It’s been 26 years since Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hallowed record for most career hits in Major League Baseball. And it’s been more than 22 years since Rose set foot on an MLB field in an official capacity, having been permanently banned in August 1989 for betting on baseball.
Despite a full confession, countless mea culpas and several attempts at reinstatement, Rose remains persona non grata in baseball, a punishment he estimates has cost him “conservatively, $60 million,” not to mention a spot in the Hall of Fame.
With no baseball job to turn to, Rose has set up shop in Las Vegas for the last several years, selling autographs and memorabilia at malls on the Strip. Five months ago, “Charlie Hustle” became a full-time resident, buying a condo not far from The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, where he appears at the Art of Music from about noon to 5 p.m. as often as 27 days each month.
Now 70, Rose, who finished his career with 4,256 hits, makes no apologies for his self-centered business venture—especially since he claims he’s not only selling his wares but also the game he still loves. “You might think I’m crazy, but I think I’m the best ambassador baseball has.”
What’s a Pete Rose autograph signing like?
I don’t have a line very often because I’m there 4½ hours. It’s not like I’m at a card show in St. Louis and you’re there two hours and you have to sign as many as you can. What we try to do is make every autograph an experience, talk to them, make it fun for them. You’d be surprised how many people will buy something, leave and come back and say, “I just called so-and-so, and they want an autograph.” All I can say is thank God for cell phones. They help my business.
What’s your reaction to those who criticize you for selling your autograph and memorabilia?
It’s no different than guys who do card shows. Listen, people can come up to me and shake my hand and take my picture; they don’t have to buy an autograph.
One thing I’d be willing to bet you, though, is that ... I’ve signed more free autographs than any player you know. That’s a fact. So if you’re mad at me for selling my autograph, don’t buy it. The only difference between coming to see me or going to see Terry Fator is Terry Fator isn’t going to come out and sign an autograph or shake your hand. I’m going to. And they pay good bucks to see him.
When was your first visit to Las Vegas?
You know, I guess that’s why I never got to meet Elvis or guys like that, because I was never a casino gambler, and all through my baseball career I never came to Vegas. I started coming here when I got my radio show in Florida. Once a month I would come out because my syndicator was located in Vegas, and I did my show from the MGM Grand. That was in the 1990s, and that was my first association with Vegas. But it’s a great town, I like it. The restaurants, the shows, the shopping—I’ve got a nice place on the 14th floor across from the Strip.
How do you explain the success you had in your career?
Some people have enthusiasm, some don’t. Some people have desire, some don’t. Some people have work ethic, and others don’t. I always hoped other people didn’t when I played against them; it made my job easier. I mean, I’d rather be playing against some of these teams today; they’d make your job real easy. They don’t have fundamentals, they don’t play hard. As a baseball player, as an athlete, you go to the ballpark, put your uniform on, be on time, go out and bust your ass for three hours, take [the uniform] off and come back the next day. What’s so hard about that? I don’t understand it, because the one thing you can’t do as a signer, which I’d guess you’d call me, or an athlete, is you can’t cheat the people, you can’t cheat the customers.
What pitcher gave you the most problems in your career?
[Sandy] Koufax. When I faced Koufax the first time, I was a rookie. And the first two years I faced him, I think he struck out 300 each year. So I wasn’t the only one he was getting out. I think I was 9-for-57 off him or something like that. Now, if you ask me who the best pitcher I ever faced was, I’d tell you [Juan] Marichal, but I hit .340 off of him. Who was the best competitor I ever faced? [Bob] Gibson, and I hit .307 off of him. But as far as a pitcher having five or six great pitches, Marichal was the best, but I got hits off him. But Koufax got me out, him and Randy Jones. I couldn’t hit Randy Jones at this table here. But those guys I just mentioned, with the exception of Randy, they’re all in the Hall of Fame.
Here’s an interesting statistic: I had a career average of .303, and some would say that’s low. But when I look at career averages, I look at Willie Mays, and it’s .305, Hank Aaron’s .307, and they faced virtually the same pitchers I did. So I hit .303 for my career, and I faced 19 Hall of Famers, and I think if I’m not mistaken, I got 478 hits and hit .302 off the Hall of Famers. So I hit one percentage point less off the Hall of Famers than I did the rest of the league.
If you could face any active pitcher today in your prime, who would it be, what would be your approach and what would be the result?
Well, I wouldn’t change my approach for any pitcher pitching today or who pitched when I played. I had one approach when I hit. So whether it’s Koufax or [Justin] Verlander or [CC] Sabathia or Gibson, you go up there and hit the way you’re supposed to hit. You know the pitcher, you know what he throws. It’s just a matter of who’s going to win the war that day? … As for who I’d want to face, Verlander is great. Jered Weaver’s got good stuff, everybody likes him. Everybody likes Sabathia, [Roy] Halladay, Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee I would least like to hit off of because I think one of the best pitches a pitcher can develop is a changeup, and he’s got a great changeup. And you can’t look for a changeup; you have to look for a fastball.
Derek Jeter is the only active member of the 3,000-hit club. What odds do you give him of breaking your record?
None, because he’s not going to play long enough. Plus he’s resting again today. And if you’re going to break my record, you can’t take days off. You can’t. You need every goddamn at-bat you can get. But if someone ever did beat it, that’s the kind of guy you’d want. People ask me, “Who plays like you today?” Well, first of all, a lot of guys do. But the guy who does what I did, with the exception of playing multiple positions, is Jeter. He comes to the ballpark every day, he plays hard, he wins, he gets hits and he scores runs. That’s what I did.
But I think it’s safe to say, and I hope I’m wrong, that I’m going to die the Hit King. … There have been 28 guys who have gotten 3,000 hits. Only two have gotten 4,000.
You were involved in the most famous home-plate collision in baseball history, and there was one this year that resulted in a season-ending injury for Giants star catcher Buster Posey. Afterward, some called for a ban on such collisions to protect catchers. What did you think about that?
If you watched it, the collision had nothing to do with Buster getting hurt. His leg got pinned underneath his other leg. He didn’t get hit in the chin or the chest; he didn’t get knocked out. The whole key to that situation is, “Does the catcher have the ball?” If you’re reaching out for that ball, don’t be blocking that fucking plate because you’re going to get knocked on your ass. The rule says you can’t block the plate without the ball!
ESPN, I get a kick out of these guys, they want to get on a crusade to change the rules. It’s bad enough you can’t pitch inside now. They watch you breaking up a double play. I mean, Jesus Christ, I think baseball was pretty successful when Babe Ruth played or when the 1869 Reds played. Let ’em play the fucking game the way it’s supposed to be played. Quit trying to change the rules. Drives me crazy.
What do you make of Las Vegas baseball prodigy Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals?
Great prospect. He was kind of a man among boys around here. Then when he got to A-ball, he dominated there. Then he got to Double-A and didn’t do as well and got hurt. But he’s a gamer. He can hit. He’s got good tools. I don’t know him personally, but I hope he does well. It’s good for baseball, it’s good for the city, it’s good for Washington, it’s good for everybody. And it doesn’t matter to me that he hits a home run and looks at the pitcher. Fuck the pitcher. If they don’t like it, knock him on his ass the next time. And if he comes out and gets you because he’s a big guy, then pay the consequences. I don’t worry about guys who do things on the field that aren’t up to standard, that break the code. Fuck the code. You think I’m going to knock the catcher on his ass and help him up? These guys today are too nice.
Who’s the best manager in baseball today?
There are a lot of good managers. You know what makes a good manager? Good players. Joe Girardi doesn’t know any more about baseball than Tony La Russa, and La Russa doesn’t know any more about baseball than Terry Francona or Charlie Manuel. … Joe Torre is a perfect example of what players can do for you. Joe didn’t do shit [managing] St. Louis or the Mets or Atlanta. He went to the Yankees and hooked up with all those good players and he won. It’s like if you’re the best jockey in the world and you’re on a horseshit horse, you’re not going to win.
Major League Baseball has a number of franchises that are struggling financially. If you were an owner of one of those clubs, would you try to move it to Las Vegas?
Only if they had a retractable dome. You’ve got to have that. But you’ve got 1.5 million [residents] here now, so I think people would support it. I don’t know why baseball would be hesitant about it. They bring teams here for spring training … and Las Vegas is bigger than Cincinnati, it’s bigger than St. Louis and Kansas City. You know you’d [draw] more fans than Tampa Bay does.
What’s your favorite restaurant in town?
I like Michael’s at South Point, Mr. [Michael] Gaughan’s place. The Dover sole, man, it’s the best.
Who’s going to win the World Series and why?
Philadelphia is, because they’ve got the best overall team, but they have to hit. They can’t do the same thing this year in the playoffs that they did last year against San Francisco. But that question could be better answered when you get about a week away from the end of the season because you want to see who’s playing well. A lot of these guys think they can just go into the postseason and turn the switch. It doesn’t work that way.
If you were made baseball commissioner for a day, what’s the first thing you’d do?
There are a couple of things I’d do. First, I’d reinstate me. Second, I would always have the [designated hitter] in the All-Star game. The third thing I’d do is make it mandatory for [only] the home team in the All-Star game to have a representative; not every team has to be represented. Other sports don’t do it, so why does baseball do it?
If commissioner Bud Selig called you today and said you could have your choice—be reinstated to baseball without restrictions or be immediately eligible for the Hall of Fame—what would you pick?
Easy answer: reinstatement. Because I can’t help baseball being in the Hall of Fame. … But I’d be willing to make a bet with you that if I ever get lucky enough to get into the Hall of Fame, that’d be the biggest reception anybody’s ever gotten up there. I could be wrong about that, but from everybody I’ve talked to in Cooperstown, they think that. … I’m sure a lot of people in the press would go there thinking I’m going to bad-mouth somebody in my speech. Why would I do that? I fucked up, I made a mistake. So I can’t be bitter about anybody. I’m the one who fucked up. So why am I going to get mad at people?
What’s more damaging to baseball, gambling or performance-enhancing drugs?
I’m the wrong guy to talk to about steroids. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to Babe Ruth’s family or Roger Maris’ family or Roger Maris? Hank Aaron won’t talk about it. They won’t talk about losing their records. I would be on a soapbox if someone broke 4,256 and was linked to steroids. I’d have some really good things to say. But [the steroid era] didn’t affect me. Steroids helped me, if you want to know the truth, because all guys thought about was hitting the long ball.
Why did you sign the agreement in 1989 that banned you from baseball for life?
When I signed it, I’m not saying I was misled; I was in a tough situation. But the agreement said I could apply for reinstatement after a year. And the last thing I said in my press conference when I got suspended was, “I can’t wait for my little girl’s first birthday so I can apply for reinstatement,” because she was born two days before I was suspended. So I looked at it as a year suspension. And I really believe that if [former MLB commissioner] Bart Giamatti would’ve lived, he would’ve given me a second chance. The worst thing that ever happened to me was him dying [eight] days later. If I would’ve known he was going to die, I never would’ve signed that thing. Because I got along with Bart.
I understood what I did, I’ve come to grips with it, I was wrong. Everybody knows I was wrong, and I wish I could change it, but I can’t. All I can do is continue to be a baseball salesmen, and I’m sitting here every day talking about baseball, talking positive about the game.
Are you still hopeful you’ll be reinstated in your lifetime?
I don’t know. It’s out of my control. … I had a couple of discussions with [commissioner] Bud Selig, and I’ll be honest with you: He was a real nice guy. And the last time I met with him, I thought he was going to reinstate me, but something happened, and he changed his mind.
I think these commissioners, they worry about their legacy. But I don’t know what the worry would be about your legacy in my position, because it’s not like I haven’t been penalized. I’ve been out of the game I love for 22 years, and it probably cost me, conservatively, $60 million. So I’ve been punished pretty good. And I was wrong, but I didn’t do anything to alter the records of baseball. I didn’t cheat the game. Betting on my own team to win didn’t affect you, didn’t affect your dad, didn’t affect your grandpa. What I did was wrong, but it affected me and my family. I didn’t hurt anybody.