The Legacy of Pete Rose: 14 Ways of Looking at #14

Pete Rose
Pete Rose

Photograph Copyright of Bettman/Corbis/Getty Images

I was born on the morning of August 24, 1989—the same morning Commissioner Bart Giamatti announced that Pete Rose was banned from Major League Baseball for life. The way my grandmother tells it, sometime shortly after the 9 a.m. press conference got underway, she received a call from my father informing her she had a new grandson. My dad then waited a beat and asked, “And what are they doing to Pete Rose?” You don’t have to be from Cincinnati to have stories, impressions, and conflicted feelings about Pete, whether it was witnessing something as thrilling as him plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game, as historic as him breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record on September 11, 1985, as mundane as him chowing down on fried fish at Montgomery Inn, or as sad as him signing autographs in Las Vegas. The trick is reconciling the man with his legacy. The fabled nature of Pete’s life makes every interaction a memorable one. Here are 14 perspectives from some of the people who have seen him at his best, his worst, and many points between. —Justin Williams

Pete’s daughter
If he taught me anything, he taught me how to dream. Growing up—he didn’t have a lot of natural ability, he just worked really hard. He’s a blue-collar guy. In my opinion, behind Willie Mays, he was the greatest baseball player. Willie Mays was my favorite. As a kid, everything was a game. We played really hard. He didn’t let up. We’d take a fungo bat out in the front yard and hit the hell out of the ball. I remember one time, I was probably 12, he hit the ball and I misjudged it. It cracked me in the cheek. I had a cut, [and] the seam of the ball, the print of the ball, was in my cheek. He comes over and he’s like, “You know, if it really hurts, it’s OK to cry.” I was like, “No, I’m fine. I’m not going to cry.” And he’s like, “That’s good, because there’s no crying in baseball.” He’s funny, he’s charming, [and] he can be an asshole sometimes. I mean, he’s a dad. —as told to Ellie Conley

Longtime friend from Western Hills High School
Pete was the first guy I met when I went to Western Hills High School. I was going out for the reserve football team and I asked directions to the coach’s office. The seniors, as young boys will do, said, “Go out there to that door, go to the left, and yada yada.” So I go halfway down there and I hear this voice, “Where you telling that guy to go?” Pete said, “Come here with me,” and chastised those guys for sending me on a wild goose chase. That’s how we met. We were buddies and ran around together for a long time. He was an outstanding baseball player but a better football player. Pete beat out a senior for starting tailback as a junior. He was amazing. He had great moves and you just couldn’t get your hands on him. That’s one reason he was such a success at baseball. He wasn’t a typical baseball player. He liked the action, he loved the contact. He was a tough guy. —as told to Steve Rosen

Played with and under Rose on the 1986 Reds; Cincinnati native and current Reds broadcaster
When I was a sophomore in college in 1975, I met Sheldon “Chief” Bender, the player personnel director for the Reds. I told him I was from Cincinnati, and he said, “Hey, this summer, I’ll get you to throw some batting practice to the Reds.” I went down to Riverfront Stadium and got in a Reds uniform. I’m on the mound, nervous as can be throwing to the Big Red Machine. I’m wild, I’m left-handed—and they’re like, What is this? Because in batting practice, they want the ball grooved right down the middle. I drilled Johnny Bench with the first pitch I threw, and he threw his bat and got out of the cage. Tony Perez refused to get in the cage. Pete Rose jumped in, tapped the plate and said, “C’mon, show me what you got!” That was just the kind guy of he was; every time he turned the corner, he wanted another challenge.

In the mid-1980s, there was collusion going on between the owners and the players—the owners were not talking to free agents, even released players like me. I called every team in baseball and nobody would even talk to me. A day before spring training began in 1986, I tracked Pete down. I said, “I’ve already talked to [Reds general manager] Bill Bergesch and he told me they weren’t interested in me.” Pete said, “Hold on. I run this ball club; Bill doesn’t run this ball club. I want you on our club. You get down to the field at 8 a.m. tomorrow and I’ll have a uniform at your locker.” Sure enough, the next day there was a uniform with my name on it. He was the guy that gave me the break of my lifetime, fulfilling the dream of playing for my hometown team. —as told to Grant Freking

Longtime Reds beat writer for the Dayton Daily News and
I went to spring training when I first started covering the Reds in 1973. I introduced myself to Pete, asked a question, opened my notebook, and he practically filled it with one question. I was kind of in awe—I was talking to Pete Rose. Didn’t matter if you were a big time columnist or a beat writer on your first assignment, he gave everybody the same time and was just a total delight to interview.

During the 44-game hit streak in 1978, he was even better. He loves the spotlight and it was always on him during that streak. It became a national stage for him and he was just unbelievable. As he got closer and closer to the records he was setting, I asked about the pressure. He looked at me like I had two heads and said, “What do you mean pressure? This is what it’s all about. This is fun. This is why you play the game. I don’t feel any pressure at all. This is what I’m here for.” —as told to Steven Rosen

Vice president of Montgomery Inn Restaurant, started by his father Ted in 1951
Pete’s been coming into our restaurant since the early 1960s. When he lived in Indian Hill, he would come into the Montgomery location and talk to everybody who would come in. Somebody a couple tables down would ask him a question, and the next thing you know, Pete would be sitting at their table.

We still see Pete on a regular basis. A couple weeks ago he came into the Boathouse and one of my new hosts asked, “Mr. Rose, do you want me to put you in the back where no one will bother you?” He said, “Hell no, that’s not good for business. I want to sit out front with my friends.” Up until about five years ago, the only thing he ever ate was our fried fish. Don’t ask me why. Our fried fish is good, but it is not the best thing on our menu. —as told to Steven Rosen

ESPN senior writer and former Phillies beat writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer
Pete Rose was in the middle of all three rings of the circus that surrounded the most memorable regular-season game I ever covered [in Philadelphia]. It happened the day before the players’ strike in 1981. The first plot line: He went into that game [against the Houston Astros] one hit away from tying Stan Musial’s all-time National League hit record. So Musial and Willie Mays were in the first row. The Phillies had 3,631 balloons ready to be released into the night. And there were 57,000 people there—because Pete had made that the event in Philly. He was facing Nolan Ryan at his greatest. So in Pete’s first at-bat, he singled to tie the record, the ballpark erupted, and Nolan got this look on his face that made you think, Uh-oh. And with good reason. There was no way he was going to break that record off Nolan Ryan. They faced each other three more times. Nolan struck him out all three. Swinging. It was the first time Pete had struck out swinging in three straight trips since 1968. Afterward, I can still remember Pete saying, “If every pitcher pitched me the way he did tonight, I’d be going after my 1,000th hit, not my 3,631st.”

He needed one more hit to break that record. But when Ryan punched him out with two outs in the eighth, the stadium was in shock. Except a crazy thing happened. Ryan hurt his back and had to leave. And in what felt like a minute and a half, the Phillies went from being three runs down to taking a one-run lead off the bullpen. Then all of a sudden, the only way Pete was going to bat was if the Phillies blew their lead in the ninth. So the crowd started rooting against the Phillies and chanting, “Pete-Pete-Pete.” It was surreal. But he [didn’t] get to hit again—for two months. The strike crashed down. The balloons all died. And it was as if all the electricity drained out of the stadium, the breaking of that record, and the whole sport. I’ll never, ever forget that game. All because of Pete Rose. —as told to Adam Flango

President of Hit King Inc., which manages Rose’s work in Las Vegas
I started bringing Pete into Las Vegas to sign autographs for people. He’s been here constantly since 2005. He’s there for about five hours a day and people get to come in, sit down, talk with him, shake hands, take pictures, ask questions. We call it the Pete Rose Experience. Plus they get autographs. He’s such an open personality. What he says just goes right from his brain out his mouth when he talks. And he’s a fun guy to be with. I’d say for the star level that Pete is, there really aren’t any other guys in the country who make themselves accessible to their fans like Pete does. He had a lady come in one time and he writes, “Pete Rose, 4,256” on her photo. And that’s for his 4,256 hits. The next day, she came back and said, “Pete, I went up to 4256 yesterday and that’s not your room!” She thought he was giving her his room number. He got such a big kick out of it. —as told to Ellie Conley

National columnist for NBC Sports and author of The Machine, about the 1975 Reds
When I went [to Las Vegas for book research], there was one young woman and her whole job seemed to be to bring people in to see Pete Rose. She was very attractive and…the sort of person you see in Vegas trying to get people to come in. And, you know, Pete’s Pete. So he says things that are off-color and not necessarily in line with what you should say in general. At one point, this woman came over to me and said, “I just love that guy!” And I’m like, “Really? I find that kind of hard to believe.” And she [said], “He says all this stuff, but you know that deep down its all just fun for him. And he’s fun to be around.” And I thought, that’s kind of interesting, because normally I would think: This person should hate Pete Rose. But there’s a weird charm about it. There are people who are very offended by Pete Rose and find him to be sort of a disgusting person. And I get that. I’m just saying that when you’re around him you can’t help but be sucked in a little bit by his charm. —as told to Ellie Conley

Longtime friend and former Cincinnati Reds stadium operations employee
I knew he was betting on basketball, I knew he was betting on football; everybody knew. I did not know that man was betting on baseball. I had no clue. In Plant City, Florida, when the commissioner called him to New York in the spring of 1989, I was actually staying at his house. No one knew what he was going for except for me and him and my wife and [his wife] Carol. He said that he had to leave and talk to the commissioner about an investigation on betting. Even at that time I had no idea it was baseball until it broke. He never said one word to me. —as told to Joshua A. Miller

President and founder of Game Day Communications, former ESPN and WLWT anchor
It’s a unique perspective that we have on Pete here in Cincinnati. It’s like when I was working at ESPN and I would sit there and watch The Jerry Springer Show, and just laugh through the whole thing. People I worked with were going, “Why are you watching Jerry Springer?” I anchored with Jerry Springer at Channel 5. And so I’m going, “This isn’t Jerry. I know Jerry…he’s kind of laughing at himself when he does this.” And naturally the way that Cincinnati looks at Pete [is], we know Pete, we know his family, he grew up with a lot of us. No matter what comes out in the national media and things that we’ve learned, I think that Cincinnati feels as if we know the real Pete. Yeah, we all make mistakes, but you can only be punished for them so much. We feel that we know, literally and figuratively, where Pete’s coming from. —as told to Ellie Conley

Longtime sports writer for The Cincinnati Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer
In the summer of 1989 when he was being investigated by Major League Baseball, I would wait out the rest of the media until Pete was alone [and] ask him whatever happened to be going on at the time with the investigation. He would stand there and talk to me for 10 minutes and look me right in the eye—and just lie straight to my face. Some of it I knew, and some of it I suspected. But I swear to God, I’d walk out of his office after those 10 minutes, and if he had told me the moon was really made of green cheese, I would have believed him. Of course you didn’t bet on baseball. Of course you didn’t bet on the Reds. Of course. Of course. Of course. And I would literally have to shake myself after I got done talking with Pete before I went to write. I would always present his side, but I was careful not to get taken in.

I think the ban and the fact that he is 75 years old has had a sobering effect on him. He doesn’t act like a kid anymore—and that sounds crazy because he hasn’t been a kid for 60 years. But he’s more reflective. Pete’s always been very gregarious, and he still is, but there is a side to him now that finally realizes how he messed up his life. —as told to Grant Freking

Six-time All-Star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1961 to 1971
Out of all of the players on the Reds back in those days, and I did pitch against them when they were the Big Red Machine, you could take any one of the other superstars—Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez—out of the mix and still possibly win and be as good a team as they proved to be. Whereas if you took Pete out of the mix, I don’t think you would’ve had nearly the team or the winning machine that it was. Pete made everything gel and made everything come together. If you’re baking and you don’t use yeast, then obviously your bread is not going to rise. I would say that Pete was the yeast of the Big Red Machine.

He epitomizes everything that baseball is all about, and what I mean by that is Pete proves to the world that you don’t necessarily have to be born an athlete, or born with a great talent—that if you have the determination and the love of the game, you can become a Hall of Famer. —as told to Grant Freking

Son and manager of the Wichita Wingnuts
He came [to games] whenever he could, and it was kind of a circus whenever he [did]. I could never play in front of him because I was nervous and I just wanted to do so well. Finally, in ’91, in a Florida State League game, he said, “Listen, if you don’t get any hits today, I’m never coming again.” And I was 5-for-6 that day. You’ve gotta realize something, man: When I was growing up, and to this day, all I really cared about was being with my dad. I didn’t really care where it was or what we were doing. As long as I was with him, I was a pig in shit—I was the happiest. When you get around him and you understand how he is—funny and screwing around—it’s a blast. I’ve got the best dad in the world, and I just wish a lot of people would see the side that I’ve gotten to see my whole life. It’s tough when the media talk about him; they don’t realize that they’re talking about somebody’s dad and somebody’s grandpa. —as told to Joshua A. Miller

Reds radio announcer since 1974
The induction is extremely important for everybody involved, whether you’re Pete or the ball club or the fans. I can tell you, Pete is genuinely thrilled by it. I don’t think Pete will ever give up hope he’ll one day be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but I think he’s come to grips with the fact it may never happen.

The Reds Hall of Fame induction is going to be as big a weekend as there’s ever been in the history of this franchise because of the way people feel for him. All through the years, since he was banished from the game, people in this town have never wavered in their affection for him. They love him as much as they ever do. This is a culmination of a lot of years of joy and sadness and laughter and tears because of the up and down ride he’s been on. And this culmination happens to be a very good thing.

His life has evolved in an interesting way from an emotional standpoint. Back in the 1970s when we were together, and even back in the 1980s, Pete was a very macho guy. He would never say, “I love you.” Now, there’s rarely a time today when he and I talk on the telephone or face-to-face that he won’t say “I love you.” And I think that’s a good thing; he appreciates things now that maybe 30 years ago he didn’t. The timing of the induction is damn near perfect. —as told to Steven Rosen

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