November 21, 1973, 50 years ago today: Eleven seasons into his 24-year big league career, Pete Rose wins his only Most Valuable Player award. Like so many other things in his life, it came with controversy. Rose earned 12 of the 24 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell was first on 10 ballots. Rose was one of the catalysts of a powerful Reds lineup and led the National League with a .338 average and 230 hits.
But many believed that Stargell was the better candidate that year after topping the NL with 44 home runs and 119 runs batted in. And there were those who didn’t think Rose was even the best hitter in Cincinnati. Tony Perez hit 27 homers and drove in 101 runs while batting .314, and Joe Morgan had 26 round-trippers with 82 RBI and a .290 average. Rose hit only five homers during the season.
The MVP award was announced about a month and a half after a classic Rose moment. In the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, he had barreled into shortstop Bud Harrelson while trying to break up a double play. Was “Charlie Hustle” trying to start a fight? “You know how many second basemen or shortstops I knocked on their a** in my career?” Rose would say later. “Bud Harrelson was just another one.” Both benches cleared, and what ensued is called the biggest playoff brawl ever. The Mets, leading 9-2, had to forfeit the game when a fan threw a whiskey bottle on the field (but it was New York that would go on to the World Series).
Rose later played with the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos before ending his playing career with the Reds. It was the hits that made Rose an icon. He racked up 10 200-hit seasons, the last when he was 38 years old with the Phils. Rose passed all-time hits leader Ty Cobb in 1985 and finished his career in 1986 with 4,256 hits. But it’s the gambling scandal that will hang over his head forever. Rose was banned from baseball after it was found he bet on Reds games while managing them in the late 1980s.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)