Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hutch and Pete: How Fred Hutchinson Helped Pete Rose Break Ty Cobb's Record

Fred Hutchinson unknowingly helped Pete Rose break Ty Cobb's record.

 The 1962 Reds had won 98 games, but had finished in third place behind the Giants and the Dodgers. As a 21-year-old second baseman for the Macon Peaches, Pete Rose had torched the Class AA South Atlantic League, hitting .330 with 17 triples and scoring 136 runs. Most people in the Reds' organization felt that he needed at least one more year in the minors, however. Complicating matters was the fact that the Reds had a reliable veteran second baseman, Don Blasingame, who was coming off one of his best years.

 One man who felt that Pete was ready to make the jump from AA to the majors was Cincinnati manager Fred Hutchinson. He had witnessed Rose while in the Fall Instructional League and fell in love with his style of play. "I can clearly remember in the fall of 1962 my father telling my brother and I, 'If you want to see how the game of baseball should be played, come over tonight and watch one of our minor leaguers, Pete Rose,'" recalled Fred Hutchinson's son Jack, who was 17 at the time. "And, of course, being teenagers, we didn't really believe him at the time."

Hutch, an old-school battler who got the most out of his ability due to an iron will and intense competitiveness when he pitched for the Tigers, could see the same qualities in the gritty, hustling Rose. "If I had any guts, I'd stick Rose at second and just leave him there," Hutch told Cincinnati beat writer Earl Lawson that winter.

Rose wore number 27 in the spring of 1963. He would soon switch to the familiar number 14 that he wore until Commissioner Giamati banned him from wearing any major league uniform,

Hutch was determined to give Pete every chance to make the team in 1963 and eventually named him the starter during spring training. Rose took the field at Crosley Field for Opening Day as the Reds' second baseman.

Hutch stuck with Rose through an early slump and backed him when the veterans on the team (other than Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson) froze out the obnoxious rookie. Rose rewarded him by becoming the Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 170 hits and 101 runs.

By spring training of 1964, Rose had established himself on the team and Lou Smith of the Cincinnati Enquirer proclaimed him the most popular player on the Reds according to fans, adding that Rose was "an earnest, honest youngster who loves the game so much he would play it for nothing."

Had Hutch gone with conventional wisdom and left Rose at AAA for 1963, it is probable that time would have run out on Rose's chase of Cobb's record 23 years later--he needed every one of those 170 hits that he got in 1963.

Reportedly Hutchinson noticed an alarming propensity of the young Rose to spend too much time at the track, betting on the ponies and told him to stop it. One has to wonder how baseball history (and Rose's personal history) would have been altered had the iron-willed Hutchinson, who few men defied, lived past the 1964 season.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post, Doug. I can tell you are an excellent writer and your love of the game comes through. I'm reading this just after finding out you have joined the Baseball Blogger's Alliance. I'll be back!

    Welcome aboard, Michael Jawitz, AKA: Grubby Glove.