That Time Pete Rose Blew Up the 1970 All-Star Game

An oral history of the Hit King’s infamous home plate collision with Ray Fosse.
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Photograph by © Bettman/Corbis

The night before the 1970 MLB All-Star Game, Reds outfielder Pete Rose called his friend, Cleveland Indians pitcher Sam McDowell, and asked if he’d like to go out to dinner. McDowell agreed and brought along his Indians teammate, a newly-married rookie catcher named Ray Fosse. The trio, their wives in tow, enjoyed an evening on the river at the Sycamore Shore and finished with a nightcap at Rose’s home in Oak Hills. Like any bright young rookie would, Fosse peppered Rose with questions about his teammate, the great Johnny Bench. It was a jovial first encounter. The second would not go so well.

More televisions were tuned to the 1970 All-Star Game than any Mid-Summer Classic before or since. An estimated 60 million people gazed at the still-under-construction Riverfront Stadium, watching to see if the American League could overcome years of dominance by the National League. Even Richard Nixon—two years into his first term as president, with the Vietnam War raging and deep unrest rumbling across the land—was in the stands that night.

The raucous, National League–inclined crowd of 51,838 roared each time one of their guys came to bat. Bench. Perez. Rose. Even former Cincinnati Red Frank Robinson received a rousing ovation in his first trip to the plate. True, it was an exhibition game, but to the players, teams, and more than 2 million fans who voted for the starters, it mattered. Former National League president Warren Giles, who had served as Cincinnati Reds president and retired before the 1970 season, used to treat the All-Star Game as his chance to assert the National League’s superiority. With a clenched fist, he was known to deliver impassioned pre-game pep talks that let players know just how much it all meant. “If you want to make this team next year,” Giles would say, “you better play hard tonight.” Pete Rose took it to heart.


Superiority Complex
Before free agency and interleague play became commonplace, the All-Star Game and the World Series were the only meaningful times when players from both leagues could settle scores. Heading into the 1970 contest, the National League maintained an air of superiority justified by a dominant stretch. American League manager Earl Weaver, whose Baltimore squad had fallen to New York’s “Miracle” Mets in the 1969 World Series, was so intent on ending the N.L. reign that he lobbied for a committee to evaluate players that might be exaggerating injuries. If any player attempted to use an injury as an excuse to not play in the All-Star Game, Weaver believed they should be fined. That never happened, but as The New York Times noted afterwards, “The Americans had to feel a new sense of foreboding as they were confronted by the shape of things to come.”

 

Clyde Wright, losing pitcher, California Angels: When the National League played the American League, the American League wanted to kick their butt and the National League wanted to kick our butt. That’s all there was to it. It wasn’t going to no party. We were going to a baseball game to win.

Claude Osteen, winning pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers: I always try to put down any talk about players not caring. All the guys in the National League, all the teams that I was on, they wanted to win and carried a lot of pride in that clubhouse. I’ve never experienced one that didn’t. [1]

Pete Rose, outfielder, Cincinnati Reds: It’s not one of those deals where some players say, Ahhh, I’d rather have the days off. That wasn’t the way it was with us. We wanted to make the All-Star team. The [game] in Cincinnati meant a lot more to me because I was born there.

Brooks Robinson, third baseman, Baltimore Orioles: The American League, I know we got beat up. I played in a lot of losing All-Star Games. I think I played in 15, won two or three, and tied one. [2] I went to every game thinking that I was going to be the best player in the game. I loved playing in it.

Frank Robinson, first baseman, formerly with  the Cincinnati Reds, then playing for the Baltimore Orioles: The idea of coming back to the city and playing in a meaningful game—I know it was an exhibition game, but it meant something back in those days. [3]

Clyde Wright: When I looked around the room in the American League, I thought, Well, jeez, there’s going to be a lot of these guys in the Hall of Fame. And then when you looked over in the National League, you said, “Damn, there’s going to be more of them in the Hall of Fame. And I get to pitch against them?” [4]

Tony Perez, third baseman, Cincinnati Reds: I remember we played like it was the World Series. We were hot, and we played like it was the last game we were going to play.

Joe Torre, catcher, St. Louis Cardinals: I always felt that when players went to the All-Star Game, they had fun. They talked among themselves. But when they went out and played, they only knew one way to play and that was to win. It was evidenced by Pete in 1970 trying to score the winning run.


That Fateful Inning
Ray Fosse scored the first run of the game and drove in the second run, while Brooks Robinson added two insurance runs with a two-out triple in the top of the eighth inning. Heading into the ninth inning, the A.L. held a 4–1 lead and seemed poised to end their disappointing run. But as radio play-by-play announcer Jim Simpson said in the bottom of the ninth, “This ball game was cruising strictly in the pitcher’s hip pocket for a long while. It’s now broken open.” A leadoff home run from San Francsico Giants catcher Dick Dietz and a two-run single by Dietz’s teammate, Willie McCovey, put the N.L. within one. Roberto Clemente, playing despite a sore neck, pinch-hit for Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson and knocked a sacrifice fly that allowed Joe Morgan (then still with the Houston Astros) to score, sending the game into extra innings. “Once you go into extra innings,” said Sandy Koufax in his role as a radio color commentator for NBC, “well, the home team has got a great advantage.”

 

Sam McDowell, pitcher, Cleveland Indians, on the mound for the American League from the fourth to the sixth inning: I had struck out so many players that they initially told me when I came off the mound to go ahead and shower so I could get out of the way of the other guys coming in after the game. [Then] they said hold off on that, stay in uniform, because my name was up for MVP of the game. Lo and behold, the game was tied and went on. Everything changed after I came out of the game. [5]

Amos Otis, center fielder, Kansas City Royals: I came in the game around the seventh inning as a replacement in center field. We were winning at that time. Then that fateful inning rolled around.

Clyde Wright: It was just like any normal inning. You don’t pitch to the names on the back of the uniform, you pitch to home plate and your catcher, where [he] sets up. You check the runners on base and hold them close, but
I can’t worry about them two guys on base. The thing I have to take care of is get that sucker out that’s got that 34-inch bat up there.

Amos Otis: Pete Rose led off, somehow got to second base, then Jim Hickman [with the Chicago Cubs] hit one to center field. [6]

Pete Rose: He hit a base hit, a one-hopper, and I had to score.

Clyde Wright: I don’t know [what pitch I threw]. Whatever one it was, I wish I would’ve thrown something different.

Claude Osteen: I remember Hickman getting the hit and we were all anticipating Rose scoring.

Bill Haller, third base umpire that night: I had a great angle on that play. I can still see Rose going from second to third and rounding third. I’m watching him running to home plate and Fosse is waiting for the ball. [I knew] we were going to have a collision.

Clyde Wright: Rose, he can move around the bases pretty good. If we had a shot at him, it was going to be bang-bang. It had to be a perfect throw.

Bill Haller: Amos was a pretty damn good player. He was a very, very, very, very, very good defensive player. [7]

Amos Otis: As Pete rounded third base, I charged and scooped the ball up real quick and made a real good throw. It was up the line maybe a foot and a half. If the throw would have been dead-on accurate, he would’ve been out.

Clyde Wright: If it was a perfect throw, he might have. But there was a lot of difference between where he threw it and a perfect throw.


“One Hell of a Collision”
Jim Simpson’s voice rose in excitement as Hickman made contact, wavering just slightly from the wry, professional demeanor he carried throughout the game. “Up the middle, Rose is on his way around, picked up by Otis, Otis coming to the plate…” As Rose rounded third, third base coach and Cubs manager Leo Durocher, hardly able to contain himself, trailed behind him. In front of the plate stood Fosse, dripping with sweat due to the heat emanating from the newly installed emerald green AstroTurf—“just as if someone had turned a hose on him,” said Simpson.

Sam McDowell: When the throw came in it was to [Ray’s] right side. It forced him into a position where he was semi-blocking the plate.

Amos Otis: I think Pete thought he was going to score easy and [then] realized the throw was on the way and that it was going to be close.

Pete Rose: I actually started to slide headfirst, but he had the plate blocked. I was saying, “Well if I slide now, I’m probably going to break both of my collarbones.”

Bill Haller: Before the collision happened, I could see it happening because of where the ball was and the type of runner that Rose was and the type of player that Fosse was. Neither one was going to give in.

Claude Osteen: I mean, it’s a snap judgment decision you have to make when you’ve got a big catcher standing there. Instinct takes over. You think: Well, the only way I’m going to be safe is if I can knock the ball out of his hands.

Brooks Robinson: I’ve seen a lot of catchers get hurt in situations like that when you’re standing on top of the plate. I guess Rose really didn’t have any place to go, so he ran over him.

Sam McDowell: I think Pete could’ve slid without any problem, without hurting Ray or anybody else. As you know, Pete never did that. He loved that headfirst dive and in order to do that headfirst dive you put your shoulder down. He was going to go into anything that was there on the plate—the leg, the arm, anything that was there.

Pete Rose: The advantage I had there—and it’s a big advantage when you are running the bases—was that he was reaching out to get the ball. If he had had the ball, he’d have knocked me into the middle of next week. But you can’t concentrate on two things.

Frank Robinson: Anytime you step between the white lines you should play to win. But there is a point to where you draw the line in an All-Star Game, OK? I just think that it could have been avoided.

Amos Otis: The collision happened at the same time the ball got there. It was one hell of a collision.


The Impact
Over the years, Rose has contended he had no choice in the matter. “My father was at that game,” he told ESPN in 1985. “If I’d have slid like a little sissy or something, he’d have waited outside and kicked the hell out of me after the ball game.” Instead Rose, the son of a semi-pro football star, hammered Fosse like a linebacker, sending the rookie somersaulting backwards. Rose immediately turned to Fosse—who was doubled over and clearly in pain—and asked if he was all right. But the deed was done.

 

Pete Rose: I remember the collision like it was yesterday. If you look at the replay, I actually started to slide headfirst, but he had the plate blocked. So I went over him and tagged the plate with my right hand.

Clyde Wright: When Rose hit Fosse I heard the pop. That had to hurt pretty good. What did it sound like? A limb breaking. Not a big limb—a branch, that would be more like it. Just a crack, and that was it.

Bill Haller: Oh, you knew he was hurt. It was like a boxer that got hit in the jaw and he’s down on his knees and he’s trying to get up.

Joe Torre: It was a clean hit. Pete didn’t go in spikes first, he basically bowled him over. Being a catcher myself, I sort of knew the drill. You try to defend your territory. And whether you had the ball or not you’d try to keep the run from scoring. As it turns out, it was devastating, and that’s the sad part about it.

Brooks Robinson: You don’t want to kill or maim anyone. You just do what you can do. Offhand, I don’t remember any player that I can name that said, “That’s crazy that he would do that.” I think everyone realized that’s just the way Pete Rose played.

Clyde Wright: A lot people thought it was dirty, right? But the thing about it is, that’s the way Rose plays and everyone knows that’s the way he plays. It didn’t bother me at all. The only one it hurt was Fosse. I don’t even know if Fosse thought it was a dirty play or not. I never asked him. To me, no. It was just the normal way that Pete Rose played: All-out.

Amos Otis: If that was me coming around third base and I was in the same situation that Pete was, nine times out of 10 I probably would’ve ran into the guy. Of course at that time I only weighed 150 pounds, so he probably would’ve knocked me backwards.

Frank Robinson: Listen, I played hard. I played tough. I did what I could do to help my team win, short of hurting someone intentionally. I’ll tell you one thing—I would have never gone into home plate like that. No.

Pete Rose: I’d do the same thing tomorrow if I had to. I was within the rules. I wasn’t dirty. I was probably the most aggressive guy ever, but I wasn’t dirty. I never purposely tried to hurt anybody. The only thing I did on purpose was try to score.

Sam McDowell: I know he didn’t intentionally try and injure Ray. But that destroyed Ray’s career.


“Just part of the Game”
Hickman’s hit and Rose’s run won the game for the National League, 5–4. Fosse played through the injury until September, when a broken finger sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He wouldn’t discover the extent of his injury until spring training the following year. He made one more appearance in the All-Star Game, in 1971, but it would be his last. He retired in 1980 at the age of 33, and is now a broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics. Ray Fosse declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

 

Sam McDowell: When I saw it on the television in the clubhouse, I came running down to the dugout. I saw Ray in the dugout and I tried to comfort him [and] find out exactly how bad it was. They rushed him to the hospital and had some X-rays or whatever, and I think they just told him it was a bad bruise or sprain. It wasn’t until winter that they saw he had a broken collarbone. [He] went through a whole year of playing not knowing it was broken. That was the old dynamic of baseball—you played no matter how hurt you were.

Amos Otis: I was a little bit upset and felt bad. For a long time, I thought it was my fault. If I’d have made a perfect throw, it never would have happened.

Pete Rose: [The collision] hurt my knee, but I’ve had a lot of impacts like that. It don’t hurt as bad as you might think when it happens because you won the game. And that meant more to me than anybody else on the field that night because it was in Cincinnati. [8]

Claude Osteen: It was kind of a mixed emotions thing. You’re happy over the win because that was the ultimate thing that you’re there for. At the same time, you felt bad about Fosse and you hoped he wasn’t hurt too badly.

Brooks Robinson: After that hit he took from Pete, he was just never the same player in any way—throwing, hitting, or catching. I remember he had some power but that just about ended it for him. [9]

Sam McDowell: He was a free swinger and had a quick bat prior to the injury. After that, he pulled his shoulder in and you could actually see it almost every time he swung—he was cringing. He had trouble throwing the ball back to me on the mound a lot of times. He changed everything that he was doing, which ruined his career.

Bill Haller: He was touted to be the best catcher in the American League after he played a few years. He never did reach that plateau.

Amos Otis: The first trip back into Cleveland when I saw Ray, we got to talking and I was telling him how I felt and he told me it wasn’t my fault. It was baseball, things happened. That eased my mind. I’m still sorry that he got hurt because I could tell he wasn’t the same player.

Pete Rose: I got bad mail from American League fans, but so what? We’re playing the game to win the game. Anybody that don’t agree with what I did in that game is a loser. That’s the way I look at it. If I’m a National League fan, I want a player that had the opportunity to do that to do the same thing—win the game, within the rules.

Sam McDowell: For months after the collision reporters from all over continually wanted to interview Ray and Pete. I was physically next to Ray in the locker room where they were trying to get him to say that Pete did it intentionally to hurt him, just to start a controversy. Ray wouldn’t do it. I have not talked to Ray in 20 years, so I have no idea what his thoughts are now. But I knew way back when that it was just part of the game.


Footnotes

[1] Osteen: “I went to Reading High School. My father moved from Tennessee up to Reading and he worked at the General Electric jet engine plant in Lockland. I spent my last three years of high school there and got involved with the baseball program and loved every minute of it. I was a big Reds fan and knew all about them.” Back

[2] Brooks Robinson was an All-Star in 15 seasons, but competed in 18 All-Star Games. From 1960 to 1962, MLB held two All-Star Games each year. His final record was 2-15-1. Back

[3] Frank Robinson was signed by the Reds in 1953 and played 10 seasons for the team before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. He is the only player in baseball history to be named Most Valuable Player in both the American and National Leagues. Back

[4] Including managers, the American League lineup boasted nine future Hall-of-Famers while the National League had a whopping 12 future Hall-of-Famers. Back

[5] Starter Jim Palmer and Sam McDowell combined to throw six scoreless innings to begin the game for the American League. Back

[6] Joe Torre and Roberto Clemente actually led off the bottom of the 12th inning, each grounding out. Rose singled and was moved to second on another single by Billy Grabarkewitz. Back

[7] Otis would go on to win his first of three Gold Gloves in 1971. Back

[8] Though he was expected to be out for a few games, Fosse played in Cleveland’s first game after the All-Star break. Rose missed the first three games due to his left knee injury. Back

[9] In the months before the All-Star game in 1970, during his rookie season, Fosse hit 16 home runs. He would go on to hit just 49 homers over the final eight years of his career. Back

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