Thursday, January 8, 2004

West-siders still stand by Pete

But some are finding it harder to forgive his flaws

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Is Pete still invited to your dinner table? Tell us why you love him.

Pete Rose seems to be everywhere this week for the release of his new book, My Prison Without Bars.

Rose on TV

Primetime Thursday, 10 p.m. today, ABC; Rose talks to Charles Gibson.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Monday.

On the Internet

Rose's book rose to No. 12 on's Top 100 bestseller list Wednesday, but by evening had fallen to No. 20. On barnesandnoble.

com, the book ranked as high as No. 11. Both sites listed the pre-publication price as just over $17.

The book was also available on the official Rose Web site, A personalized book went for $99.95; an autographed copy, $79.95.

On, people were bidding as high as $63 for copies with only a promise Rose would sign it at a book signing.

To get the book

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County ordered 46 copies of Rose's book, enough for at least one copy at the main library downtown and each of the 41 branches. Some of the larger branches will have two copies. To reserve the book, go online to

Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood has ordered 5,500, double the number of the latest Harry Potter book. Rose will be there 6-8 p.m. Jan. 21. And he's expected to sign books Jan. 22 at Media Play in Western Hills Plaza from noon-2 p.m.

If Pete Rose had been in his old neighborhood of Riverside at lunch hour Wednesday, digging into a plate of turkey and dressing from the lunch buffet at Jim & Jack's Sports Bar and Restaurant, he would have gotten an earful.

In a dining room where the walls are decked with photos of Rose in his happiest times, he would have found people from his own neighborhood telling him he was wrong to bet on baseball, asking him why he didn't fess up sooner, begging him never to mess things up again.

Then, they would have told him how much they loved him just the same.

"He broke the number one rule in baseball. In baseball, there's nothing worse, it's like murder," said Scott Keeton. "But what a ballplayer. There was never anyone like him."

Keeton, like Rose, grew up in Riverside, a tough neighborhood of self-styled "river rats" who worked hard and played hard, too. He remembers Pete as a kid; he went to high school with Pete's brother, Dave.

Today, Rose's new book, in which he admits to betting on baseball, hits the bookstores, and Jim & Jack's is expected to be packed tonight with Rose fans watching their hero being interviewed on ABC.

Here in Riverside, as in most of Cincinnati west of the Mill Creek, the love for Pete Rose still runs strong, the forgiveness comes easily, even after one disappointment after another.

But while respect for Rose's talent on the field is widespread, there are many in Cincinnati - long-time Reds fans among them - who cannot forgive.

"A great baseball player, but a flawed, tarnished man," said 76-year-old Charles Nuckolls of Paddock Hills, who has followed the Reds since he was a 10-year-old growing up in Maysville, Ky.

"He broke the cardinal rule; he bet on the game,'' said Nuckolls. "He is a guy idolized by baseball fans of all ages, but to me, he is a fallen idol. I feel betrayed."

It is a hard thing for people not from Cincinnati to understand how the locals could ever forgive, but in Riverside, a stone's throw from Boldface Park, where a runt of a kid named Rose played Knothole and pick-up games from dawn to dusk, it is the most natural thing, a family matter.

"The west side's one big family, really," said Karen Mitchell, a bartender at Jim & Jack's and a Riversider, born and bred. "You can leave, but you always come back. Once a west sider, always a west sider."

It has been nearly 18 years since Rose last dropped into his characteristic crouch and stroked a base hit in a Major League baseball game. Most of the high school seniors who are playing ball for area high schools now were born the year Rose retired.

Wednesday afternoon, at The Batting Cage in Erlanger, high school players practicing their swings after school seemed more interested in the calluses they'll have to build up for next season than about the all-time Hit King's new book, My Prison Without Walls.

While they've talked with their fathers about the Big Red Machine and Rose's legacy in the Queen City, they're more focused on modern players and the current Reds.

"People should worry more about the reputation of the Reds than Pete Rose," said Jonathan Krull, a 15-year-old Dixie Heights High School student from Edgewood. "The older people care about the older stuff, but I care about now."

Don Ulmer, the head baseball coach at Western Hills High School where Rose played, says most of his players probably aren't focused on the book.

"It's ancient history," he said.

But, for Cincinnatians of a certain generation, Rose is and always will be the embodiment of how baseball is played in Cincinnati - full-speed-ahead, all the time.

"Baseball means a lot to people in Cincinnati, especially on the west side,'' said Glenn Sample, a Western Hills High School baseball star who coached the University of Cincinnati team for two decades.

"An awful lot of people look at Pete and see the hard work and determination it took for him to do what he did," Sample said. "He took very limited talent - he didn't have much except good hand-eye coordination - and just plain worked harder than anybody else. He proved that a guy who started from nothing could make it."

Jack Huston - the "Jack'' of Jim & Jack's Sports Bar - remembers that grit and determination; he grew up playing ball against the Rose boy who lived in the small frame house on Braddock Street, tucked away on a hillside overlooking River Road, the railroad tracks and the Ohio River.

He remembers him as "Little Pete" - "Big Pete" was Rose's father, Harry, a legendary, hard-headed amateur football and baseball player who is still remembered fondly by Riverside old-timers.

"Little Pete would play ball, anywhere, any time," said Huston. "I remember seeing him walk over to Boldface Park - he was just a little guy - and he'd stand there while the grown-up guys were playing a pick-up game, just begging them to let him play. 'You need another guy? You need another guy?' he'd say. He'd hound them until they let him in the game."

It is time, Huston said, "for baseball to let him in the Hall of Fame. Good lord, how could you have a Baseball Hall of Fame without one of the greatest players of all time in there? It makes no sense."

Kristina Goetz contributed to this report. E-mail

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