13 best Wrigley Field memories - no. 4: Pete Rose and Ty Cobb

Our previous best Wrigley Field memory involved no hits. This one is about lots of hits.

On Sunday, September 8, 1985, I had two tickets to a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field. That morning Wife of Admin (WoA) and I sat in our kitchen chatting about who would go to the game. We had no chance of getting a babysitter for our three kids. Our two girls were seven and six, and Son of Admin was four. WoA would not hear of going with one of the kids and leaving me at home with the other two, but somehow it was okay for me to leave her behind! Okay okay, I was born a Cub fan and she only became one upon moving to the Chicago area from New York during high school, but still...

The door to the girls’ room opened and Second Daughter of Admin (D2oA, just turned six years old the day before) stumbled out, rubbing her eyes, still sleepy. The decision was made. She was the first one up, so she would have first dibs at going to the game.

“Good morning,” I said. “I have two tickets to the Cub game today.  Want to go?”

Her eyes lit up and she was instantly wide awake. She gobbled down some cereal, dressed quietly so as not to disturb her older sister, and off we went, walking to the L station at Lawrence and Kimball, the end of the Ravenswood line.

Riding the train as it rattled along the surface tracks, then climbed to become a true “L” as it approached Western, I explained that we were going to a very important game, maybe. The star of the Cincinnati Reds was Pete Rose and he only needed two base hits of any kind to tie Ty Cobb’s record of 4,191 career hits. He could break the record if he got three hits. D2oA had been going to Cub games all of her six years and so knew the game, and certainly understood that this could be a day at Wrigley Field to remember. The number 4,191 impressed her as being very big.

It was overcast. Rain had been predicted. Our tickets were for the upper deck along the third base line which meant we’d be right in the path of winds out of the north, so we were bundled up and ready for any weather.

We arrived at the ballpark, bought our scorecards and pencils, and made our way to our seats.

The upper deck was well populated, but we sat down the line above the bullpen where the crowd was a bit thin. Later we learned that over 28,000 watched the game, a good crowd by that season's standards (the upper deck was often closed because of low attendance). The 1985 season had been disappointing after the National League East Division-winning 1984 season. They would finish the year 77-84, which adds up to only 161 games. The 162nd game was a tie.

D2oA had entered the players’ numbers on her scorecard. I reviewed the basics of keeping score with her, as I did with all of the kids every time we went to a game.

A sense of anticipation vibrated through the stands. The fans knew that the game could be historic and most around us were animated as they talked about the possibilities. You could feel the tension in the air when Rose came to the plate in the first inning. And he delivered on the first pitch with a single to left. Reds fans who had made the trip stood and screamed their support. Cub fans cheered loudly. That day we were all baseball fans first.

Only one more hit to go for Rose to tie the record with almost a whole ballgame left to play.

D2oA gamely made her scorecard entries for the first few innings, but then the excitement of the day overwhelmed her and her scoring became a little spotty.

Looking to my right, I noticed some empty seats, so throughout the game we kept moving closer to the plate. By the fifth inning we were directly over third base when Rose came up to bat again and worked the count full.

And then it happened. A clean line drive single to right. Number 4,191. The record was tied and we were there to see it!

The crowd stood, including Cub fans, clapping and cheering and stomping their feet for Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds. The ovation lasted a long time. The Tribune later said it went on for three and half minutes, but it seemed much longer. Rose, standing on first base, was visibly moved. I think I remember him wiping his eyes with his sleeve and waving to the fans. But it was almost 30 years ago so forgive me if I miss a couple of details.

Rose was quoted as saying, “Any day is a special day when you get a couple hits and … get a reception like I got here.”

And there were still four innings to go. He could break the record today!

But it was not to be. The rain started and delayed the game for over two hours. At six years old D2oA was already a fierce practitioner of the family law of never leaving a game early, so we stayed, as did most fans hoping to see another Rose hit. But Shawon Dunston threw him out 6-3 in the seventh, and Lee Smith struck him out in the ninth with a runner in scoring position. Cub fans booed Smith loudly for not giving up what could have been the game-winning hit – the Reds had already tied the score that inning.

That’s how it ended. Smith struck out the side and then the game was called because of darkness after the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the ninth. It remains a tie in the record book, the 162nd game mentioned above.

Ironically, Rose wasn’t going to play that day. Steve Trout, a lefty, was scheduled to pitch for the Cubs but fell off a bike and had gravel embedded in his pitching hand. Player-manager Rose would only put himself in the lineup if a right-hander was on the mound, and so when he heard that Trout was to be replaced by right-handed Reggie Patterson, he wrote his own name on the lineup card.

In a second irony, perhaps we actually did see Rose break the record because in a review of the record books it was subsequently discovered that two of Ty Cobb’s hits were counted twice, so he only hit 4,189 and Rose’s first inning single to left was indeed the record-breaker, but nobody knew it. I must point out, however, that if you go to Ty Cobb’s stats at mlb.com, they still list his hit total as 4,191.

But we had a great time. D2oA was so thrilled by the experience that she made a point of getting up early every weekend or holiday morning until the season ended in the hope that she would be taken to another historic game. And from that day on, Pete Rose was a special player for the two of us. His gambling problems and subsequent banishment made us sad.

But we have the memory of that game, that special afternoon together in the Wrigley Field upper deck, that is ours forever.
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  • This comment comes via email from a reader who was also at that game:

    "I was at the game that day with 9 of my friends and I couldn't believe Pete came back out to face Lee as dark as it was. My original tickets were down the third base line before the bullpen, but when Pete struck out I was directly behind home plate and there wasn't any chance of seeing the ball well enough to break Cobb's record."

  • What a game! My all-time fav.

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