On this day in 1981, Pete Rose of the Philadelphia Phillies gets the 3,631st hit of his baseball career, breaking Stan Musial’s record for most hits by a National Leaguer. The record-breaking hit came in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with whom Musial had spent his entire career, and the former hits king was on hand to congratulate Rose.
August 10 marked Major League Baseball’s return to play from a seven-week player strike. The strike had begun on June 12 over the issue of team compensation for free agents. Owners wanted a player from the free agent’s new team as compensation, while the player’s union felt that such a concession would compromise the value of free agency as well as make signing free agents less appealing for teams. The players were largely supported by the media and fans, who believed that the owners were trying to wrest back the iron-fisted control they’d had over players’ contracts and careers for the first 106 years of professional baseball. Finally, on July 31, the two sides reached a compromise: Any team losing a premium free agent would receive a player from a pool of unprotected players throughout the majors.
When the season was suspended, Pete Rose was in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak, leading the National League in hits with 73. When play resumed on August 10, a capacity crowd at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia had to wait until the eighth inning to see Rose make the record-breaking hit. After he led off the inning with a single between third base and shortstop, the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation, and Musial ran out to first base to offer his congratulations. Amazingly, it was only Rose’s 2,886th game; it had taken Musial 3,026 games to set the mark.
A side note: Musial’s 3,630 career hits were notable for the fact that he acquired exactly half of them (1,815) of them playing at home and the other half (1,815) on the road. The last two hits of his career came in a game against the Reds, and their rookie second baseman Pete Rose, in 1963.