Time for Rose to go on Phillies’ Wall

ajc.com

A door opened in Cincinnati earlier this season that created a window for the Phillies next season. In case you missed it, the Reds, with a blessing from Major League Baseball that had been absent for more than a quarter of a century, inducted Pete Rose into their Hall of Fame in late June.

It was the right thing for Commissioner Rob Manfred to do and the logical next step for the Phillies is to use the previously blocked opportunity to put Rose into their equivalent of the Reds Hall of Fame. That, of course, is the Wall of Fame, the spot behind the ivy-covered batter’s eye in center field at Citizens Bank Park that received its 63rd member Friday when Jim Thome’s plaque was added to the wall.

Forget the debate about Rose and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That will continue and should continue. This is not about that. This is about the door that is already open. Talk to the people who knew Rose best during his five seasons in Philadelphia and they immediately embrace the idea of his addition to the Wall of Fame.

“I just think he was an integral part in us getting over the hump,” Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said. “The people who are making those decisions have to make them, but I have no problem with it. In fact, I would like to see it.”

So would Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman whose career reached another level after Rose’s free-agent addition to the Phillies in 1979.

“I think it should definitely be considered,” Schmidt said. “I don’t want to stick my neck out where it shouldn’t be, but I think he meant enough to the history of this franchise for it to happen.”

He was only with the Phillies for a half decade near the end of a career that already had Hall of Fame credentials when he arrived, but Rose still put up numbers that merited a place on the Philadelphia Wall of Fame. He did not miss a game in his first four seasons, batting .300 with a .375 on-base percentage and 338 runs scored in that span.

But the Rose story went so far beyond the numbers. The Phillies reached two World Series before Rose’s arrival and went to two more in his five seasons.

“I don’t think we win in 1980 without Pete Rose,” said Dickie Noles, a reliever on that Phillies team. “He never missed a pitch. He knew everything that was going on in the field and in the 1980 playoffs he made us feel like we were never going to lose.”

Bowa was 34 during that postseason. He’s 70 now. And still the memories remain vivid.

“I remember like yesterday that Houston series facing Nolan Ryan in Game 5,” Bowa said. “I was leading off and we’re behind and he said, ‘If you get on, we’re going to win this game.’ I got on and we won. The way he said it to me, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get on because he said we’re going to win.’ He exuded confidence with everybody.”

Nobody more so than Schmidt.

“I remember one game Schmitty was in the clubhouse and he looked like he was a little jittery,” Bowa said. “Pete says, ‘What are you so jittery about?’ Schmitty says, ‘I never faced this guy before.’ Pete says, ‘You never faced him before? What do you think he’s like over there thinking he’s got to face Mike Schmidt?’ Schmitty perked up and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ ”

The best story from the group of Phillies alumni at the ballpark Sunday came from Ruly Carpenter, the owner of 1980 Phillies. He recalled how concerned the Phillies were about Rose moving to first base, a position he played just three times in 16 years with the Reds.

Carpenter recalled an early evening during spring training when Jack Russell Stadium was empty except for two men hanging around first base “Everyone had left, but there was Pete Rose on first base and this guy in a necktie with a bag of baseballs standing about 25 to 30 feet away from first base,” Carpenter said. “They were doing the short-hop drill. The guy would throw a short hop to Pete’s forehand and then his backhand and this went on for an hour after everybody had left.”

Flash forward to the playoff series in Houston.

“A guy hits a dribbler down the third-base line and Schmitty came in and barehanded it,” Carpenter said. “He threw to first and the ball was in the dirt to Rose’s backhand. There were two outs, runners going on contact and Rose picks it out of the dirt. I immediately thought about that day in Clearwater. If he doesn’t make that play, we don’t go to the World Series.”

Rose made so many contributions to a franchise that had never won a World Series before his arrival and Philadelphia has never had a chance to thank him since he was banned from baseball in 1989.

“I think you’d sell this place out,” Noles said. “People would love to see Pete. You go back to the closing of the Vet, which was one of the most inspirational moments that I’ve ever had in my life … and one of the greatest things was when they put that rose out at first base. The people went crazy.”

They will again if the Phillies put Pete Rose on their Wall of Fame next year and this time he will be around to appreciate it.