By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEW YORK - It's still debatable that Pete Rose has any genuine contrition about lying to everybody for 14 years about having gambled on baseball, but his book, My Prison Without Bars, gets more out of him on the human side than any other book or article has.
Though some would say Rose and author Rick Hill are just out to make a buck, Hill says the situation was far more complicated, with Rose stonewalling him for many months about opening up.
They were first introduced in 1986 in Los Angeles (the Roses' family home is there, and Rose and wife, Carol, have a daughter who is an actress and singer).
Hill has been a working actor, director and screenwriter in Hollywood for 20 years. He co-starred with Mike Connors in the ABC-TV series Today's FBI. Hill directed more than a dozen episodes of various hourlong dramas, including the TV series Born Free.
About six years ago, a mutual friend showed Rose a Hill script about former Major League Baseball player Jim Eisenreich's inner struggle with the painful disorder of Tourette's Syndrome. The script was the basis for the TV movie, The Longshot.
"Then, about five years ago, Pete said to me, 'Eisenreich had this problem, right? How do you write about people with problems?' " Hill recalls. "I knew that was the window. That was the opening. He was curious."
Rose and Hill had some common bonds. Hill grew up in Perrysburg (home of former big-league manager Jim Leyland), and played football at Georgia Tech. Hill was a running back; Rose's father, Harry, was a terrific running back in semipro ball in Cincinnati, and Pete was a running back at West High. Rose and Hill both love movies, and Hill used various movie themes to "connect" with Rose.
Hill says he was well aware that Rose had been denying since 1989 that he had bet on baseball and was banned from the sport that made him famous.
"I didn't want to make any assumptions," Hill says, "but I had read the Dowd Report and I had put two and two together. But, Pete had to be willing to discuss it. And, at that point, he wasn't 'there' yet."
As Rose and Hill got to know and trust each other, they began to discuss things.
Hill told Rose, "There are two lives to anybody. You have your physical life in baseball, and you've got your emotional life. No one's ever seen your emotional life, and I don't know what it is. You've got to be willing to tell it. The movie, Rocky, was a love story. The Coal Miner's Daughter just happens to be a singer, but that's not what the story is about. For us to do a successful book, you've got to be willing to talk about yourself as though you had never played baseball.' "
No wonder Rose and Hill didn't get anywhere the first six months they worked on the project. This was two years ago. Hill was trying to write Rose's story "on spec" - that is, on speculation of finding a publisher - and he and Rose didn't sign with Rodale Press until about a year ago.
In the interim, Rose told Hill, "I'm a ballplayer! I'm not an emotional person. I can't do this."
"He was shutting me out," Hill said. "Then, one day, it just came to me. I said to Pete, 'Who is your favorite actor?' He said, 'Mel Gibson.' I said, 'Perfect.' And I went out to the video store, and I got a DVD of Lethal Weapon. "
In the opening scene, the character played by Gibson is sitting on a couch, sobbing. He is holding a handgun, prepared to take his own life. He is looking at a photo of his wife, who has been killed.
Recalls Hill: "I said to Pete, 'That's your favorite actor. He's crying and he's suicidal. Nobody can be more depressed. Is he a (baby). Is he weak?' Pete said, 'No, he just lost his wife!' I said, 'OK. Now you know. Every audience member - every reader - wants to see that in you. If you will open up, we can write a book.' And that was the thing that clicked with Pete. ... He saw that it was OK to be vulnerable, that people wouldn't think he was a (baby)."
Many Rose fans, of course, don't want to see this human side of Rose. They don't want the Hit King to come down off his pedestal. They want him to be their symbolic hero: the most passionate player in baseball history, fearless, headfirst, no apologies, no prisoners. Keep the demons to yourself, Pete.
Hill says he knew from the start he couldn't write a good book about Rose if it was just a rehash of his baseball life. Hill knew they had to write about Rose's stay in prison (he served federal time for under-reporting his income), about his mother dying in 2000 and, yes, about Rose betting on baseball.
So, did Rose himself ever cry when telling any of his life stories to Hill?
"No, I cried," Hill says. "And I'll tell you why: Because it was tragic. It was sad that it took so long for him to talk about the gambling stuff (including) the baseball betting. In his recalling of it, I could see the sadness on his face, the guilt, the remorse.
"We tried to capture those events as Pete lived them in 1987, '88, '89. We didn't want to cheat the reader out of the emotion, if we did it as a retrospective: 'This happened, that happened, this happened.' We went through it as Pete lived it at the time."
Hill says his question to Rose was "'Why did you bet on baseball?' Not 'Did you bet on baseball?' I wanted the inner story, the inner life, of why this guy did what he did."
Hill says some people may consider Rose to be hiding behind his obsessive-compulsive personality that makes him so driven that he was blinded by the rules, but Hill believes the heart of Rose's story exists there. Yes, Rose should have known better, but he didn't want to know better. He loved the rush of gambling, just as he loved the rush of stepping on a major league field as a player, and nothing was going to get in the way of his need for thrill-seeking excitement.
Hill says Rose "confessed a lot more than he needed to confess" to satisfy the conditions of the publisher.
And Hill says Rose has heard or read every word of the 322-page book. Sometimes, celebrities deny saying something that is written in their autobiographies or authorized biographies, when it is controversial and the media grill them on it.
So far, Rose hasn't done that, nor will he find a justifiable "out" should he go there.
Says Hill: "I told Pete from the start, 'You're going to read every word that I write. If I write 10 pages, I'm going to bring it to you.' Pete doesn't like to read, so I read it to him. I said, 'You're going to listen, one way or another, so that we know for a fact we are capturing your point of view.' "
And how does Hill respond to those critics who say about Rose, "He's just trying to make a buck by confessing his story in a book"?
"I'll tell you exactly how I feel about that, because I was with Pete all along," Hill says. "From the very beginning, he said, 'Rick, I really have a responsibility to the fans. But I can't tell them all of this in one interview or one press conference. I can't do it in a one-shot article.' Pete wanted to tell his story, and he knew (most) people wanted to hear it."
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