PETE ROSE won $2,500 that night at Maywood, the harness track just outside of Chicago. I was with him, talked to the same people, bet the same races, not the same horses. I won $25.
Rose cackled about that, all the way to the parking lot. There was a delay and Pete asked the valet parking guy if he knew who he was. The guy took a half-step back, his brow furrowed. "Yeah," he said, "The Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno."
Rose stopped cackling. Someone who didn't know Pete Rose? In a National League town? Who didn't know Pete Rose?
His brother Dave, you knew he had a brother named Dave, right, once said, "Nobody will ever know him completely. Can't know him."
Can't know him? Not because he is complex. Rose was your quintessential what-you-see-is-what-you-get major league ballplayer. Raw, earthy, happy to talk baseball anytime, anywhere. Could tell you who he was gonna face a week from Tuesday and what the guy threw behind in the count.
Loved the game. Got more hits than anyone who ever played the game. Thought that made him untouchable, thought the rules on the clubhouse door did not apply to him. Bet on baseball. On the team he managed, the Reds. Not every night, which makes it worse, not better.
Denied it for 15 years. And then confessed in a crummy book, which made it worse, not better, because the book was published around the time of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Cooperstown, which is where Rose would sign autographs and peddle memorabilia every summer.
Rose, the guy who got more hits than anyone who ever played the game, is not in the Hall of Fame. He got 41 write-in votes that first year he would have been eligible, from sportswriters ignoring the rules to vote for a guy who ignored the rules.
Kostya Kennedy has written a book about Rose and the Hall of Fame without mentioning the voting guideline about voting based on character, integrity and sportsmanship. Which seems strange, especially since Pete goes 0-for-3. One of the rare times you'll see 0-for-3 and Pete in the same sentence.
The people who run the Hall of Fame created a rule that banned anyone from appearing on the ballot who is on the "suspended" list. It has been nearly 25 years since Rose was suspended and told to "reconfigure" his life.
Kennedy's book is called "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma" and it asks the basic questions about crime and punishment, about character flaws, about Hall of Fame worthiness.
Halfway through the book, Kennedy writes about the pop artist, Andy Warhol, who had no idea who Rose was when he accepted the job of painting Pete's portrait.
"You'd get the same Pete Rose," Kennedy writes, "whether you were Ronald Reagan or a fan in the leftfield bleachers. Whether you were Marge Schott or a bookmaker; a trackhand or the commissioner of baseball; the third baseman on Pete's team or the third baseman on the other team. You could be a guy mooked up on steroids running bleep errands for Pete or a gentleman in his tennis whites up on Given Road. Dugout, green room, box seat, back alley. For better and for worse, everyone got the same Pete Rose."
Kennedy leads you through the minefield of controversy, encouraging you to make up your own mind. How much damage did Rose do to the integrity of the game if there's no evidence that he abused relief pitchers to cash a bet? What message did he send to bookies on the nights he did not bet on the Reds?
What about the year Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry were Hall of Fame inductees? Didn't Jenkins get caught with cocaine? Didn't Perry rely on applying illegal substances to the baseball before he threw it?
Who did more damage to the integrity of the game, the juicers like Mark McGwire, a serial substance abuser like Steve Howe, or a compulsive gambler like Rose?
John Dowd wrote the thick report that got Rose suspended indefinitely. How tough was gathering evidence? "Like shooting fish in a barrel," Dowd said.
Here's this tough, big-time lawyer, harboring regret. Dowd tells Kennedy he wished he'd had the chance to spend time privately with Rose, offer a deal. "I'll always believe that I could have turned him around," Dowd says. "That I could have made him see the error of his ways, and to see how to make it right . . . if he had done it, had owned up and accepted a punishment, well if you ask me, he could be managing the Cincinnati Reds still today."
Add John Dowd to the lengthy list of people who do not know Pete Rose.