Sports
5:32 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

Pete Rose: A Living Legend, Off The Record

Originally published on Thu February 28, 2013 8:04 pm

As baseball emerges from its winter hibernation, one of the game's greatest and most controversial figures, Pete Rose, is back in the news.

The all-time hits leader has been banned from baseball since 1989 for gambling on the game.

It appears fallout continues: A new batch of Topps baseball cards lists some of his many records, but not his name. It's a reminder of Rose's singular status as a Major League Baseball pariah. It also raises the question, with so much bad behavior by top athletes, is it time to re-evaluate Rose's status?

The Art Of Pete

Fifteen to 20 days a month, Rose signs autographs at the Art of Music memorabilia store in Las Vegas, just a short escalator ride up from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

The legendary baseball player is welcomed to another day at work by greeter Nick Giles, who is donning Rose's old uniform: a white and red No. 14 Cincinnati Reds jersey. Rose is wearing a black shirt, bluejeans, off-white alligator boots and matching fedora.

The man nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" moves more slowly now that he's 71. "Most players who played 24 years, your knees are bad," he says.

But as he settles behind a table for his 4 1/2-hour shift, Rose seems very much the pugnacious player who barreled around the bases and into opponents during his career.

He starts jawing with a couple of guys wearing New York Yankees gear, as they stand in the entrance to the store. "Get outta here with that Yankee shirt on!" Rose yells as the two guys laugh. "We beat your ass, too, in '76! Get out the broom. We swept ya!"

Rose has many on-field accomplishments to be proud of: His great 1976 Cincinnati Reds team, "The Big Red Machine," beat New York four games to none in the 1976 World Series, and he has a record 4,256 hits, among others.

But now, Rose wonders why Topps baseball cards are "taking away" those accomplishments.

Piling On?

The Topps cards are out in time for the new season, and they include a feature called "Career Chase." It shows how close the player on the card is to one of baseball's important records. Rose holds some of those records, and they're listed on the cards.

But Rose's name isn't.

"I think it's called pilin' on," Rose says between autographs. "It seems kind of strange that [after] so many years, all of a sudden [they] don't want to associate my name with the record I got."

Rose hasn't had his own baseball card since 1989, when he was banned for life. His on-field achievements are an important counterbalance to a legacy tainted by his admitted gambling on the game when he managed the Reds in the late 1980s. The records are authentic, he says, and are recognized as such by official baseball — even as it shuts him out.

"It's just like if you go to Cooperstown right now, there's 15 of my artifacts in the Hall of Fame," Rose says, adding, "You walk in the commissioner's office, in New York, [and] they got a board with hits, games, at-bats. My name's at the top of all of them."

Topps didn't return several phone messages. The company is the official trading card licensee for Major League Baseball. An MLB spokesman says players on the banned list aren't included in MLB-licensed products because baseball doesn't want anyone profiting from that player — or even to give the impression that there's money being made off that tainted player's name.

On An Island

The baseball card spat reminds the sporting world that Rose remains on an island with a population of one. But with each passing day, with each headline decrying another top athlete involved with doping or criminal behavior, one wonders if Rose's continuing banishment is fair.

Rob Schroeder from San Francisco bought a $100 baseball autographed by Rose at the Art of Music. Schroeder, 40, was one of several fans there who thought the ban isn't fair anymore.

"I don't think that there's any illusion that professional athletes are role models," Schroeder says, "or have to live their lives to some degree of perfection. And I think it's terrible that he's not in the Hall of Fame."

Rose, meanwhile, has watched the so-called steroids era eat away at baseball's reputation. He draws a distinct line between them and him.

"I didn't cheat to get all those records. You know, like a lot of guys are doing the last 10 years. I didn't cheat at all. I [messed] up, but I didn't cheat. I didn't cheat the game."

In fact, since his gambling admission nine years ago, after more than a decade of denial, Rose and his supporters have portrayed his baseball gambling — regularly betting on his own team to win — as a positive thing. It's considered an extension of Charlie Hustle's competitive fire.

"What I did, it was wrong," Rose says, "but what I did is a little bit like the jockey on No. 2 in the Kentucky Derby betting on his own horse. Not betting on No. 1; betting on No. 2. [He's] going to do everything in his power to try to win that race. That's all I did every night as a manager — I tried to win to win every frickin' game."

Charlie's Hustling?

But former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent says Rose is giving new meaning to Charlie "Hustle."

"He's hustling you, and he's hustling the public," Vincent says. "Because, in point of fact, he didn't bet on every game. And he's the manager. Now why didn't he bet on every game? Because he knew some of his pitchers were not likely to be successful. And therefore he'd take a night off.

"When he didn't bet on his starting pitcher, what do you think the gambling line did that day? Everybody knew, that was dealing with him, that he was backing away," he says.

Vincent wrote the agreement, signed by Rose, under which Rose agreed to leave baseball for life with no guarantee he'd ever be reinstated. Vincent says Rose's punishment stands alone, because his crime does. Gambling is baseball's capital crime. It almost destroyed the game in 1919, when members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series.

Since then, Vincent says, the lifetime ban has been a nearly perfect deterrent. There might've been a steroids era, but — and Rose and Vincent are in rare agreement on this — there's never been nor will there be a gambling era.

"And baseball knows that," says Vincent, adding, "any commissioner who tinkers with that deterrent runs the risk that there's going to be an epidemic of gambling that will break out."

Hall Of Fame ... Someday?

If the current commissioner, Bud Selig, or one in the future decides there won't be the breakout Vincent warns against, Rose finally might be reinstated to baseball. And if the baseball writers then vote him in, Rose will at long last end up in the Hall of Fame. If it all happens, Rose says, he'll be the happiest guy in the world.

But until then, he says, he has his life to live. That means signing autographs and connecting with so many fans who still support him. Watching Rose do his thing at the Art of Music, it's obvious no man is an island, even when he's on one.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

One of baseball's greatest and most controversial figures Pete Rose is back in the news. Since 1989, Rose, the all-time hits leader, has been banned from baseball for gambling on the game. And still, the fallout continues. A new batch of baseball cards list some of his many records, but not his name. It's a reminder of Pete Rose's singular status as a Major League Baseball pariah.

But with so many other players now tainted with allegations such as steroid use, NPR's Tom Goldman asked Rose himself if it's time to re-evaluate Rose's status?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey there, Pete. How you're doing today?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Pete Rose seems to be doing fine as he arrives for work at the Art of Music, a memorabilia store in Las Vegas. He's wearing off-white alligator boots and matching fedora. The man nicknamed Charlie Hustle moves slower at age 71. But as he settles into a chair, for four and a half hours of autograph signing, Rose is very much the pugnacious player who barreled around the bases and into opponents. He starts jawing with a couple of mooks wearing New York Yankees gear.

PETE ROSE: Get out of here with that Yankee shirt on.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSE: We beat your ass, too, in '76.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSE: Get out the broom. We swept you.

GOLDMAN: Rose's great 1976 Cincinnati Reds' team, The Big Red Machine, his record 4,256 hits and so many other on-field accomplishments are the source of great pride. And now, consternation as he wonders why Topps baseball cards are, in his words, taking away those accomplishments.

ROSE: I think it's called piling on.

GOLDMAN: Rose hasn't had his own baseball card since 1989. The new cards compare the player's statistics to all-time records. Rose holds some of those records and they're listed on the cards, but his name isn't.

Rose's achievements are an important counterbalance to a legacy tainted by his admitted gambling on the game, when he managed the Reds in the late 1980s. The records, he says, are authentic and are recognized as such by official baseball, even as it shuns him.

ROSE: If you go up to the Cooperstown right now, there's 15 of my artifacts in the Hall of Fame. You walk in the commissioner's office, in New York, they got a board with hits - games, at-bats - my name is up at the top of all of them.

GOLDMAN: Topps is the official trading card licensee for Major League Baseball. An MLB spokesman says players on the banned list aren't included in MLB licensed products because baseball doesn't want anyone profiting from that player, or even the perception that someone's profiting.

The baseball card spat reminds the sporting world that Pete Rose remains on an island: population, one. But with each passing day, with each headline decrying another top athlete involved with doping or criminal behavior, one wonders if Rose's continuing banishment is fair.

ROB SCHROEDER: My name's Rob Schroeder. I'm from San Francisco, California.

GOLDMAN: Cradling his new $100 Pete Rose autographed ball, Rob Schroeder is one of several fans at Art of Music who says, no, it's not fair anymore.

SCHROEDER: I don't think that there's any illusion that professional athletes are role models or have to live their lives to some degree of perfection. And I think it's terrible that he's not in the Hall of Fame.

GOLDMAN: Rose has watched the so-called steroids era eat away at baseball's reputation. He draws a distinct line between them and him.

ROSE: I didn't cheat to get all those records. You know, like a lot of guys are doing the last 10 years. I (censored) up but I didn't cheat. I didn't cheat the game.

GOLDMAN: In fact, since his admission nine years ago, after more than a decade of denial, Rose and his supporters have portrayed his baseball gambling - regularly betting on his own team to win - as a positive, an extension of Charlie Hustle's competitive fire.

ROSE: What I did, it was wrong. But what I did is a little bit like the jockey on Number 2 in the Kentucky derby betting on his own horse. Not betting on Number One; betting on Number 2. That's all I did every night as a manager, I tried to win. I tried to win every fricking game.

FAY VINCENT: Well, he's hustling you and he's hustling the public.

GOLDMAN: That's former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent

VINCENT: Because, in point of fact, he didn't bet on every game and he's the manager. Now, why didn't he bet on every game? Because he knew some of his pitchers were not likely to be successful. And therefore, he'd take a night off. When he didn't bet on his starting pitcher, what do you think the gambling line did that day?

GOLDMAN: Vincent wrote the agreement, signed by Rose, under which Rose agreed to leave baseball for life with no guarantee he'd ever be reinstated. Vincent says Rose's punishment stands alone because his crime does. Gambling almost destroyed the game in 1919, when members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series. Since then, Vincent says the lifetime ban has been a nearly perfect deterrent. There might've been a steroids era but there has never been, nor will there be, a gambling era.

VINCENT: And baseball knows that. And any commissioner who tinkers with that deterrent runs the risk that there's going to be an epidemic of gambling that will break out.

GOLDMAN: If the current or future commissioner decides that won't happen and Pete Rose ends up in the Hall of Fame, Rose says he'll be the happiest guy in the world. But until then, he says he has his life to live.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey, Mr. Rose, how are you doing? Totally an honor, I can't believe this is real.

ROSE: Where you from?

GOLDMAN: For four and a half hours, they come, he signs, they connect - proving no man is an island, even when he's on one.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.