Cincinnati Reds: The ‘Hit King’ immortalized in bronze at GABP

Crosley Terrace is getting crowded, but Pete Rose believes there’s still room for more statues.

Baseball’s career hits leader officially became on Saturday the fourth member of the fabled 1970s Big Red Machine and the eighth former Red to be immortalized in bronze at the main entrance to Great American Ball Park with the unveiling of a statue depicting him in his trademark headfirst slide.

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“It’s impossible with the four of us to ever break us up,” catcher Johnny Bench said in a post-ceremony media session.

Rose might be fourth member of the 1975 and 1976 World Series champions to be so honored – joining Bench, second baseman Joe Morgan and first baseman Tony Perez – but he shouldn’t be the last, he said, not as long as manager Sparky Anderson and shortstop Dave Concepcion are absent.

HAL MCCOY: Pete’s favorite head-first slides

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Sparky is here someday, and before Sparky, Davey,” said Rose, referring to what he likes to call “Statue Garden” He added, jokingly, “Dave should be first because he lives in Venezuela and we don’t know how much longer he’ll be around.”

Rose, Concepcion, Perez, Bench and Morgan were joined on a covered, raised stage near the northwest corner of the Great American Ball Park property by Reds president and chief executive officer Bob Castellini, former teammates Jack Billingham, George Foster, Ken Griffey Sr. and Doug Flynn.

Fans were crammed elbow-to-elbow with temperatures in the high 80s under a virtually cloudless sky. A few succumbed to the heat and humidity, but most were able to survive the ceremony and indulge in chants of “Pete, Pete, Pete” while shooting cellphone photos.

“We’re here to celebrate the career of truly one of the greatest players in baseball history,” said master of ceremonies and Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, who introduced the guests on stage some notable attendees in the crowd, including players who played with or for Pete with the Reds such as shortstop Leo Cardenas, second baseman Tommy Helms, outfielder Dave Parker and pitchers Ron Robinson and Chris Welsh.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley remembered growing up in Price Hill, near Rose’s boyhood home of Sedamsville, and being at Mass at his Roman Catholic parish when a friend with a transistor radio informed him that Rose had set the career hit record.

“We all turned to the priest and said, ‘Amen,’” Cranley said. “Do we love Pete Rose in Cincinnati? Yes, we do.”

Sculptor Tom Tsuchiya – who has produced all eight the Great American Ball Park statues, including those of first baseman Ted Kluszewski, catcher Ernie Lombardi, pitcher-broadcaster Joe Nuxhall and outfielder Frank Robinson – described in detail the group effort that helped produce the statue, which included everybody from engineers to local youth. He knew almost from the beginning of the latest project that Rose had to be sliding head first, but he didn’t know why Rose favored that route to the next base.

“It gets you in the papers,” Tsuchiya said, quoting Rose. “Pete knew how to entertain us.”

Castellini got the job of introducing Rose – wearing his customary white cap with the raised Reds wishbone “C” along with a red blazer, white shirt, black pants and cream-colored shoes – to the adoring crowd.

“Pete accomplished things on the field that will never be replaced,” Castellini said. “Now, sliding in among these immortals is Pete Rose. He’s earned the distinction of being turned from red to bronze.”

Rose chose to use part of his time to honor the fans and their impact – not just on him, but on his teammates.

“You didn’t realize it all those years, but you motivated me,” said Rose, who was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and saw his uniform number “14” retired last season. “If you didn’t know, you would’ve thought all these guys grew up here in Cincinnati because of the way they played.”

Then it was time for Rose and Tsuchiya to pull the cover off the statue, setting off a frenzy of picture-taking.

During the media session, somebody asked Rose if there was any other way he could be honored.

“Just name the stadium ‘Pete Rose Stadium,’” Rose said.

“If you’ve got $20 million, they will,” Bench chimed in.

During pre-game ceremonies on the field, with a large “14” marked out in the dirt behind second base, Pete Rose II tossed a ceremonial first pitch to Pete Rose. Jr., with Rose at the plate and another one of his sons, Tyler, handling “umpire” duties.

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