Pete Rose: 25 years in exile

"ABC must have shot miles and miles of B-roll that summer," says Jim Ferguson, the Reds' media relations director at the time. "They shot Pete walking down the tunnel to the interview room, walking to the hotel and pushing the elevator button, walking into the ballpark, walking to the bus, walking to the plane. Every day, they shot minutes and minutes of him walking to wherever he was going."

UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, Pete was the gift that kept on giving for the media. When the Reds lost and players would mouth platitudes or find sanctuary in the trainers' room, he filled our notebooks with pithy observations and television sitcom references. He referred to O'Neill as "Jethro" for his likeness to Max Baer Jr.'s character in the "Beverly Hillbillies" and called Tom Browning "Otis" because of his facial resemblance to the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Rose also gave high-energy third baseman Chris Sabo the nickname "Spuds MacKenzie" for his likeness to the Budweiser celebrity bull terrier. The moniker was inevitably shortened to "Spuds."

Pete was handy with a malapropism, as well. "You're making a mountain out of a mole," he once admonished me. And in assessing Giamatti's suitability to judge him for his indiscretions, Pete observed, "All I want is an impractical decision-maker."

But the constant scrutiny and barrage of questions inevitably produced a change in Rose. He became more irritable and defensive as the days passed. In the spring, I wrote a column for the Post and opined that Rose had shown all sides during the crisis -- "at times innocent victim, at times feisty competitor, at times petty and baiting, at times almost desperate in his paranoia."

As beat writers, we were like his personal focus group. He would ramble and concoct explanations until he found one that sounded plausible, then he'd dust it off and repeat it for the national media hordes. As the explanations fermented in his brain, he would go from cautious to forthright to downright indignant if anyone questioned his version of events.

Pete kept an industrial-size vat of Rolaids on his desk to absorb all that stress, and the supply dwindled like the sand from Dorothy's hourglass. It bothered him that his son Pete Jr., who was playing in the minors, had to put up with fans waving dollar bills and harassing him from the stands, and it clearly surprised him when Gentleman's Quarterly quoted his daughter Fawn as calling him the "world's worst father."

Pete's response: "I'm a great father. I just bought my daughter a Mercedes Benz."

Twenty-five years later, over breakfast in Las Vegas, I ask him what he remembers most about that summer.

"The easiest part of my day," he says, "was managing the game."

THE PLAYERS, SURPRISINGLY, felt insulated from the worst of the attention, as Rose ceded much of the daily preparation to his coaching staff. Scott Breeden took care of the pitchers; Tony Perez dealt with the hitters; and Pete rarely if ever showed his face during pregame stretching or batting practice. He would emerge from the clubhouse and take a seat in the dugout right before the national anthem and would disappear down the runway after the final pitch.

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