Every 17 years or so, Pete Rose likes to come to Sacramento.
The last time he made it to River City was to throw out the first pitch for the old Sacramento Steelheads at City College. The club known for its promotional dead-fish toss didn’t last a year here. But Rose is back, and he’ll be signing autographs at a memorabilia show on Saturday at the McClellan Conference Center.
“You can’t go to a town too often,” Rose said, of life in the memorabilia business.
Baseball’s all-time hits leader took something of a hit himself when he was banned from the game for betting on it while he played and managed for the Cincinnati Reds.
The plays Rose shouldn’t have made are what’s keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, even though he hit safely more often than any man in history – 4,256 times.
Rose’s most recent effort to overturn his lifetime ban from baseball failed last December in the imperial court of Commissioner Rob Manfred. But Rose didn’t sound terribly distraught.
“I’m the one who made the mistakes, and I’ll live with the mistakes, OK?” Rose said. “If I’m ever given a second chance, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. But life’s too short to worry about it. I’ve got too many other things going on.”
He does about 15 to 17 appearances a month like the one he’s doing at McClellan, and he has another noon-to-4:30 p.m. job hanging out with nostalgia freaks at the Art of Music at Mandalay Place, just off the Strip in Las Vegas.
“People who come to Las Vegas usually have money to spend, and they want to see a celebrity,” Rose said. “That’s why so many impersonators make a living in this town.”
Are there any Pete Rose impersonators?
“No,” Rose said. “I impersonate Pete Rose for 4 1/2 hours a day.”
It took some 15 years, but Rose in 2004 finally admitted to betting on his games. Since his 1989 banishment, baseball commissioners have said it is incumbent on Pete to “reconfigure” his life.
Rose said he is still trying to figure out what that means.
“Please, just tell me what you want me to do,” Rose said. “I’m coachable.”
He becomes less so if that reconfiguration means leaving Las Vegas.
Sin City, he said, “is where I make my living. I’ve got bills to pay, and I’ve got family to support. Everything else I did when I got in trouble, I no longer do.”
Everything, that is, except partaking in the vice that put him on ice.
“If I want to go home and watch something on TV and bet on it, who cares?” Rose said. “I’m 75 years old. That’s the way I enjoy my life.”
Thankfully, he only bets through legally approved means, rather than with the neighborhood bookmaker, which in some eyes makes such transactions evil.
The Hit King scratches his head when he sees games sponsored by fantasy industry stalwarts such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Professional sports authorities have differentiated fantasy plays from gambling, although the money you lose for picking a bad lineup hurts just as much as when you drop it in a dice game in the alley.
“Well, I don’t want to get into what baseball does, but I can tell you right now, 14 or 15 teams in baseball have casino gambling signs inside the ballpark,” Rose said.
There was something about Charlie Hustle during his playing days that used to get under people’s skin. One time in L.A., he retrieved a foul ball that popped out of the stands and tossed it to a guy as a souvenir – who then wound up and nailed Rose in the back with it. Another time at Wrigley Field in Chicago, somebody threw a crutch at him.
“When they booed me or did that to me, it inspired me to do better,” Rose said. “My philosophy was, ‘I’ll shut you up. How about another double? How about a triple with two guys on?’ ”
He’s playing nice with Manfred, though. He liked it when the commissioner permitted him to participate in last year’s All-Star Game activities as one of the Reds’ four most “impactful” players. Before the game, he and two of the others, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, had a friendly exchange with Manfred.
“I’m sitting there with Joe and Johnny, and Joe looked at him and said, ‘Hey Rob, blah blah blah,’ and I said, ‘Joe, did you just call him Rob?’ And Johnny looked at me and said, ‘Pete, we can call him Rob. You have to call him Mr. Manfred,’ and he just laughed – Mr. Manfred just laughed.”
Mr. Manfred has since granted Rose another allowance, to participate in next month’s 40th anniversary of the Reds’ 1976 World Series champs. The same June 24-26 weekend, the Reds are inducting Rose into their Hall of Fame and retiring his No. 14.
Is this reinstatement on the installment plan?
“Many years ago, a guy shot the pope,” Rose said. “He got a second chance.”
Mehmet Ali Agca has in fact been freed from prison. But it is highly unlikely that he will ever get his face on a plaque in Cooperstown, either, although he could probably make a buck if he moved to Las Vegas.