According to Pete Rose, if steroids had been widely used when he was playing baseball, "I would have got 5,000 hits."
As it was, he accumulate 4,256 of them, more than anyone in the history of the game, one slashing single at a time.
He did it the old-fashioned way, studying pitchers, taking batting practice until the shaggers keeled over, and wanting it more than anyone around him.
"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to beat you," Rose used to say, and there was no doubt he would.
Pete Rose, in the opinion of someone who covered him on a daily basis and saw that competitiveness, always looked for any edge he could get. In later years, this turned into a significant problem, but it never hurt him on the baseball field.
After games, back in the days when players would sit around for hours and talk about what just happened, Rose could recite nearly every pitch that had taken place - the ones he saw, and the ones thrown to all the other batters. He would study his game bat and point out the marks on it.
"That's where I fouled it off in the sixth," he would say, pointing to a smeary blemish near the handle.
"And that's the base hit up the middle in the eighth," he would say, pointing to a neat, round dot on the barrel.
Then he would clean the bat with alcohol and a rag, erasing the canvas in preparation for the next day and rub the barrel with a bone from a cow's leg to harden the surface.
Suffice it to say, you don't see that much anymore.
If steroids had been around when Rose was playing, and this is just one person's opinion, he would have taken them. If the other players were getting an edge, he would have been at the front of the line to join them.
That's speculation, but it isn't meant to demean Rose any more than it demeans those players who did take part in baseball's bulk-a-thon. In some eras, players sharpened their spikes into knife blades and threw spitballs. In some eras, they injected one another in the butt in the bathroom stalls of the clubhouses. If there is an edge out there, players will try to find it. That is what they do.
Rose, quite in character, is looking for any edge that might get him closer to entry into baseball's Hall of Fame. All those baseballs he has signed for the last two decades will be made obsolete when he can start adding HOF to the signature, and he is a man with a deep regard for new revenue streams. Aside from the final tally of runs in a game, it is how he has always kept score.
"If you're going to put these guys that supposedly did steroids into the Hall of Fame, I mean, I've got to get a shot somewhere," he said.
And that is the big question these days. Are these guys going into the Hall of Fame? Does Rose deserve a shot if they do?
The federal government may have something to say about that as the Justice Department turns its gaze on the coming perjury trial of Barry Lamar Bonds. The feds batted .333 in their three-count indictment of track coach Trevor Graham, getting a conviction Thursday on a charge of lying to investigators. One of the other charges - that Graham lied when he said he never met drug distributor Angel Heredia - failed to get a conviction, even though the jury was shown a picture of Graham and Heredia together. It's hard to understand how even the government could mess that up, but perhaps you had to be in court for the entire trial, which we are very glad we weren't.
Next to bat is Bonds, and if he is convicted of a felony, that should take care of his Hall of Fame chances. Perhaps Rose was a gambler and a disreputable character, but all of his hits were legitimate. You can't say the same about all of Bonds' home runs. His numbers were cooked, and so should be his chance of gaining immortality in Cooperstown.
"I never thought anybody would make me look like an altar boy," the 67-year-old Rose said.
That is hardly the case, and if you ever find yourself in that church, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the collection plate. But Rose makes a solid point that his situation isn't that different from the drug cheaters.
The Baseball Writers Association of America could have sent Rose to the Hall of Fame with write-in votes but chose not to. They will have a tricky job of judging the more recent crop of heroes. Sammy Sosa? He has 609 career home runs and nary a mention in the Mitchell Report. What's a voter to do?
What the baseball writers should do is get out of the voting business once and for all. It is an awful conflict of interest, and they have no business being involved. Baseball made this mess, and it isn't the job of supposedly impartial journalists to untangle it.
That is about as likely as Pete Rose being named the next commissioner, even though Pete would really like that. He's between jobs at the moment and just needs an edge.