Thursday, January 8, 2004

Review: 'My Prison Without Bars'

Rose's book offers plenty of excuses

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For 322 pages in My Prison Without Bars, Pete Rose passes around plenty of blame for his precipitous fall from grace in the game he loved.

Within the pages of the much-ballyhooed book that went on sale at the stroke of midnight Thursday, he blames a chemical deficiency in his brain, an attention deficit disorder he says he inherited from his late mother, double-crossing baseball executives, a host of media sharks circling around his wounded person.

And just a bit of blame for himself.

"Over the years,'' Rose said in the book co-authored by writer Rick Hill, "I've heard a lot of talk about the 'integrity of the game' and how baseball could never let anyone break the gambling rules.

"Some folks have even implied that I am unworthy to set foot on a baseball field because of what I've done. I've never really understood that way of thinking. But I understand now.''

Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader and, for decades, the embodiment of Cincinnati Reds baseball, admits for the first time in public what he has denied for 14 1/2 years, ever since he was banned for life by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti - that, yes, he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980s, and that, yes, he even bet on his own team.

"My actions... call the integrity of the game into question,'' Rose writes. "And there's no excuse for that, but there's also no reason to punish me forever.''

But even while he makes an admission that he acknowledges is painful and embarrassing, Rose goes out of his way to make it clear he is not the only sinner in the world. He says that keeping him out of the game he loves and away from the Hall of Fame plaque he believes his 24-year major league career earned him is punishment that far outweighs the crime.

He is, he wrote, "sick and tired of the double standard.''

"I was tired of defending my lifestyle as if I was the only gambler on the planet. I never raised a hand to either of my wives or any of my children. Yet there are wife beaters in the Hall of Fame. I never drank, smoked, or used drugs. Yet there are addicts in the Hall of Fame.''

A new defense surfaces

A new twist in Rose's defense pops up in My Prison Without Bars that has never been heard before - his assertion that he suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Behavior, a condition that he says makes him the kind of fighter who goes toe-to-toe with Major League Baseball.

In a chapter of the book dealing Rose's childhood and his difficulties in school, he quotes a doctor, David E. Comings of the City of Hope National Medical Center:

"Pete's personality as described by his teachers is very telling: a bright kid but bored by classroom activities, sensitive to criticism or rejection, stubborn and strong-willed, will not comply with the rules, tests the limits with every adult, short-tempered, inattentive and aggressive - textbook ADHD, which is genetically linked to gambling in adults.''

Rose himself tells of his "risk-craving'' and "sensation-seeking'' behavior as a explanation for his compulsive gambling.

"I didn't realize it at the time, but I was pushing toward disaster,'' Rose writes of the time in the 1980s when his playing days were over and his betting began getting out of control. "A part of me was still looking for ways to recapture the high I got from winning batting titles and World Series championships. If I couldn't get the high from playing baseball, then I needed a substitute to keep from feeling depressed.''

A Cincinnati "river rat"

But My Prison Without Bars is not all excuses, not entirely a brief to be presented to the powers-that-be in Major League Baseball to convince them to let him back into the baseball family.

It is, like Pete Rose himself, a sometimes charming, often belligerent, and frequently funny memoir of the life of a Cincinnati "river rat'' born to play baseball.

He tells of growing up learning baseball from his dad, Harry, known as "Big Pete,'' one of the west side's legendary amateur football and baseball players. He also describes breaking into the big leagues with the Reds in 1963, when most of his teammates shunned him because of his hustle and determination. And, of course, he writes of the glory days of the Big Red Machine.

Rose recounts needling teammate Dave Concepcion one day for Concepcion's habit of making the sign of the cross before stepping into the batter's box.

"Hey Davey, I said, what happens if you make the sign of the cross and then the pitcher makes the sign of the cross, and then the catcher, and the infielders and the outfielders? Why would God take your side instead of the other players? I mean, with wars, worldwide hunger, and Siamese twins being born with two heads - does God really care who wins a baseball game?''

But throughout the book, he compares himself to other celebrities who have been caught in bad behavior - President Clinton, actress Winona Ryder, a host of other sports stars.

Charlie Hustle and Bill Clinton

A chapter entitled "Busted'' - detailing how Major League Baseball officials built the case against him - starts out with President Clinton's famous quote that backfired on him in the Monica Lewinsky affair: "I did not have sex with that woman - Ms. Lewinsky.''

"Now don't get me wrong; I'm not pointing my finger at Bill Clinton's finger-wagging performance on national television. I believed him when he proclaimed his innocence. Hell, I understood his dilemma. He did what every young man does when he gets caught with his hands in the cookie jar - he denied it! It's called 'plausible deniability,' or so I'm told.''

Rose argues in the book that he slipped into the habit of betting on baseball games almost unconsciously, seeing it not as the game he had played and loved, but as just another sport:

"Finally, the temptations got too strong and I began betting regularly on the sport I knew best - baseball. This wasn't a no-account playoff bet on a couple of teams I had nothing to do with. I was betting on baseball while I was managing a major league ball club in the regular season.

"But, in all honesty, I no longer recognized the difference between one sport and another. I just looked at the games and thought, 'I'll take a dime on the Lakers...a dime on the Sixers...a dime on the Buckeyes...and a dime on the Reds.

"I didn't even consider the consequences.''

But, in the end, Rose makes it clear why he has never poured his heart out about the loss of his livelihood, the banishment from a game he loves, the humiliation of going to prison for tax evasion; and why he is, even now, anything but contrite.

"I am a product of my generation, where men took stock in discipline and hard work - not wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

"I never talked one-on-one with any of my friends because I never felt the need. It's not that I didn't feel the emotions - I just never learned how to express them. I'm just not built that way.

"Sure, there's probably some real emotion buried somewhere deep inside. And I'd probably be a better person if I learned to express the emotions.

"But you're not reading this book to be my therapist, and, frankly, there are places in all of us we just don't want to go. That's one for me. Let's move on.''

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