Pete Rose has more vitality than the standard 40-year-old kid.
He also has more career hits than any other player in the National League's 105-year history.
Rose grounded a seventh-inning single into left field off St. Louis reliever Mark Littell for his 3,631st career hit to move one ahead of former Cardinal Stan Musial.
"I'm glad I got this over with," said Rose, playing his 19th season. "There were a lot of guys on the team who were caught up in this. It's a great relief."
The crowd of 60,561, the largest regular season turnout during this strike-ravaged season, awarded Rose his fourth and loudest standing ovation of the evening as he rounded first base, his right fist raised in exaltation in the humid Philadelphia air.
To the Philadelphia fans, it did not matter so much that the Phillies lost, 7-3, to the Cardinals in this first game of the so-called second half. The lost game could be made up. What mattered was that Peter Edward Rose had created a bit of big league history.
With his one compact and fluid swing, Rose gave America something to remember about 1981 major league baseball other than you know what.
"In five, six or seven years from now, I may regret having missed those 50 days, but I won't be bitter," he said.
Rose trails only Ty Cobb (4,191) and Hank Aaron (3,771) on the all-time major league career hit list. And his saga, just like his hit total, goes on and on and on.
"If I get close to Cobb's record, I'll do something to keep myself going," said Rose, who achieved his NL record hit total with 732 more at-batts than Musial. Musial, who was in attendance tonight, played three more years than Rose and had a lifetime average of .330. Rose has hustled his way to a .310 career average.
Rose received a congratulatory call from President Reagan after the game. The president had difficulty reaching Rose, who had the ignominious honor of making the last out of the game. "I think I had to wait longer than you did to break the record," said Reagan.
Rose responded with a touch of record-breaking humor: "We were going to give you five more minutes and that was it. . . Pete Rose and Pete Rose II (his son) appreciate (the call)."
Perhaps it was fitting that Rose's final obstacle to attaining this honor was Musial, a quiet Hall of Famer known as "The Man." After 2,886 games, Rose, forever "Charlie Hustle," still plays this game with the verve of a kid on the sandlots.
After three hitless at bats tonight, Rose hit an 0-1 pitch past diving third baseman Ken Oberkfell to set off a display that seemed raucous enough to put another crack in the Liberty Bell.
As soon as teh hit and the record were realized, Rose's teammates, his son and Musial crowded him at first base. Off beyond the right field wall, 3,631 red, white and blue balloons were released and fireworks exploded way beyond center field. A red and white banner unfurled beyond left-center which read simply and fittingly enough "Pete Rose, 3,631."
This game was not nationally televised, but Rose was. Those who got the Dodgers-Reds game saw Rose bat each time.
Before the magic moment came, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Musial waited in the VIP boxes. And Rose kept them hanging.
Rose, a switch-hitter who was batting left-handed, failed to get a hit in his three at-bats against starter Bob Forsch, whom he had reached for three hits in seven tries this year.
In the first inning, Rose grounded a 2-1 pitch. The ball took one high hop over the mound and shortstop Garry Templeton watched it hit his glove, then fall to the artificial surface. Although fireworks -- prearranged, of course -- rocketed beyond center field, the play was justifiably called an error. The pyrotechnics were premature, not persuasive.
Rose led off the third also and hit another 2-1 pitch. This one was a grounder toward the mound that Forsch, who would only give up one hit in his five innings tonight, fielded in Golden Glove style. Rose was none for two.
With two outs in the fifth, Rose tried again. He failed.He grounded his first pitch to the right of second baseman Tom Herr, who backhanded the ball and threw Rose out easily."
At this point, the Cardinals led, 5-1.