Flashback: Rose breaks Musial's NL hits record

Flashback: Rose breaks Musial's NL hits record

The year was 1981, and baseball was returning to the playing field after a players strike that had wiped out 55 games. Baseball interest in Philadelphia was at an all-time high, as the Phillies were the defending World Series Champions.

First game back was on Aug. 10 -- a Monday night ABC telecast. Pete Rose was one hit shy of breaking Stan Musial's 17-year-old record for most hits in National League history. No better way for baseball to resume than in front of a jam-packed Veterans Stadium and a national television audience. The St. Louis Cardinals, for whom Musial starred, were the opponents. Ironically, Musial's 3,360th and last hit came in 1963, a ground-ball single to right field past a Cincinnati rookie second baseman named Pete Rose.

Rose had tied Musial on June 10. His record-tying hit was a single off Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros. It came in the first inning, and then Ryan closed the door with three straight strikeouts. The next day the players went on strike. Baseball stood still for two months.

Phillies alumni

Facing Bob Forsch, Rose reached base on an error by the shortstop in the first inning, grounded to the pitcher in the third and the second baseman in the fifth. Leading off the Phillies' eighth, Rose hit another grounder, this one between short and third for the record-breaking 3,631st hit. Mark Littell was the pitcher. 60,561 fans stood as one and roared, fireworks exploded from the Vet roof, Rose tipped his helmet, Musial entered the field to congratulate him, followed by Pete Jr.'s hugs and the rest of the Phillies. One of the great historic moments in Phillies history. Rose will be inducted into the Toyota Wall of Fame on Saturday night, Aug. 12.

"The whole thing about breaking records is the reaction of the fans. It was very special, because it happened at home in front of so many Phillies fans. Musial being there was icing on the cake," said Rose. "There was no pressure attached to this record. It's not like a hitting streak. I needed one more hit, and it was going to happen. It was just a matter of where, when, the kind of hit and the pitcher."

Following the game, a large media mass squeezed into a room behind home plate for a press conference. A red phone was positioned on the podium, a phone with a direct line to the White House for President Ronald Reagan to call and congratulate Pete. It turned out to be a most hilarious phone conversation:

White House operator: "Mr. Rose, hold on please..."

Pete: "Tell the President I'll be with him in a minute."

White House: "Mr. Rose, hold on please..."

Pete: "Good thing there isn't a missile on the way."

White House: "Mr. Rose, hold on please..."

Pete: "I've waited 19 years for this, I can wait another minute."

White House: Mr. Rose, hold on please..."

Pete: "Larry, I'll give him my home phone."

Finally, "Hello Pete, this is President Reagan calling."

Pete brought down the house further by responding, "Hey, how ya' doing."

Rose played two more years with the Phillies before moving on to the Montreal Expos in 1984 for part of one season and closing out his playing career back in Cincinnati from '84-86. He finished with 4,256 hits -- 826 coming in a Phillies uniform.

Who held the NL hits record before Musial? Honus Wagner, whose 3,430th and final hit came in 1917 at age 43. Wagner's 3,000 hit -- a double -- was against the Phillies, on June 9, 1914, at Baker Bowl off Erskine Mayer.

Larry Shenk is editor/author of the Alumni section. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.