At this stage, it takes an active imagination to envision Rose ever making it to Cooperstown through the expansion era committee. The Dowd report produced evidence of betting from the 1985 and '86 seasons, when Rose was a player-manager, and Vincent has long maintained that Rose wagered on the game as a player. But Rose, to this day, contends that his baseball betting began in 1987, when his playing days were over and he needed an adrenaline rush that baseball no longer provided.
"I was always a competitive guy," Rose says. "I said, 'Well, I like these guys. They're like my sons, so let me bet on them.' I shouldn't have did it. But I did it, and it's history, and there's nothing you can do about it to change it."
If Rose is being inducted for his playing career and not his managerial exploits, is it possible to construct some sort of firewall that might permit him entrée to Cooperstown for his 4,256 hits and numerous other records? I've always thought that was a discussion worthy of debate, but it has never gained much traction.
On a personal scale, Rose sullied his name, betrayed friends and lived a lie for years before finally coming clean, yet his inherent likability has earned him forgiveness in some quarters. In the course of reporting this story, I spoke with several longtime Rose acquaintances to fill in gaps or provide a different perspective on the summer of 1989. As a rule, they view him through too complex a prism to brand him as a villain for eternity.
That list includes Larry Starr, the longtime Reds trainer who was with the team from the Big Red Machine days through Rose's demise. Starr watched Rose hit safely in 44 straight games, break Cobb's record amid incalculable pressure and play through more injuries than anyone ever knew. To this day, he maintains Rose is the best he's ever seen at blocking out real-world distractions in the name of competition.
"He was so amazing that way," Starr says. "As soon as he came in the locker room and went across the lines, it was all about baseball. I hope this doesn't come out in a condescending or derogatory way, but I think Pete was a pretty simple guy. He was a Western Hills [Cincinnati] guy who came from an environment where you're paid to do a job, and you just keep on going about it. I'm sure that's the way his dad approached things. Sure, he liked the cars and the other stuff. But the bottom line is, he was a baseball player. That's what I loved about him, really. There was no conflict or complication with him.
"People say, 'If Pete would have just admitted [to gambling] the first time he was asked, everything would have been OK.' But I still think they could have come down on him just as bad. And why would you expect Peter Edward Rose to give up like that, when he was probably being told by lawyers, 'We can fight this. We'll beat this'? I think, in a lot of ways, Pete's Charlie Hustle mentality hurt him in that case."
It was always about the action. Starr remembers the Reds' team bus pulling into New York for a series with the Mets and Pete hopping out so he could catch the last few races at Aqueduct.
"One time, he asks me, 'Who's your bookie?'" Starr says, laughing. "He said it the way somebody might ask you, 'Who's your dentist?'"
It apparently never occurred to Rose that some people don't have their own bookies or, more amazingly, don't even wager on sports.