Pete Rose: How Can I Win?

Pete Rose discusses his new book "Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars," during an interview in New York, Thursday Jan. 8, 2004.
Pete Rose is an angry man.

He feels he's done his part, confessed that he bet on baseball. But instead of absolution, he keeps hearing more condemnation: His apology came too late, was insincere, upstaged the Hall of Fame and brought him more money.

"Now you're coming clean, and it's not good enough," he said Thursday during a 30-minute interview with The Associated Press. "It's not right. So how can I win? How can I win if people aren't going to be fair with me?"

Now 62, his hair thinner and his tummy chubbier, Charlie Hustle craves a full, free and unconditional pardon from baseball commissioner Bud Selig. He wants to get into the Hall of Fame - but what he really wants is the chance to manage a major league team again.

Rose says a reinstatement with restrictions would be unfair.

"I don't know if they would ever say, 'We'll reinstate you but you can't work in baseball.' I don't think that's the American way, I really don't," Rose said.

Rose also said he felt good 14 months ago when he confessed to Selig - and thought at the time that he'd be reinstated before his book came out.

As he was interviewed Thursday, Rose alternated between pleas for forgiveness and the cockiness he made famous during a record-setting playing career that stretched from 1963 to 1986. Wearing a bright red pullover in a suite at a Manhattan hotel, he sat back and reflected, leaned forward and vented.

In his second autobiography, "Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars," he finally confessed that he bet on the Cincinnati Reds while he managed the team in the late 1980s, baseball's capital crime, one that led to the lifetime ban he agreed to in 1989.

Rose had hoped the release of the book Thursday would be the end of the public debate over whether he deserved a second chance. He would be the first person on the permanent ineligible list to ever gain reinstatement.

Instead, initial reaction to excerpts published by Sports Illustrated earlier this week was largely negative. Hall of Fame vice chairman Joe Morgan, his former Reds teammate, condemned the commercial aspect of the confession and saw no contrition.

"I'm kind of surprised that people are jumping the gun before they read the book," Rose said. "I thought I was remorseful when I needed to be remorseful in here. And I must tell you that it's hard to be remorseful on paper. You know, talking to you or talking into a camera, it's a lot easier to be remorseful because you can look at me and hear my tone and things like that."

He professes to understand Selig's plight. Rose admitted to Selig in November 2002 that he bet on baseball. And while the commissioner, according to his aides, appreciates Rose's popularity with fans, he also wonders whether to fear another foul-up by the career hits leader, whose dark side was exposed to the public during that sordid summer of 1989.

"I understand that Bud has to be 150 percent sure, because he can't take a chance of being embarrassed," Rose said. "His reputation's at stake... I don't think anything in that book is going to make him feel less about me than when he woke up this morning."

But just a few minutes later, he balks when asked how he would respond if baseball asked him to stop his legal betting at racetracks as a prerequisite for a return.

"I would do anything they say," he repeats several times, "but they also have to understand one of my means of entertainment is periodically going to the races."

Dr. J. Randolph Hillard, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Cincinnati, saw Rose shortly after the ban began and concluded that he had a "clinically significant gambling disorder" and should never gamble on anything.

Rose initially supported Hillard, and then changed his mind. He says his gambling now is completely legal and only periodic.

He tries to avoid discussion of details of the gambling that led to his outlaw status. He won't address claims by his former associates that he placed bets from the clubhouse - a charge he denied in the book - and denied accusations that he refused to bet on the Reds when pitchers Mario Soto or Bill Gullickson started.

"I'm here to tell you that I bet on baseball, and who cares if I bet on so and so," he said.

Morgan and others said Rose should have made his admission at a news conference, not in a for-profit venture.

"I didn't do this book for money, I did the book to explain myself," is Rose's response. "The people who don't like it will say, `You're selling your confession.' I confessed 14 months ago."

And he brushes aside the anger from people who were upset the book came out this week, taking attention away from the election of Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley to the Hall of Fame. Rose said the publication date was set by the publisher and that if details of the book hadn't leaked out in advance, everything would have been OK.

"It seems like no matter what I do, it's wrong," he said. "I mean, if I waited 'til March, I'd have been interfering with spring training. If I waited 'til the All-Star game, I'm trying to take away from the All-Star game?"

He hopes all the controversy won't hurt his chances for the Hall of Fame, if he ever becomes eligible on the ballot. He doesn't think the voters will hold it against him.

"The writers are fair," he said. "There are some writers that won't vote for anybody."

At times, it seems like his primary comfort is the fans, the ones who cheered as he got a record 4,256 hits, the ones who cheered him during on-field appearances at the World Series in 1999 and 2002.

He can recite accomplishments and recollections of old feats as if they occurred yesterday. The confidence is still there, the hunger to achieve, the willpower he thinks can carry through any trouble.

But the ban and the five-month prison term he served on tax charges did pierce that tough Ohio armor in one unexpected way.

"I'm not the same guy today as I was 15 years ago," he said. "You know, I hug my kids and my boys now. And I kiss my boys, I tell them I love them."

"You know," he said, "I was a tough guy."

By Ronald Blum