For the second time in his adult life, and the first time on a baseball field, Pete Rose cried tonight.
"I cried when my father died," said Rose. "And tonight.
"I was standing on first base, all alone," he said, recalling the seven-minute standing ovation he received after his first-inning single broke Ty Cobb's all-time career hit record of 4,191. "I'm a tough son of a bitch, but I just could not handle it. I had nobody to talk to, nobody to throw a ball to. They even took the base.
"I've never had feelings like that before," said Rose, who also had a walk, a triple, a spectacular game-ending defensive play and both runs scored in a 2-0 Cincinnati Reds' victory. "I looked up in the sky and started thinking about my father. I thought I saw him there. And right behind him was Ty Cobb.
"Regardless of what you think," said Rose, turning in an instant from sentimental to sly, "Ty is up there."
Confetti snowed upon the outfield, fireworks sent their sparks showering on Riverfront Stadium and flashbulbs burst like lightning bugs at 8:01 p.m. as Rose became baseball's Hit King.
On the 57th anniversary of Cobb's final game, jubilant Charlie Hustle, symbol of joyful Everyman achievement, passed the Georgia Peach as the most prolific batsman ever.
After 23 seasons, 3,476 games and 13,768 at bats, Rose finally got what he calls "the big knock."
The Ty-breaker, which both Rose and baseball historians have awaited for at least five years, came off the San Diego Padres' Eric Show. After taking a fast ball high, fouling a fast ball back, then skipping away from a breaking ball near his feet, the Reds' player-manager attacked a slider, erupting from his left-handed hitting crouch.
The ball streaked high over the shortstop's head on what has become Rose's patented hit since he reached age 40: a hard opposite-field single to left-center. The historic hit was clean, hard and convincing -- worthy of generations of television replays.
As soon as the record-setting hit landed, all of Rose's teammates engulfed him around first base. The ball and base were preserved for posterity. Several Padres joined the congratulations, including one -- Bobby Brown -- who ran from the dugout to get in the act.
Rose, who had gone zero for six since tying Cobb Sunday in Chicago, stood at first base, taking deep breaths, while the grounds crew cleaned the outfield turf. Reds owner Marge Schott hugged Rose and got in a plug for her car dealership by having a red convertible -- a gift to Rose -- driven all over the field.
After five minutes of applause, Pete Rose Jr., age 15 and dressed in a Reds uniform, ran out on the field and gave his father a long hug.
From his seventh-inning triple, which landed a foot fair in the left field corner, to his diving, somersaulting grab of Steve Garvey's grounder to end the game (Rose threw to first while still prone), Rose admitted that this whole game "was like someone wrote the script. It was just like I was playing the part tonight."
President Reagan wrote in a part for himself, calling Rose to offer congratulations for breaking "one of the most enduring records in sports history.
"I've rooted for you for a long time," said Reagan, a former Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster. "Come to think of it, I used to root for the fella that once held that record (Cobb).
"We ought to do this (talk) more often," added Reagan. "Those of us who are in the middle of our careers need to share tips on how to stay ahead of those younger folks that are comin' up on us from behind."
Although it took Rose 442 more games, and 2,339 more at bats than Cobb to break the record, Rose has played one fewer season than Cobb's 24. "I've been more durable," said Rose. "Cobb missed 500 games, thank God."
Rose emphasized before this game that "I've never said I was better than Cobb." Few, if any, would maintain that he was as good a player as the Detroit Tigers' left fielder.
Told that Cobb's last at bat, as a pinch hitter, came Sept. 11, 1928, Rose wondered why Cobb hadn't played any more that season. "He went home early," Rose was told.
Aware of the gun-toting Cobb's temper, Rose said, "No one was going to tell him not to, either, was they?"
Again tonight, Rose chatted with fans, teammates, umpires, writers, TV crews, grounds crewmen and all the other denizens of his baseball subculture whom he knows by first name and treats as old buddies. His spirits were ebullient, his energy endless, his smile craggy and sincere. As always, his competitiveness was as obvious as his sportsmanship.
"I had fun again tonight," said Rose. "I was tight on Tuesday because I hate to inconvenience people and I felt like I was holding everybody up waiting for this. Crimminie, a lot of you writers wanted to be in New York covering the Cards and Mets."
Few seminal events in any sport have as little to do with athletic ability and as much to do with the triumph of basic human qualities as this night of Rose's ultimate triumph.
Before this game, Rose was asked if he could explain his almost-superhuman energy, his ability to sleep five hours or less a night yet outwork men half his age, give interviews 'round the clock and, it seems, cram the existences of several men into one life.
"I can only think of one thing," said Rose, a mischevious grin growing.
Then, like Superman pulling off his suit coat to reveal the "S" underneath, Rose ripped off his snap-open jacket to show a "Wheaties" T-shirt beneath.
That's Rose. Quicker-witted than those around him. Funny. But always looking for an edge, a buck or a plug.
"A lot of people will remember me for tonight," said Rose, as known for his honesty as his hustle. "There are a lot of things you can remember me for, not all of them good. You can remember me for a divorce . . . for a paternity suit. I know what I've accomplished. I really can't worry about it."
Purists have nagged for years that Rose cannot approach Cobb as a player. Their arguments have, as this night neared, evaporated. If the proper player does not hold this record, then, as Rose showed again tonight, the right man does.