Sunday, August 22, 1999

Hit king, banned from baseball 10 years ago, still longs to return

The Cincinnati Enquirer

In April 1989, already embattled by a deepening investigation, manager Pete Rose was a glum figure in the dugout.
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        When Pete Rose visited his son at the Reds' spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., last spring, he took a few very careful steps to the edge of the carpet separating the minor league clubhouse — where he was allowed to visit Pete Jr. — from the major league one, from which he is forever banished.

        Rose lifted a leg in the air, put a cowboy-booted toe over the line, then decided to pull back before he got himself in trouble. It was not so much an exercise in judgment as a calculated expression of how much being on the outside hurts this once-ultimate baseball insider.

        Rose was banned from baseball 10 years ago this week — on Aug. 24, 1989. Two things have remained constant over the decade: His longing to get back into the game he loves and his denial that he bet on baseball.

        In the 10 years since, life has gone on for Rose, through a five-month jail sentence for tax fraud, through redefining his family life, through a stint as a radio talk show host and restaurateur. But those close to him say that his exclusion from baseball is the pain that will not go away.

        “I don't think he's going to say that to anybody,” said Cincinnati restaurant owner Jeff Ruby, a longtime Rose friend, “but (reinstatement) would totally light up his life again.”

        “It's an everyday, nagging frustration,” said Gary Spicer, a Michigan attorney who helped Rose clean up his financial affairs beginning in 1995 and handled Rose's petition for reinstatement to baseball.

Sept. 11, 1985, Pete Rose hits number 4,192, breaking Ty Cobb's record.
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        Rose did not return phone calls for this story. But in a January interview with Sport magazine, he was asked if he'll ever stop fighting.

        “Believe me, I don't want to fight,” he said. “Baseball should just live up to the agreement because they're not. .... All I'm telling you is, whoever is gonna say no, they're gonna have to give me and you and everybody else a good reason.”

        The agreement Rose referred to was his 1989 suspension, banning him from the game for life but allowing him to apply for reinstatement in one year. Rose filed a petition for reinstatement in 1997. Major League Baseball has not formally notified him of its decision, but Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has said repeatedly no new evidence has surfaced to make him overturn the ban.

        Rose did speak to the Associated Press last week, saying, “It seems that in our society, 99 out of 100 guys are given another opportunity. I'm the one out of 100 that's not being given another opportunity, which is mind-boggling to me.”

        So Rose lived without baseball for nine years, and now does so only on the outmost fringes; last winter, he signed on to be a part-time hitting instructor with the Sacramento Steelheads, an Independent League team with no ties to Major League Baseball. He still lives as an outcast from Major League Baseball, unable to attend official functions like the All-Century team celebration at this year's All-Star Game.

        When he gave a speech to Reds minor leaguers last year at spring training, within hours Major League Baseball crowed that the speech may have violated his ban.

        Through it all, friends say Rose's personality remains basically unchanged. At the time of the ban, then-Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti told him to “reconfigure” his life. He says he has.

        He still gambles at the track, he's still outgoing, he still craves the spotlight. “He's always been a media animal,” said Cal Levy, the Reds' director of marketing and one of Mr. Rose's business advisers from 1989 until early this year.

        Rose once agreed with the clinical diagnosis that he had a “gambling disorder,” but he no longer supports that theory. Last week, he told the Associated Press he's not in denial, despite the fact that he bets at the track and has done promotional appearances for casinos.

        “If I state my feelings, I'm (considered) in denial,” Rose said. “But I don't look at it like that.”

        Rose generates income through paid public appearances, memorabilia and card shows — although that market has dried up from its early and mid-1990s heyday — corporate spokesman jobs, a now-defunct gig as a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (for a while done from the sports book of the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas) and two restaurants in Florida.

        He also resorted to taking part in Wrestlemania last spring — along with fellow infamous celebrities Mike Tyson and Gennifer Flowers — and told reporters last year at spring training, “I told the promoters they could double my pay if one of the wrestlers was going to pick me up and throw me in the stands.”

        “I haven't seen any change in his demeanor,” Ruby said. “He's still happy-go-lucky. But deep down, and he would never admit it, I'd say from day one, this has hurt.”

        What hurts Rose the most, associates say, is not his exclusion from the Hall of Fame, although that rankles to his core. It's the fact that he can't coach or manage in Baseball's established system — although the ban would not apply to high school or college teams.

        “He's a teacher. He wants to teach the game,” said John Esposito, president of Rose's fan club.

        Friends say that in the 10 years since the ban, Rose has drawn his strength from his second wife, Carol, their daughter Cara — who was born two days before Rose's suspension and turns 10 today — and son Tyler, 14.

        The Roses live in Southern California, where they rent a house from Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, but Rose travels frequently to the public appearances that make up part of his income.

        “Whenever you see him, he's flashing pictures of his kids,” Mr. Levy said. “Cara has been getting a lot of acting work (including an appearance on Melrose Place) and Tyler is playing ball.”

        Friends say family life is more important to Rose than it was in his earlier baseball life.

        “He's got more time to spend with his kids,” Ruby said. “It has a lot to do with his schedule now versus the baseball schedule. When he was playing baseball, he was on the road, he was consumed by baseball.”

        Perhaps Rose's proudest moment since the ban came on Sept. 1, 1997, when the Reds promoted Pete Rose Jr. to the major leagues and started him at third base, where he went 1-for-3 with a single. Junior was reassigned to the minors at the end of that season, cut the next year and has bounced around the minors since.

        But Pete Senior was at Cinergy Field that proud day, watching as a fan, unable to participate but smiling broadly.

        Rose's ban has affected his financial health, forcing him in 1995 to hire Spicer and begin liquidating real estate and other investments to get his finances in order. Spicer says when they applied for reinstatement in 1997, Rose's “personal and tax matters were in the best shape they'd been in his lifetime.”

        Rose's financial troubles began with a 1990 conviction for filing false income tax returns, to which he pleaded guilty on two counts of underpaying his taxes by at least $162,000. Part of the money he failed to report came from gambling.

        Spicer says he is considering filing a motion to have the conviction overturned “to demonstrate to the court that Pete Rose was wrongfully convicted.” Spicer claims his review of FBI, IRS, Federal Drug Task Force and Major League Baseball investigations has found “guidelines that appear to have been violated and facts and conclusions that were made based on incorrect information.”

        The U.S. attorney's office would not comment for the record, but prosecutor William Hunt did indicate it is too late to file such motions. The Rules of Criminal Procedure allows only a three-year window for new trial motions on such an issue.

        Spicer hopes overturning the conviction would help Rose's case for reinstatement, but both events are unlikely unless overwhelmingly compelling evidence is presented that Rose was wrongfully convicted.

        Spicer said Rose has missed out on a lot of money he could have made in the major leagues.

        “It's a devastating economic position,” Spicer said.

        Levy calls much of what Rose has to do, “Meet-and-greet, handshaking, baby-kissing,” but says of Rose, “He's not starving.”

        The reaction of fans who still want him in the Hall of Fame — and of players like Nolan Ryan who have supported him — tempers his hurt.

        “It reassures Pete that his career hasn't been a waste of time,” Spicer said.

        But for now, the Hit King remains the horsehide Napoleon, banished to his island, waiting to mount his army.

        “We'll never lose heart,” Spicer said. “I can't believe that, eventually, the leadership in baseball will not attempt to do the right thing.”

        Whether it's right is debateable. That it is the overwhelming hope of Rose's life is certain.


Rose Special Report
Rose sticks to denials; Baseball sticks to its evidence
How they feel about Rose
Pete can't hustle baseball Paul Daugherty column
Bookie's regret: Rose as client
The who, what, when of Rose's summer of shame

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