By Gavin LapailleJuly 24, 2014
By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Sports Editor
Athletes are often described in terms of legacy and how they will resonate years after their playing days are over in the minds of those who followed them.
For most, legacy is defined by the amount of championship rings on their fingers, or awards on their mantels. Pete Rose won his fair share of both during his 24-year MLB career, but his legacy isn't defined so easily.
With an MLB record 4,256 hits and three World Series championships, Rose's greatness has been proven on the game's biggest stages. And Rose's famous "Charlie Hustle" nickname will forever recognize him as one of the game's hardest workers.
But before Rose would leave his mark on the baseball diamond, there was a much different kind of hill he would have to climb to complete his legacy. Three of them, in fact.
The hills of Fort Knox--Agony, Misery and Heartbreak--have a legacy all their own. They are known for their inclines, forcing Soldiers to make steep climbs with their field equipment in tow. Rose is one of the many who have undertaken the hills' challenges while undergoing basic training at Fort Knox. More than 50 years later, Rose still remembers their powers.
"Where I come from, we wouldn't call those hills," Rose said.
Rose entered the U.S. Army Reserves in the winter of 1963 and was assigned to Fort Knox for basic training and six months of active duty. While at Knox, Rose was treated like every other trainee, sleeping in the barracks and learning the Army's basic skills.
But Rose was no normal private. After hitting .273 with 170 hits, six home runs and 41 RBIs during his first season in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, Rose was named Rookie of the Year by the National League. When the MLB called to congratulate Rose on the good news, he had other things on his mind-- namely making sure Fort Knox's mess hall floor was up to his supervisor's expectations.
"I was waxing the mess hall floor when I got the call from baseball that I was NL Rookie of the Year," Rose said. "Probably the only time that has ever happened."
At Knox, Rose was assigned to Company E, 11th Batallion, 3rd Training Brigade. Rose said it was common for professional athletes to join the Army in that time period when the military draft was in place.
"Being a baseball player you didn't want to take a chance getting drafted and losing two years," Rose said. "So you joined the Army Reserves and did basic training, then did two weeks every summer of active duty for six years."
Due to his natural leadership qualities that had only begun to show on the baseball diamond, Rose remained at Fort Knox after his graduation from basic training as a platoon guide for the next group of trainees. This meant while everyone would stand at attention, Rose would help keep order of the new privates.
While his time at Knox ended before the 1964 baseball season, his military obligations remained a priority. Rose spent parts of the next six years at Fort Thomas, Ky., as a cook, which allowed him to make Reds games in the afternoon. Teammates Johnny Bench and Alex Johnson were also in Rose's unit at Fort Thomas.
Rose said training for the Army and training for baseball are two very different things.
"Military is getting you ready to fight, for war. Baseball is getting you ready to play a sport," Rose said. "Military makes you understand your comrades and protection of other people."
Rose's career really began to take off while still enlisted in the Army. His statistics across the board began to rise after spending the 1964 offseason in Venezuela, where he said he really learned how to hit. Rose would bat over .300 in 15 of the next 16 seasons and finish his career with 17 All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves. He retired as the MLB's career leader in hits, singles, games played and at-bats.
Gambling accusations led to his banishment from baseball and the Hall of Fame, but Rose was still honored by the MLB as a member of their All-Century Team during the 1999 World Series.
Rose said his experience in the military definitely influenced him throughout his career.
"It gives you discipline and makes you work hard," Rose said. "There are a lot of things you have to do you don't have to do in normal life."
Rose's time at Fort Knox coincided with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which in his words, was the worst thing that happened to him while on post. The moment resonated with Rose more so than it would have prior to his enlistment with the Army.
"It was bad, bad for our country," Rose said. "Our country was devastated, so you can imagine what it was like on a military base. When I was home, 20, 21 years old, I could care less who the president was. It made me understand the significance more."
While Rose accomplished a great deal in his life athletically, he has a personal admiration for Army generals.
"I tell people every time I'm working I'd love to be a general for a day," Rose said. "Generals are all very smart and they're tough. I like generals a lot."
To this day, Rose reflects proudly on his time served, and continues to have a strong admiration for the Army.
"I enjoyed the Army," Rose said. "It was tough, but that was all part of being a good citizen."