Pete Rose: 25 years in exile

Pete Rose

PETE ROSE LIVES PRECISELY 1.2 miles from the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, so it takes him just six minutes to drive to his de facto office in a mall music store attached to the hotel. The gap between his glorious past and his ignominious present is more challenging to navigate. Five decades ago, he built a reputation as a hardscrabble Cincinnati kid who would walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play ball. Now he's a 73-year-old baseball persona non grata who dresses in designer sweats and spends his days signing, smiling and schmoozing to make a living.

The items are pricey at "The Art of Music!" store where Rose wields a smile and a pen, but folks get an added-value dose of banter with their $399 signed jerseys and $199 bats. And if they're lucky and on the lookout here in Vegas, fans can interact with Pete at the breakfast table as well as the signing table. One morning during spring training, as Rose is immersed in a plate of egg whites, tomatoes and crispy bacon at a hotel restaurant, a waitress passes him a note from another diner. The hash brown grease on the paper doesn't obscure the sentiment:

Pete,
We're Cincy west-siders and we hope some day soon MLB wakes up [and] realizes how much you're needed in the sport! We appreciate all you've done.
Thanks!
2 Reds Fans

That's a common sentiment expressed by heartland folks who consider Rose a baseball hero and think he has done the requisite penance for his mistakes to warrant a second chance. Other observers are more conflicted and discern shades of black or very dark gray in his portrayal, along with shortcomings that can't be dismissed with yet another mea culpa. In January, former commissioner Fay Vincent opined in a Treasure Coast Newspapers editorial that Rose should be forever excluded from Cooperstown because he committed the "one capital crime" that is "well absorbed into the baseball DNA."

Rose understands he has built a very complicated legacy for himself.

"I'm one of those guys, when I'm gone, you can think about me in nine different ways," he says. "You can think about me getting all the hits. Or you can think about me going to prison or getting divorced or sliding headfirst or knocking catchers down. You can think of me being brash. Or you can think about me being the biggest winner in the history of sports. That's the best record I've got."

Rose played in 1,972 winning games from 1963 to 1986 -- still more than anyone else in professional sports. Yet most people think of him as the guy who got banned from baseball for misconduct related to gambling and who attained pariah status with the Hall of Fame. Inside the game, he's a toxic enough commodity that commissioner Bud Selig and Hall of Fame Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark had to be fidgeting when Cincinnati native Barry Larkin paid homage to him during a brief Q&A session at the recent inductions in Cooperstown. When asked to name his favorite baseball memory, Larkin cited Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd hit to pass Ty Cobb.

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