You know what‘s still weird? Seeing Pete Rose in an Expos uniform. I was reminded of that again today when I saw that it’s the anniversary of Rose’s 4,000th career hit. More on that in a minute.
One of the strangest blips in baseball history was the relatively short stint that MLB’s all-time hit leader spent north of the border during the 1984 season. It’s easy to forget that Rose ever spent time in Montreal, as it represented a fairly minor chapter in his 24-year playing career. It’s really only considered odd because Rose — after playing for 22 years in the vaguely similar color schemes of the Reds and Phillies — just didn’t look right in the loud red, white and blue Expos uniform. But that’s also what makes it kinda cool.
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Though Rose’s time in Montreal isn’t really forgotten, it’s hardly talked about. That’s because nearly every significant highlight from his career happened with the Reds and Phillies from 1963 until he was banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on games. But, obviously, his time in Montreal wasn’t without significance, thanks to that 4,000th career hit. His double down the right field line against the Phillies on April 13, 1984, made the switch-hitting Rose just the second player in MLB history to reach 4,000 hits, after Ty Cobb. Let’s enjoy that highlight now.
That the hit came against his former team likely made it even sweeter.
Rose signed with the Expos during the 1983-84 offseason. His time with the Phillies had ended someone acrimoniously, as the team felt his playing days were over after a poor showing for a pennant-winning ’83 Philadelphia squad. Rose was worth -2.1 bWAR that season, and it appeared age had finally caught up to the then-42-year-old. But Montreal still had faith and signed him to a one-year deal for 1984.
And make no mistake, Rose approached the 1984 season with something to prove.
“When you mess with my pride, when you back me up against the wall with my pride, somebody’s going to be in trouble,” Rose said after his release from the Phillies, according to a Sporting News report at the time.
The Expos hoped Rose still had enough left to spark their team the way he sparked Reds and Phillies championship teams earlier in his career.
“We seemed to have lacked some of the qualities Pete has,” Expos president John McHale told SN. “Maybe we can get a last breath from him — well, not a last breath, but a couple of breaths out of him. We told Pete we’re not interested in him for attendance. … We told him we’re only interested in him helping us win.”
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Rose was up for the challenge.
“For those who think I can’t play anymore, Montreal gave me a contract, and they’re a pretty good team,” Rose said, according to an SN report. “There’s nothing I can do about the day I was born. I wish people would forget how damned old I am. I don’t feel old, I don’t act old, and medical experts have told me my body isn’t old.
“Two years ago, I led the league in hits at age 40, and nobody said anything about me being washed up. The people of Montreal should hope I get 202 hits because, if I do, I’ll produce for this team.”
That’s not quite how things played out.
Despite those early expectations from both Rose and the Expos, and despite his historic 4,000th hit in April, Rose played just 95 games in Montreal before a trade back to his hometown Reds in August. In 314 plate appearances with the Expos, Rose collected 72 hits and produced a slash line of .259/.334/.295 — good for 0.3 bWAR. Ironically, despite wanting Rose to provide the X-factor to push them over the top, and despite the presence of three future Hall of Famers in the lineup, the 1984 Expos provided the franchise’s first losing season of the decade.
The Reds named Rose player-manager, a title he held for two more seasons before retiring as a player after the 1986 campaign. During that time, Rose passed Cobb on the all-time hit list and finished his career with 4,256 hits. A few years later, of course, Rose was banned from baseball because of the gambling allegations and subsequent investigation that culminated with him accepting baseball’s ultimate punishment.
But today isn’t about that well-worn story. It’s about that brief time when Rose wore the colorful Montreal uniform — preserved in the memories of fans, one major highlight, and a few baseball cards, such as this 1985 Donruss beauty.