eventual election to the Hall of Fame is in serious doubt following his lifetime suspension by Commissioner Giamatti in 1989. Born and raised in Cincinnati, the brash, crewcut rookie broke into the Reds’ starting lineup in 1963 and was named Rookie of the Year. In the top of the ninth in a scoreless game in Colt Stadium on April 23, 1964, Rose reached first on an error and scored on another error to make Houston rookie Ken Johnson the first pitcher to lose a complete game no-hitter. But Rose slumped late in 1964, was benched, and finished with just a .269 average. He came back in 1965 to lead the league in hits (209) and at-bats (670), and hit .312, the first of 15 consecutive .300 seasons. He hit a career-high 16 homers in 1966, then moved from second base to the right field the following year. In 1968, he started the season with a 22-game hit streak, missed three weeks, including the All-Star game, with a broken thumb, then had a 19-game hit streak late in the season. He had to finish the season 6-for-9 to beat out Matty Alou and win the first of two close NL batting title races. In 1969, Rose and Roberto Clemente were tied for the batting title going into the final game. Rose bunted for a base hit in his last at-bat of the season to beat out Clemente.
Rose’s hustle won the All-Star Game in 1970 for the NL, and may have spoiled the career of Oakland catcher Ray Fosse, Rose’s dinner companion the night before the game in Cincinnati. In the 12th inning, Rose led off with a single and went to second on a single by the Dodgers’ Bill Grabarkewitz. The Cubs Jim Hickman then singled sharply to center. Amos Otis‘ throw beat Rose to the plate, but Rose barreled over Fosse, separating the catcher’s shoulder, to score the winning run. Rose sparked the The Big Red Machine to a sweep of the LCS against Pittsburgh that year. He drove in a run to snap a scoreless tie in the 10th inning in the first game, then singled during the eighth inning rally that produced the winning run in the third game. In 1972, Rose, now in left field, again led the league in hits and at-bats, hit .450 in the LCS against Pittsbugh, but managed only a .214 average in the seven-game loss to Oakland in the World Series. Rose enjoyed his best-ever season in 1973. He won his third and final batting title with a .338 average, collected a career-high 230 hits and was named the NL MVP. The Reds, however, lost the LCS to the upstart Mets, despite Rose’s eighth-inning homer to tie Game One and his 12th-inning homer to win Game Four. The Mets were spurred on by Rose’s fight with diminutive Met shortstop Bud Harrelson in Game Three, which prompted a bench-clearing brawl. Rose slumped badly in 1974, hitting only .284, although he did lead the league in runs scored with 110. In 1975, Rose was moved to third base to make room for rookie outfielder Ken Griffey, and led the Reds to the first of two straight World Series victories. Rose was named the 1975 World Series MVP on the strength of 10 hits and a .370 average. The Reds swept the Yankees in the 1976 Series, despite only a .188 average for Rose. In 1978, Rose mounted the last serious threat to Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hit streak. Rose hit safely in 44 straight games, the most by a NL player in the 20th century. On May 5, he became the youngest player ever to reach 3,000 hits.
After the season, Rose became a free agent and, after a fierce bidding war, signed with the Phillies. Installed at first base, his fifth position in the majors, he hit .331. The next season, despite only a .282 regular-season average, he helped the Phillies win their first-ever World Championship. With one out in the ninth inning of the sixth and final game of the World Series, the Phillies were leading 4-1 with Tug McGraw on the mound, but the bases were full of Royals. Frank White‘s foul pop bounced out of catcher Bob Boone‘s glove, but Rose grabbed it in the air to prevent a possible tragedy. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Rose led the league in hits and had his last .300 season, batting .325. Now 40 years old, it was clear his career was winding down, but the question of whether he could catch Cobb and the all-time hit record of 4,192 kept his name in the news. The night after the strike ended on August 10, he passed Musial as the NL all-time hit leader. He hit just .271 in 1982, but collected 172 more hits. In 1983, the last year of his contract with the Phillies, he hit just .245. Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, aging remnants of the Big Red Machine teams, helped the Phillies to the World Series, losing to the Orioles in five games. It was clear that the Phillies were moving toward youth, and the question was, who would want a forty-two-year-old player. The Expos, needing some help at the gate, signed him, and on April 13, a day before his forty-third birthday, he collected his 4,000th hit. But he wasn’t hitting consistently and was benched in July. On August 16, he was traded back to his hometown Reds, was named player-manager, and responded by batting .365 the rest of the season. In 1985 the city named a street near the ballpark after him as the Cobb hoopla built. On September 11 in Cincinnati, batting lefthanded, he hit a line single to left off the Padres’ Eric Show for hit number 4,193 to pass Cobb. In order to reach Cobb, Rose collected more than 1,000 hits after the age of 38. He guided the Reds to a second-place finish in the NL West that year, and again in 1986, his last year as an active player. Cincinnati finished second again in 1987, and for the fourth time in a row in 1988.
During the 1988 season, Rose got into a shoving match with umpire Dave Pallone, and was suspended for 30 days. Early in 1989, his job in jeopardy because of consistent second-place finishes, Rose was accused of being in massive debt to gamblers and of betting on his own team. He resorted to months of legal stratagems, challenging the Commissioner’s authority, until finally agreeing on August 24 to a deal in which he dropped his suit against baseball and accepted the lifetime suspension. In return, there were no official findings announced. By that time, testimony and documents from a federal case involving one of his bookmakers had revealed everything anyway, but Rose obdurately denied that he had done anything deserving censure.