Last December, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, denied Pete Rose’s latest bid for reinstatement. A month later, as perhaps a consolation prize, the Cincinnati Reds announced that he would join the team’s Hall of Fame and have his number retired this month. On the eve of his induction, as he was preparing for another day of signing autographs at a mall within the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, we spoke to the Hit King over the phone about gambling, his legacy, and finally finding happiness.
You’re about to get inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Did you ever think that this day would come? I used to think how great it would be when I saw Tony [Perez] and Johnny [Bench] and Davey [Concepcion] go in, and the rest of the guys I played with. It always was a big deal to me because I was from Cincinnati and I understand how important baseball is to Cincinnati. It’s something you can’t really ever expect, but then there again, when you’re lucky enough as I was to play as long as I did, in front of the greatest fans in the world, with some of the greatest players to ever play the game, it’s like a dream come true. Whoever pulled the strings to allow me to be eligible for this Hall of Fame, I just want to thank them in any way I possibly can.
Does being inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame soften the blow of Major League Baseball not reinstating you again this year? Yeah, because what it does is kind of make me feel like I’m part of baseball. I’m able to go on the field, I’m able to get my Reds jacket, I’m able to talk to the fans, I’m able to do the banquet on Sunday, I’m able to see all of my ex-teammates and all of the guys that made the Hall of Fame. I don’t worry about the other Hall of Fame because I’m the one that messed that up. What’s more gratifying—going into the Reds Hall of Fame, or having your number retired? Ain’t that a hell of a question? What would you rather do in Cincinnati, have your number retired, make the Hall of fame, or have a statue? They’re all three tremendous things that can happen to any individual and especially any individual who loves the game of baseball and loves the city of Cincinnati.
No matter what happens, your legacy is going to be preserved now that you have these landmarks in Cincinnati. You’re absolutely right there. I’m just a little kid who was born down by the river by Anderson Ferry and worked hard and loved the Reds when I was a kid. I was able to surround myself with great players and I surrounded them. The rest is history. It was just a great way of going through life, being a Cincinnati Red.
In this time of limbo after the ban, did you worry about your legacy? I normally don’t ever worry about anything that I’m not in control of. I wasn’t in control of anything in that situation. I went through a period when I got suspended where I didn’t even go to the ballpark. It’s not because I didn’t want to. There were so many restrictions on me, I just didn’t want to put people through that. It didn’t feel good to me.
Do you feel more comfortable going to the ballpark now? I love it now. Everybody is my best friend there. I get treated like a king.
What was your reaction when Manfred’s decision came through? I was disappointed somewhat. I wasn’t as excited as the attorneys were about him changing his mind. It was one of those deals where if he did, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. But if he didn’t, I kind of expected it. He had his reasons and God bless him.
Leading up to his decision, you had talked about how you were a different person than you were back then. In what ways are you a different person today? Well, several ways. One way, I do no more illegal gambling. I’m very selective of the people that I associate myself with. And all I do is work hard and support my family. I’m still the aggressive Pete Rose that I was as a baseball player but I’m no longer around the situations that got me in trouble.
But you still bet on baseball, albeit legally. It seems like the commissioner’s office has taken issue with that fact. Have you considered not betting on baseball anymore? That’s a good point. You remember reading about Bart Giamatti telling me to reconfigure my life? OK, no one has ever told me—including Manfred, including Selig—what does that mean? I guess my point is, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. I’m in control. Just tell me. If I want to bet on Monday Night Football, and that’s the way I enjoy my life, why is everybody so worried about that? I’m 75 years old, I have to be able to have some form of entertainment. I’m not betting out of my means. It’s not illegal. If you don’t want me to bet on baseball or anything else, just tell me.
If they told you that— I’d do it. Absolutely. But no one has ever explained “reconfigure your life.” I have taken responsibility for it. I have apologized for it. I have shown I’m sorry. But there again, no matter how many times you say you’re sorry, not everybody’s going to hear you. All I can do is imagine what they meant when they said reconfigure my life. And evidently, no one’s willing to tell me what that means.
If you decided to cut out gambling, because that was the thing you got in trouble for, don’t you think that would help at least a little bit? Here’s what you have to understand: I didn’t get in trouble for gambling. I got in trouble for illegal gambling, which is a big difference. And like I said, I do no more illegal gambling. That’s the last thing in the world I’d ever do. I’ll never associate with a bookmaker again.
I understand that you’re not doing any illegal gambling, but if you got reinstated, you couldn’t bet on baseball if you were back in baseball. But just say Pete Rose is reinstated. What does that mean? That means I can do appearances at minor league ballparks, I can get back with Topps baseball cards. Stuff like that. I understand what you’re saying if I’m working for the Reds or if I’m in the batting cage working with players. That’s common sense that you wouldn’t gamble if that was the situation. You make a good point, but there’s different circumstances involved. I’m not betting anything today, I didn’t bet anything yesterday, I’m not betting anything tomorrow.
Do you think there is a public misperception about who you are as a person? There are certain parts of your life that everybody don’t have to know about. I know what kind of father I was, what kind of father I am. I know what kind of grandpa I am. I know what kind of provider I am. It’s not important for me that you know that. Some people are going to remember me for betting on baseball. Some people are going to remember me for winning batting titles. Some people are going to remember me for knocking [Ray] Fosse over. Some people will remember me at first base for 4,192. Everybody’s got something different that they’ll remember you for. You want to know what I want on my tombstone?
Sure. What do you want to be remembered for? I want to be remembered as the biggest winner in the history of sports. Because that’s what I was. [Of] all the records I got, 1,972 wins is the most important.
Now, more so than any other time since you were banned from baseball, you’ve been involved in baseball. You’ve done the All-Star festivities, worked for Fox at the World Series, and now the Reds Hall of Fame. Is that enough for you to be happy? Do you need the Hall of Fame anymore? It’s enough for you to be happy because that’s what you’ve got. I’m not going to sit here and dream about something else. At my age, that’s enough for me. I’m part of baseball, but I’m not part of baseball. If I can give some of my knowledge to them to make them better, everybody’s going to be better off. I’m not going to go into the batting cage and talk to them about gambling. I’m going to talk to them about their craft.
Do you have plans to file for reinstatement again? I’m just going to live my life, because there’s a hell of a lot more behind me than there is in front of me. I used to really want to get reinstated because I wanted to manage a baseball team. I’m 75 now; I’m not going to manage any baseball teams. That has kind of left my mind. But I would like to be reinstated just to have the opportunity to go in the batting cage at Great American and watch the players take batting practice. To go in the clubhouse and sit with someone and watch tape and talk to him about it.
It’s almost like you just want to be allowed to be one of the guys again. Here’s what it boils down to: I want to be like Bench. I want to be like [Joe] Morgan. I want to be like Perez. They don’t go down on the field, they’re not in uniform. They’re behind the scenes. I just want to be friends with baseball. I’m the biggest Cincinnati fan there is. And I have a lot of reasons why I should be.