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March 26, 2013

Wezen-Ball

Li'l Pete's Big Hit

by Larry Granillo

One summer day in 1944, a three-year-old Pete Rose was playing baseball in the backyard of his Cincinnati home with his father, Harry "Big Pete" Rose. With one mighty, toddler-sized smack of the bat, the mini-Rose—the future "future Hall of Famer"—sent a hard-rubber ball across the back deck and into the kitchen window, cracking the upper pane of the plate glass.

The elder Rose, who "did not raise his oldest son to just be a major league baseball player … [he] raised his son to hit .300," as Joe Posnanski says, was understandably proud of the prowess his pre-schooler showed. As Rose's mother would later recount, " 'He said, 'I don't want it fixed. I'm not going to fix that. I'm going to show people where Pete hit that ball.'..."

Big Pete was true to his word. The crack was still there in 1970, when Harry died of a heart attack. In fact, it was still there to remind visitors to the Rose stead of Little Pete's first big hit in 1987, forty-three years after the deed was done. It was then that the house finally went up for sale. By this time, the one-time toddler was now the all-time hits leader and the manager of the second-place Cincinnati Reds. It finally occurred to someone that the cracked window might have some historical value.

"I think it ought to be saved," said Carl H. Scheele, curator of sports and entertainment for the Smithsonian in Washington. "But it would have much meaning locally as a Cincinnati neighborhood item."

Peter Clark, registrar at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was a little less certain. "It is one of the more unusual things suggested," a non-committal Clark said when the news first reached him in July 1987.

Only a few days later, Clark had changed his tune. "The committee met and there was overwhelming support to acquire the window. It is a unique item and you get a chance at something like this only once in a lifetime. We'll find a way to display it."

These are the concerns you deal with before a gambling scandals hits, I suppose.

Sadly, the Hall of Fame was never able to acquire the window. There is no carefully preserved box marked "Li'l Pete's Big Hit" sitting somewhere in the vast spaces of Cooperstown's Raiders of the Lost Ark-style archives. There isn't even anyone at the institution anymore who might have been around in 1987 to know its ultimate fate. Instead, all we know is one 1988 article in the Boston Globe that mentions that "Cincinnati is preserving the window."

No matter the final resting place of that single pane of plate glass, it's safe to say that Big Pete got more than he bargained for from his son and the kitchen window on that summer day way back in 1944.

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