‘ Oh, I’m a good man’ Sporting News Conversation:
PETE ROSE With Steve Greenberg
TWENTY-TWO YEARS INTO HIS BANISHMENT FROM BASEBALL, THE HIT KING SAYS HE HAS SOME REGRETS ABOUT THE PAST, BUT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME, HE’S IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF HIS LIFE Photos by Jay Drowns / SN Plenty of people still react to Rose— both positively and negatively.
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ete Rose? I remember you. You should be in the Hall of Fame, man.” As interruptions go—during breakfast in a private section of a Mirage Resort and Casino restaurant in Las Vegas—this one isn’t bad. It’s certainly nicer than another kind Rose sometimes hears, especially when he’s seated at an autograph table in a wide-open hallway in the Mirage mall. “The other day these guys walk by, they’re coming from the pool and they’re drunk. ‘He cheated!’ ” recalls the 70-year-old Hit King of baseball. “How the (expletive) did I cheat? Because I bet on my own team, I cheated? I broke the rules, but I didn’t cheat. But some people, that’s just the way they feel.”
This is Rose’s life. Banished since 1989 from baseball—pariah to some, hero to others—he signs memorabilia for a living, abiding continued hope that MLB commissioner Bud Selig will do what predecessor Fay Vincent wouldn’t and Bart Giamatti might have, Rose believes, had he not died mere days after lowering the boom. That is, of course, welcome the all-time hits leader back into the game. It’s an old story by now, isn’t it? Yet it’s been at least seven years—since his early 2004 release of the book My Prison Without Bars—since many baseball fans have given Rose a long listen. On the pages of this magazine, it’s been well longer than that. Rose—whose biggest dream is not the Hall of Fame but a manager’s seat—spoke with Sporting News’ Steve Greenberg. 06/06/2011!SPORTINGNEWS.COM | 37
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SN: Isn’t the reality, though, that you bet on baseball and paid for it with your good name, and nothing you’ve done since has even begun to change that? ROSE: Look, I wish none of this would’ve happened, but it did and I have to live with it. I still think I’m baseball’s best ambassador. Just like today, I’ll be talking baseball with people all day, not just about me but the Reds and Phillies and Montreal. I do this every day. I’m mainly with the people and I talk positive about the game of baseball—and baseball’s real easy to talk negative about today. I don’t bash the game. I love the game, and I love the players in the game. SN: What else gets missed when you’re put into a nutshell the way I did in the previous question? ROSE: I’m a nice guy. I’m nice to people. … In my case, a lot of people have the tendency to really think you’re the way you played, and I was without question very, very aggressive as a player. But yet, when I took the spikes off after the game and went out and got in my car, I wasn’t the same guy. I’m not the same guy now unless you’re trying to strike me out or make a double play or block home. A lot of people when they talk to me, they’re waiting for me to try to knock them down or something. That’s not the way it is. SN: Do you still see yourself as Charlie Hustle? ROSE: I am Charlie Hustle. A lot of people admire that quality, and let me tell you right now I appreciate all the accolades I get for being Charlie Hustle.
Rose through the years: In 1976, legging out a triple; in ’85, celebrating passing Ty Cobb on the career hits list; in ’88, managing the Reds; and in 2011, signing autographs for fans.
I tell people, “Thank you for patting me on the back for the way I played,” but how did I play? I played the way you’re supposed to play. I played the way every baseball player should play. … When I talk to kids—you get in trouble sometimes when you say this—my whole philosophy is winning. Winning is everything. When I talk to groups and there’s parents and grandparents in the audience, I tell them, “Everybody in this room feels better if the kid they’re supporting gets a couple hits and they win. Everybody’s in a better mood on the way home. The food tastes better and everything.” … The earlier you teach kids the difference between winning and losing, the more effect it’s going to have on them when they become the age to make a lifetime decision. That’s the way I raised my kids, but you’re talking to the biggest winner in the history of sports. Of all the records I’ve got, what’s the biggest? The 1,972 winning games. SN: Does what you do for a living, signing autographs and memorabilia, ever give you that old winning feeling? ROSE: Sure it does, sometimes. I’m not saying this to brag, but I’m the only retired player who could do this. I’m not criticizing other players, but my dear friend Joe Morgan isn’t going to do this. My good friend Willie Mays isn’t going to do this. Hank Aaron isn’t going to do this. Carl Yastrzemski isn’t going to do this. You know? I’ll do it. I’ll approach it just like I did baseball. We’re going to build this up, make a lot of money.
And this city is the only city where this gig works, just because of the fluctuation of people that come into the town. And I have to tell you, if this gig worked in Hoboken, New Jersey, that’s where I’d be. It just happens to be Las Vegas, Nevada. People say, “How in the hell can you go to Las Vegas?” Well, this is where I work. I’m not in the casinos; I’m in the malls. (My) critics will say, “He’ll never get reinstated working in Las Vegas.” They think I’m doing the same thing they do when they’re on vacation, but I’m not on vacation.
SN: Is the money good? ROSE: It’s great. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t good. Absolutely. … Everything’s legitimate, too. Everything on my side is guaranteed. For the first time in a long, long time—and I have to credit a guy who’s directing me, Dan Goossen; he’s a fight promoter—but for the first time in a long time, I’m in control of my life. I’m in total control of my life. Plus, I have things going on, and I need to make money. I get a nice pension, sure; everyone does in baseball. But you have to take care of people. I have a girlfriend and other people.
‘THEY MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF A GUY WHO’S A FIRST-BALLOT HALL OF FAMER. IF YOU’RE NOT A (EXPLETIVE) FIRST BALLOT, YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO THE HALL OF FAME.’
ROSE ACTION: RAY STUBBLEBINE / AP; ROSE COACHING: AP; ROSE CELEBRATION: AP
SN: We’re nearly 22 years into your banishment from baseball. To some of us, it seems longer—like you’ve been so defined by that story that it may as well have begun a lifetime ago. How does it seem to you? ROSE: I’ve been pretty lucky. How do I know how long I’ve been banished? I’ll tell you how I know, because my little girl (Cara, Rose’s fourth child) was born two days before I was banished. … But I can’t blame anybody. I’m the one who made the mistakes. I’m at ease with everything now; I’ve got it off my chest. I’d certainly love to get a second chance somewhere, and I believe in that—this is America and you get second chances, and maybe someday baseball will take it upon themselves to give me a second chance.
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SN: You’re 70 years old now. Is this the lifestyle you want at your age? ROSE: No, I don’t worry about that. You’re only as old as you act and as old as you look; I don’t look my age or act my age. You have to watch that. If you let yourself get old, you will get old. That’s why you have to stay active. There’s only one thing old about me, and it’s my knees. Everything else … (expletive), I can still hit a baseball. Not a 95-mph fastball. SN: Not Aroldis Chapman? ROSE: No, I wouldn’t swing at him because he’d walk me. He’s struggling right now. … He doesn’t know where (the ball) is going. SN: When will your run in Vegas end? Do you have a thought in your mind about stopping, enjoying other parts of life? ROSE: I still enjoy life. … I’m going to Cabo in July for vacation. I remember a couple years ago I went to Cabo with my girlfriend, Kiana, and it was the first time in my life I ever went on a vacation. SN: Do you still like to gamble? And on what? ROSE: I bet on horses now and then, but I’ve got other things to do with my money. To say I didn’t bet on the Kentucky Derby? I bet the favorite, but he didn’t run good. We’re not talking about elaborate money. I used to get a kick out of everybody (thinking) I was a big gambler. I’ve seen gamblers that made me look like a (expletive). When you gamble, you have to gamble within your means. And I never did gamble out of my means. SN: Have you ever considered yourself a gambling addict? ROSE: Well, you’d probably have to say that because when you lose a several-million-dollara-year job (he made $500,000 in his last year as manager) and you’re kicked out of the sport you love, there has to be a reason. And I was wrong, I was absolutely wrong. So for me to sit here and say I didn’t have a gambling problem, I’d probably be lying to you. But you eliminate the problem and you go from there. SN: Did you ever seek or receive any sort of help for a gambling problem? ROSE: I went to Gamblers Anonymous a couple of times many years ago and I didn’t like it. I was sitting there and listening to everybody talk and was trying to figure out what the similarities were that I had with them. People were talking about stealing from their parents to gamble, robbing stores. I thought, Jesus, what am I doing here? SN: Did you go on your own, or were you advised to? ROSE: I went on my own, wanted to work through the problem. It was in Cincinnati.
SN: Back in 1989, did you fully comprehend the gravity of the moment—that you might spend the rest of your life out of baseball? ROSE: No. Even when I was suspended … if you ever looked at the tape of my press conference, I said, “I can’t wait for my little girl’s first birthday because I can apply for reinstatement.” That was in the contract, that I could apply for reinstatement after one year. So I never looked at my banishment as lifetime, even though it reads like that. And I seriously believe that Bart Giamatti—he was a good guy, and he did what he had to do, God rest his soul—but I believe if he’d have lived, he’d have given me a second chance. Fay Vincent wasn’t going to give me a second chance, and Bud so far hasn’t taken it upon himself to give me a second chance. SN: This isn’t a baseball game, but it’s a baseball fight. Are you still trying to win it? ROSE: No. We still try to keep in contact with baseball. I’m good friends with (Reds owner Bob) Castellini. I met the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (Mark Attanasio) the other day, and he was a real nice guy. I know I’ve got some support in baseball, but it isn’t how much support you have; it’s one guy’s decision. And it’s not like if (Selig) decided to reinstate me it would hurt his legacy. You’re always going to have people say, “Wait, he bet on baseball—you can’t punish him enough.” Well, going on 22 years, realistically how much money has it cost me? Sixty million, maybe? That’s managing the Reds for 20 years at 3 million a year. So I’ve been penalized, but that’s my fault. Don’t take that as a complaint on my part. SN: Have you paid more than a fair price for your misdeeds? ROSE: I don’t know about that. Some people would say so. It’s probably too severe of a penalty based on (how) guys get penalized who do drugs, who do steroids. Because one thing I didn’t do, I didn’t ever dicker with the records of baseball—they’re sacred. If you cheat, if you enhance yourself to beat records, that’s not good for the game of baseball. … And I must say another thing: I told you before that I’m in control of my life and I’m at peace with myself because I’ve come forward about my mistakes, but there are some people who are never going to hear you say you’re sorry, no matter how much you say it. “Well, he’s not sincere.” Or, “He’s not remorseful enough.” I don’t worry about that because I’ve communicated with the right people in my mind, to take from inside and lay it out there, and I’m happy about it. I’ve confronted my teammates, I’ve confronted the fans of Cincinnati, I’ve confronted my family. Those are the important people to me. I can’t worry about some guy that’s bitter because when I made my mistakes I didn’t hurt anybody except me and the people around me.
Some of the fan interactions take Rose by surprise— such as when a mountain of a man sat down and asked his favorite player ever to sign a ball (left) to his late son, Marine Sgt. Joseph Bovia, who was killed last summer in a firefight in Afghanistan. Herbert Bovia, a New Orleans police officer, then walked to his wife and surviving son and wept.
Want the Pete Rose experience? It’ll cost you Pete Rose worked as hard in May as many of you did—he was booked for a whopping 22 days at the Mirage in Las Vegas, where he was the centerpiece in a display of memorabilia and other merchandise that no tourist could walk past without at least giving a look-see. What went into a typical one of those days? MORNING: Rose, who is divorcing his second wife and whose girlfriend lives in California, regularly eats a late breakfast by himself at either B.B. King’s or the Carnegie Deli, both in the Mirage. But if you want to try to catch a glimpse of him there, better do it soon—Hit King Inc. will be moving an expanded version of the current exhibit to the Luxor hotel in September, where Rose is signed to do his thing through 2016. AFTERNOON: This is when Rose just sits and counts money. Literally. Thirty-eight minutes into one 12-5 stint at the Mirage, Rose waved us over and boasted, “I got $2,000 already today. Did $9,700 yesterday.” His best year? It was 2007, Hit King president Joie Casey says, when Rose, working primarily at Caesars Palace, generated over $3 million in merchandise sales and, according to Casey, personally banked $1.2 million.
How does it work? The line of autograph-seekers—which, frankly, isn’t always very long at all—winds through a store where one must purchase a baseball, bat, bobblehead or other item for Rose to sign. Then “the Pete Rose experience,” as Casey calls it, can happen: “Sit down, talk, shake (hands), get a picture, ask him a couple questions, get an autograph.” EVENING: For $5,000, a party of up to four can enjoy a two-hour dinner with Rose. When he has no such plans, Rose makes for the downtown-area townhouse he moved into in May, having cleared out of his previous condo so his son Tyler—who’s working for Hit King—could live there with his fiancee. At home, Rose watches games—baseball, basketball, football—and horse racing. The question is: Does he have action on what he’s watching? Rose says “not really” when asked whether he’s a regular sports bettor—and that he hasn’t bet on baseball since 1986—but Casey tells it differently: “He bets on horses, college football, NFL, NBA and college basketball. If there’s an NBA playoff game tonight, he’ll bet on it. He’s not ashamed of it, although some people do have a hard time with it.” — Steve Greenberg
WHAT YOU MUST FORK OVER FOR “THE PETE ROSE EXPERIENCE,” COMPLETE WITH A SIGNED ... 8-by-10 photo: $75 Baseball: $99 Copy of Rose’s 2004 book, My Prison Without Bars: $99 Bobblehead: $99 Bat: $199 Jersey and bat: $399
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SN: You were kind of betting on yourself, too, weren’t you? You were the manager. ROSE: I was trying to do everything to win. But I never—and you can do research on this—there was never anybody in the clubhouse, no players, no clubhouse guys, who knew. And I didn’t manage the game like I’d bet on the game. I managed the game to win it.
SN: A lot of people think this is all about the Hall of Fame for you. What’s it really about? ROSE: Listen, let me tell you something. Those are people who don’t know me, OK? … My interest right now is just, like, I can name you three or four (players) who text me on a daily basis. It’s invading their privacy to tell you who they are, but it’s more important for me to help players become better players. I don’t want to be a general manager, I don’t want to be a coach—I want to be in charge of a team. Maybe it’s because I had so many good players in my years as manager of the Reds: the (Barry) Larkins, the (Paul) O’Neills, the (Chris) Sabos. I believe in young players. The people who say I just want to go to the Hall of Fame are just trying to make an evaluation, and I don’t know what that evaluation’s based on.
SN: Overall, how would you describe the support you’ve gotten over the last two decades from the guys you played with? ROSE: Great. I mean, you know, I always got good support from all the guys. Except there was a period of time (when) Johnny Bench had a reason to be bitter with me, and I’ll tell you what the reason was. I got investigated in ’89, right? And that’s the year he went into the Hall of Fame. So when he was supposed to be getting all the accolades for going into the Hall of Fame, (the writers) were concentrating on me. I didn’t ask them to do that, and it really was unfair for the writers to do that. … But now I talk to him. He guides me in some ways and wants me in the Hall of Fame. Morgan wants me in there. (Tony) Perez wants me in there. I knew Sparky did. Sparky was like my dad. Johnny, Joe, Tony, Sparky, they all know that I know I (expletive) up, but they’re happy with my apology even though it was late. It took me some time to do it. See, what a lot of people don’t understand about me is if I was a real remorseful type, an apologetic guy, I wouldn’t have gotten 4,200 hits. You
Rose says he has the support of some of his former Big Red Machine teammates, including Bench (center) and Morgan (right).
‘I’D LIKE TO BE CLOSER TO JOHNNY BENCH THAN I AM. I’D LIKE TO BE KNOWN AS A REALLY GOOD FRIEND.’
understand what I’m saying? That’s just the way I am on the inside; that’s the way I’m structured. If I wasn’t aggressive and kick-ass and play every day and play hard, I’d have never gotten 4,200 hits. A guy like that, it takes more to crumble him. It takes more to come forward in things. SN: Do you consider yourself a good man? ROSE: Oh, I’m a good man. See, I’m not like a lot of guys in this respect. Sparky was the same way. I call a lot of people who are sick, or I go see a lot of people who are sick, but I don’t do it when there’s a camera around. … I take kids to the batting cage. I don’t need a TV camera around. That’s (expletive). It’s false public relations. I don’t believe in that. SN: What are you most proud of in life? ROSE: I’ve got four good kids. And I’m proud of the way I approached the game. I played the game just the way my dad would’ve played it—the right way. I never cheated the game. You can’t cheat the game. The game is bigger than everybody, from the commissioner on down. SN: How about regrets—is betting on baseball the first thing you’d take back if you could? ROSE: Sure, no question. And it happened at a time when there was something missing, and the something that was missing was I’d quit playing as a player. And I had so much faith in my team, I said, “I’ll bet on them every night.” And that was wrong, but that was what went through my mind.
SN: What do you think the public wants for you in regard to reinstatement? Are more for you or against you? ROSE: Oh, for me. But I’m in a situation where most of the guys that are against me would be against me if I saved a school bus full of kids from going over a cliff. What happened to me was a lot of writers, when the allegations came out, took sides early. They wrote so many bad things about me that now if they write something positive, they’re hypocrites. … (But) what’s a writer going to write today that would be his reason for me not being in the Hall of Fame? It’s just like they make a big deal about no one’s ever gotten 100 percent of the votes for the Hall of Fame. Tell me how you cannot vote for Stan Musial for the Hall of Fame, or Willie Mays, or Hank Aaron. That goes to show you right there, there are just people out there who are not in touch. SN: Do you have a message for baseball fans old and young, those who watched you play and those who didn’t? ROSE: I loved to play the game, I appreciate their support, and I hope everybody has as much fun watching the game or playing the game as I did. … For those who have kids that have an opportunity to be an athlete, pursue it. Just like the ones that have an opportunity to be a professor, pursue that. Pursue your goals, because any goal is within reach. The sky’s the limit—that’s the good thing about this country. If I hadn’t had an uncle who was a scout for the Reds, I’d have never gotten signed to a contract. And I got 4,256 hits.
ROSE, BENCH, MORGAN: MALCOLM EMMONS / US PRESSWIRE
SN: Do you believe the ban will be overturned during your lifetime? ROSE: I can’t control that. Certain things piss me off. Like all of the sudden this year Detroit’s going to retire Sparky Anderson’s number. Why in the (expletive) didn’t you do it in the last (15) years when he was retired? Why do you wait ’til he’s dead? What good does it do him now? He’s (expletive) dead. If you’re going to honor a guy, why does he have to be dead to honor him? But I’m not worried about that because I don’t plan on dying in the next couple of years.
SN: If you had one more chance to try to compel Bug Selig to change his mind, what would you say? ROSE: I know when I met with Bud in 2002 I told him everything I did. But I think Mr. Selig—call him that because he earns that respect—understands how much I love the game of baseball, how much the game of baseball has meant to me. I’m not, like, in the poverty line; if I was he’d care about it, you understand what I’m saying? I think he knows I’ll be able to survive as long as I have the “Hit King” in front of my name. And I could be wrong, but I’ll die as the Hit King. I don’t see anybody passing me in my lifetime, unless (Derek) Jeter gets a new motivation. He’s about the last guy.
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Pete Rose had 10 200-hit seasons in his career, and his mark stood alone as the record until last season, when Ichiro Suzuki tied it with his 10th consecutive 200-hit season. Ty Cobb, the player Rose passed for No. 1 on the hits list, had nine. So it begs the question: If Suzuki had moved from Japan before the age of 27, would he have had a shot at Roseâ€™s hits record? â€œYou donâ€™t know about that,â€? Rose says. â€œBecause heâ€™s winning batting titles in Japan at 21, 22 years old donâ€™t mean heâ€™s going to do it here in the big leagues. And Iâ€™m not bad-mouthing Japan here, but Japanese baseball is not near big league baseball. â€Ś I donâ€™t have a problem with it, but unlike me he never walks. Iâ€™ve got (almost) 1,600 walks. If I had 800 walks, how many more hits would I have had, another 200? Ichiro gets (almost) 700 at-bats every year. If you can hitâ€”which he canâ€”youâ€™re going to get 200 hits.â€? And, despite the obvious comparisons made between the two players, the scouts donâ€™t necessarily see them. â€œTheyâ€™re a little different in their approach,â€? a major league scout says. â€œIchiroâ€™s a speed guy, and Pete wasnâ€™t a speed guy. â€Ś Pete Rose was a very good hitter, donâ€™t get me wrong. But he was a switch hitter, and Ichiro is a lefthanded hitter. (Ichiro is) just more of a Tony Gwynn comparison.â€? Either way, Ichiro is not a threat to 4,256. His place on the all-time hits list numbers in the hundreds. But when you compare his output to those of Rose and Cobb from ages 27 to 36, the time frame of Suzukiâ€™s first 10 seasons in the majors, it appears Rose is lucky Ichiroâ€™s stats from Japan donâ€™t count:
COBB: NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME / GETTY IMAGES; ROSE: HARRIS / AP; SUZUKI: ANDY KING / AP
Cobb, Rose and Ichiro: Three of a kind?
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Sporting News Conversation with Pete Rose.