Maybe if things were different, if he were happily enshrined in Cooperstown, if his interests were more varied, if he hadn’t been exiled by the game he played with such famous fervor, Pete Rose’s daily routine might be more glamorous.
Instead, just 22 months short of his 80th birthday, baseball’s all-time hits leader is trapped in a familiar but humdrum Las Vegas orbit, paid to sign autographs during the day and driven by a gambling bug he’s never shed to bet on televised sporting events at night.
Rose, of course, was banished from baseball and made ineligible for its Hall of Fame after it was proved he’d bet on his team’s games while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s. Since then, he has been a somewhat forlorn figure, twice divorced, excluded from the only world he really knew, fated to wander through a seedy landscape of autograph shows and shady promotions.
Perhaps in response, the onetime Phillie, 78, has developed a routine that is as inviolable as the one he kept during his 24 years as a baseball superstar. Five days a week, he rises early, begins his prodigious intake of coffee, watches Fox News, heads to work inside one of the casinos, signs and schmoozes for 4½ hours, buys a salad at Subway — dressing on the side — then eats it at home while tracking TV games and his wagers on them.
“I never bet on something I can’t watch,” Rose said last week during a telephone interview aimed at promoting Tuesday’s book release and a Thursday appearance at Doylestown Bookshop. “And every bet I make today is a 150 percent legal bet. I’m done with that illegal betting.”
It’s a schedule he’s maintained since moving to Las Vegas from Florida several years ago. And while it’s legal and remunerative, it’s also virtually all-consuming. He’s given up golf. (“No time. I got to work.”) He doesn’t much like the sun or outdoor activities. And except for an occasional visit to a buddy’s Mexican resort, he never travels.
“I’ve never been east of New York,” Rose said proudly. “There’s no place I want to go. I don’t want to go to England. I don’t want to go to Paris. I don’t want to go to Italy. They don’t know baseball in those places. I’ve been to Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican. Those places, they all know baseball. I’m not going to waste my time going somewhere where they don’t even know who I am.”
Stubbornness turned into regret
Ironically, if his new book is to be believed, Rose himself might be closer than ever to discovering who he is. As a player, he always seemed an uncomplicated mix of stubbornness and simplicity. He performed at one speed, traveled in one direction, had just one goal — to beat you. If there were interludes of introspection during his 30 years as a major-league player and manager, they were obscured by the clouds of dust he so frequently stirred up.
But in the book, Play Hungry, Rose reveals some depth. He expresses regret on a number of fronts: betting on baseball, being a poor student, disappointing the father he adored by dealing with bookies, and realizing he almost certainly won’t make the Hall of Fame in his lifetime.
“I’ll be dead before that happens,” he said of his Cooperstown chances. “I don’t think baseball is going to give me a second chance, which is fine. Sure, Cooperstown would be the ultimate goal for anybody. If that ever happened, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. But I’m not going to sit and bitch to you. I’m the one that screwed that up. I’m the one that made the mistakes.”
Some of the sting from his banishment has been eased, he said, by the Cincinnati Reds, the organization for which he played and managed for 21 years.
“They’ve put up my statue, retired my number, put me in their hall of fame,” he said.
He said he had no hard feelings when, after allegations surfaced in a lawsuit that he’d had a relationship with an underage girl in the 1970s, the Phillies canceled a 2017 ceremony to place him on their Wall of Fame.
Rose loved playing here, loved Philadelphia’s tough and demanding fans, loved the Phillies teammates who counted on him and sought his counsel, loved just about everything connected with the city — except Gene Mauch.
He encountered the feisty Phillies manager as a young Cincinnati Red. Rose then was shaking up the staid baseball world by sprinting to first base after walks or following pitches into the catcher’s mitt. Like many opponents and even some teammates, Mauch labeled him a showboat.
Trying to get inside the talented youngster’s head, Mauch in one game at Connie Mack Stadium instructed his catcher to let Rose know what pitches were coming.
“For three at-bats, it freaked me out,” Rose recalled. “In my fourth at-bat, I finally said I’m going to listen to him. And I hit one off the … scoreboard. The next day I looked at Mauch and he says, ‘Go … yourself.’ He could be a son of a bitch, but he wanted his team to win. You don’t have a lot of that stuff going on in the game today.”
No fan of analytics
Rose has an opinion on the current Phillies manager, too, calling Gabe Kapler “one of the biggest guys in analytics,” a trend that he, not surprisingly, thinks is ruining baseball.
“I couldn’t teach guys how to hit today,” he said. “They’d ask me, ‘What was your launch angle?' 'How fast was the ball coming off the bat?’ Who gives a [hoot]? I haven’t read about a team yet that’s went to the World Series and did all the analytics. I want to know how big a guy’s heart is. I want to know how much enthusiasm he has. I want to know what kind of work ethic he has.”
That’s not his only concern with baseball in 2019. Rose worries about falling attendance. About long, dull games. About what he sees as a trend among too many free agents to value money over victories.
When Rose was a 37-year-old free agent in 1978, he signed a then-record four-year, $3.2 million deal with the Phillies because, he said, they were closer to a World Series than his two other final suitors. St. Louis and Kansas City.
“I figured I could help Philadelphia get over the hump, which I did,” he said. “But, hell, the Cardinals offered me a Budweiser distributorship. Wouldn’t I have liked to have that today? Mr. Kauffman of Kansas City offered me already proven oil wells. But I wasn’t really interested in who offered the most money. I just wanted to win.”
His unrelenting playing style, a means to an end, is a recurring conversational theme with Rose. He went all-out all the time, and he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t. If opponents didn’t appreciate it, that was on them. In fact, the more they disliked him, the more pitchers threw at him or the more managers razzed him, the more Rose thrived.
“You weren’t going to change me,” he said. “I’m not scared of getting drilled. You’re going to drill me for hustling down to first base? You’re going to drill me for hitting a single and taking second? I got a lot of that from the people that played against me. But the guys that played with me, they loved me. My philosophy was I don’t care if you like me if I’m playing against you. I don’t want you to like me. I want you to give me a reason so I can hate you.”
He insists he is happy. He has a fiancee, a woman to whom he’s been engaged for at least nine years. And his daily interaction with an ever-changing cast of fans, he said, invigorates him.
“I look at it like I’m playing a doubleheader a day,” Rose said of his job. “I talk baseball for 4 1/2 hours a day to the kids, the grandmothers, the moms and dads. I’ll call Grandpa and say hi to him. Someone could be sick, and I’ll call them."
Whenever he thinks about the hole he dug for himself, he finds it ironic that all these years after his illegal wagers caused such a furor, baseball now seems to be embracing legalized gambling.
“Fifteen minutes before the game, every manager in baseball has to email MLB their starting lineups,” he said. “You know what they do with them? They give them to MGM [with which MLB has a gaming agreement]. Does that seem strange to you or what? For someone who frowns on gambling, it seems to me that they’re pretty much in bed with MGM.
“I guess,” he said, “I was just before my time.”