Pete Rose, The First (And Arguably Best) Free Agent Signing In Phillies History

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Jason Love

By Jason Love

On Dec. 5, 1978, the Philadelphia Phillies signed the most impactful free agent in the history of their franchise. The Phillies and Pete Rose agreed to a four-year deal for $3.2 million. At $800,000 per season, Rose became the highest-paid player in the game. Although in his late ‘30s, Rose still had a lot of gas left in the tank. At the time, the Phillies were a good team, but not a great one. With players such as Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, and Steve Carlton, the Phillies had the foundation in place, but they just could not get past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs to reach the World Series.

The Phillies were established in 1883. Up until the Rose signing, the team had only reached the World Series twice. In the 1915 Fall Classic, they lost to the Boston Red Sox. This World Series was the first postseason appearance for a young Babe Ruth, although he did not play a large role in the Red Sox victory. 

In 1950, the Whiz Kids featuring Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn were swept by the New York Yankees in four games. The Phillies then went into a bit of a World Series drought for several decades. Rose ended up being the spark the team needed to win their first World Series title in 1980 over the Kansas City Royals. Every Phillies fan remembers Rose’s play where he ran over toward the dugout to catch the foul ball that squirted out of catcher Bob Boone’s glove in the final game.

Rose played for the Phillies from 1979-1983. He reunited with former Reds teammates Joe Morgan and Tony Perez to take the Phillies back to the World Series in 1983. Unfortunately, this time the Phillies lost to the Baltimore Orioles in five games. Rose put up consistent numbers throughout his time in Philadelphia. In both 1980 and 1982, he played 162 games (he also played all 163 games in 1979). Rose made the National League All-Star Team in four out of his five years in Philadelphia, from 1979–1982. He eventually left the Phillies for the Montreal Expos for a short stint early in 1984 before returning to Cincinnati, where he finished his career in 1986. 

For baseball-loving kids growing up outside of Philadelphia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rose became the player everyone wanted to be like in Little League. His confidence, hustle, and swagger were imitated by thousands of young ballplayers throughout the greater Philadelphia area. 

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Jason Love

A few years ago, I had the chance to briefly meet Rose at a card show. My son Ian and I had our photo taken with Rose. It was great to meet one of my childhood idols. I mentioned to Rose that my son played Little League baseball. He told Ian, “[Make sure] you hustle to help your team win. Winning makes the game a lot more fun.”

Jason Love is the author of Slices of Americana: A Road Trip Through American Baseball History published by Sunbury Press. You can find him on Twitter @jason_love1.

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