On June 25, 1960, 19-year-old Pete Rose made his pro baseball debut with the Geneva Redlegs of the New York-Penn League. In his first game, Rose hit two singles in five at bats and drove in a run. The daily Geneva Times reported, "Rose is an aggressive and eager ballplayer at second and gives promise that he could be a good hitter."
Cincinnati had signed the hometown boy out of Western Hills High earlier that month, and Rose, who never forgets, says, "I signed on a Saturday for $7,000, with a $5,000 bonus if I ever stayed in the big leagues for 30 days. I was on the plane on Monday. It was my first plane ride."
When Rose got to Geneva, he walked up to the manager, Reno DeBenedetti, and said, "I'm Pete Rose, your new second baseman." He then bumped an 18-year-old Cuban named Antanasio (Tony) Perez—one and the same—from second to third. Rose hit .277 in 85 games for a last-place team, but he must have led all free-world second basemen in errors, with 36. "The reports on me back in Cincinnati weren't too good," Rose says. "But at the end of the year, the fans voted me the most popular player. I got two Samsonite suitcases. They were the first awards I ever won in baseball."
In 1961 he hit 30 triples for the Class D Tampa Tarpons, batted .331, led the Florida State League in hits with 160 and drove in 77 runs. The next year the Reds jumped him to Macon in the Class A Sally League.
His manager at Macon, Dave Bristol, would become his major league manager in 1966. "You never knew what he might do because he had all that energy," says Bristol. "We had long road trips that we made with two station wagons for 18 players. Pete would somehow get to the backdoor of the wagon while I was driving along at 65, climb over the roof and look at me in the windshield."
That year Rose hit .330 and scored 136 runs in 139 games. The next spring, though not on the 40-man roster, he was invited to the Reds' major league camp in Tampa. He immediately ticked off the veterans by running out walks and otherwise stamping himself as a hot dog in their eyes. "You couldn't help but notice him," says Gordy Coleman, then the Reds' first baseman and now director of the team's speakers bureau. "The 25 guys on the team would take a vote every few days on whether Rose would make the club or not. It always came out 24-1 against him. The one guy who kept voting for him was our second baseman, Don Blasingame. Hutch [manager Fred Hutchinson], though, was fascinated by the kid."
So was his coaching staff. One night while driving back to the Reds' camp from dinner, coach Dick Sisler and Cincinnati sportswriter Earl Lawson passed a lone figure walking in the same direction on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. "Earl," Sisler asked, "wasn't that Rose?"
Later that night, Sisler saw the kid walking into the lobby of the Causeway Inn. "Rose," he said, "didn't I see you walking back to the hotel?"
"Yes, sir," said Rose.
"Why didn't you raise your hand?" said Sisler. "You know my car. That's a hell of a long walk."
"A big league ballplayer shouldn't be thumbing his way," replied Rose.
Rose made the club and he was in the starting lineup on Opening Day against Pittsburgh. He walked in his first at bat—and ran to first. In his fourth game he got his first hit, a triple in the eighth off Bob Friend.
He went on to bat .273 that year and win the Rookie of the Year award. Late in the season, Cincinnati played the Cardinals in St. Louis in Stan Musial's last game. "They drove Stan around the field in a convertible and the people cheered him for a half hour," Rose recalls. "He went 2 for 3. Both ropes. I dove after one of them but didn't get it."
During the ceremonies for Musial, Hutch pulled Rose aside and said, "You take care of yourself, kid, and you can do this yourself someday."