Friday, January 23, 2004

A new chapter in same sad story

Reverent fans are Rose's latest enablers


Pete Rose's rolling prison without bars stopped in Western Hills on Thursday, after a one-night stand in Norwood. Today, the gulag shifts to Philadelphia. If Rose's clink were any more mobile, we'd have to equip it with a business class.

Rose signed an estimated 2,000 books in about three hours. That's 2,000 in 180 minutes. One every 5.4 seconds. The Hit King should thank the lord his name only has eight letters. What if he were Peter Edward Finkelstein? Think of the lost revenue.

"The book is a confession," said Rose's co-author, Rick Hill.

Hill asked me if I'd read it. I said no. I'm waiting for the movie.

Besides, I asked Hill, who's to say that 10 years down the road, Pete won't revise himself again?

We already had at least four Pete books before this one. A bookshelf is only so big.

Hill said he was sure that wouldn't happen. "I spent three and a half years with him," he said. "I think I know him pretty well." Then again, if all that time with Rose taught Hill one thing, it was to hedge his bets. "He's a little like the boy who cried wolf," Hill conceded. "Time will tell."

Ninety minutes down I-75, far from the West Side true believers gobbling up books, Tim Hill (no relation) sat in his Lexington office and remembered a Pete Rose not much different from the supposedly repentant Pete who was speed-signing on Thursday. "Get all the bad stuff out quickly," Hill recalls telling Rose. "People are very forgiving."

This was Sept. 8, 1989, in the office of Rose's former attorney, Reuven Katz. Two weeks after Rose was booted from baseball, his handlers were already working on mending Rose's image. Tim Hill was the public relations director for a local PR firm. He'd been assigned to meet with Rose, Katz and others in Pete's camp.

Hill cleared his throat. "I don't know if you bet on baseball, Pete," he said. "But if you did, now's a good time to come clean."

Hill remembers the response from Rose's lawyers. He remembers it verbatim, because he took good notes and because their response amazed him.

"If we did that," someone said, "we'd look like morons."

They might have had a heckuva book, though.

"It makes our job a lot easier if someone wants to make a clean break of it," Hill explained. The meeting lasted more than three hours. At one point, one of Rose's lawyers asked, "What if we came reasonably clean?"

"That's like saying you're reasonably pregnant," Hill answered.

"As the meeting went on, it was obvious they just wanted someone to trot Pete around to the talk shows," Hill said. "It was like dealing with a stone wall. Pete had an army of enablers."

This is the celebrity culture at its best. Gaining acceptance into a mega-celeb's world usually means telling him how great he is, even when he isn't. Pete Rose was never one to listen to you, if you weren't telling him what he wanted to hear. It occurs now that what might have helped Rose, 14 years ago, was a little less worship and a little more church.

Legions of fans lined up at the strip-center bookstore Thursday. Most had more than one book. Some brought red roses. A few lunatics camped overnight, so as to be first to the altar Thursday at 11, when Rose started signing.

They did him no favors. Neither have the people assigned to parent him across the country, or those who attribute Rose's shortcomings to "obsessive-compulsive oppositional defiant personality" as Rick Hill did Thursday.

Does that mean Pete lies a lot?

"He has a horrible time with vulnerability," Hill said. Ah. Pete has a tough time coming clean.

And so on.

In line was Dan McCarthy. He said he's an alcoholic who has been on the wagon for 13 years. McCarthy said some of his problem was his friends, who'd rather party with him than tell him he was destroying himself. "The people that didn't want to tell me about it didn't do me any favors," he said.

If only someone had put an end to Pete's party 14 years ago. If only someone had had the guts to be a real friend.


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