Rose, Peter Edward ("Pete")

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ROSE, Peter Edward ("Pete")

(b. 14 April 1941 in Cincinnati, Ohio), All-Star professional baseball player, manager, and holder of the all-time hit record who was barred from Major League Baseball in 1989 for gambling on games.

Rose was one of four children born to Harry Francis Rose, a bank teller and bookkeeper who played semiprofessional football, and LaVerne Bloebaum Rose, a homemaker. Rose grew up on the streets of a working-class neighborhood in western Cincinnati, where he was attracted to sports. He was a star in the city's "Knothole" summer youth baseball program, and graduated from Western Hills High School, where he evinced little interest in academics but was a standout running back on the football team. His baseball talents were less evident, and only the strong intervention of an uncle who was a "bird dog" scout for the Cincinnati Reds got him a minor league contract.

As a minor league player Rose evidenced a special zeal for the game, earning him the nickname "Charlie Hustle," coined by Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. He became a student of the game to compensate for his lack of size and speed, and in 1963 was promoted to the major league team as the Reds' second baseman. Rose batted .273 and scored 101 runs in his rookie season. Reds fans were taken with his high energy level and full-bore approach to the game.

On 25 January 1964 Rose married Karolyn Englehardt; they had two children and divorced in 1980, with Rose's frequent infidelities serving as a major factor in the divorce. Rose married Carol Woliung in 1984; they also had two children.

As a local product, Rose became the favorite player of Cincinnati's fans. During the mid-1970s he was a key part of the "Big Red Machine," playing both left field and third base, always hitting for a good average, and playing with a ferocity few rivals could match. Rose was the classic "blue collar" player. "Pete doesn't have a lot of great physical abilities," Hall of Famer and former teammate Joe Morgan once said. "He made himself into a ballplayer." In the 1970 All-Star game he bowled over catcher Ray Fosse with a vicious body blow that stunned fans everywhere; such hell-for-leather tactics are seldom seen in an exhibition game. After the 1978 season he was traded to Philadelphia, where, as a first baseman, he helped lead the Phillies to a World Series championship in 1980. In 1984, as he was closing in on Ty Cobb's career hit record of 4,191, he returned to Cincinnati as a player-manager. He broke Cobb's record the following year, and an appreciative Cincinnati City Council renamed the street bordering Riverfront Stadium "Pete Rose Drive." He was unquestionably Cincinnati's most popular resident.

That popularity was soon to be tested. In 1986 baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth ordered a secret probe of allegations that Rose was betting on baseball games. Strict antigambling rules had been in place ever since the 1919 Black Sox scandals. Rose was an enthusiastic gambler. He had learned to bet on horses with his father during his youth, and bookies had plied their trade in the bars and pool halls of the neighborhood where he grew up. He had never hidden his love of playing the horses at River Downs, a track near Cincinnati, and he often mentioned to friends and acquaintances his winning bets on football and basketball games. In the spring of 1989 the special investigator submitted a 225-page report with 2,000 pages of supporting documents to Commissioner Ueberroth detailing Rose's gambling addiction. The report detailed Rose's many connections with suspected drug dealers and bookmakers, revealing a personal life that cast considerable doubt upon Rose's character and judgment. The report by former FBI agent John Dowd concluded that Rose had not only bet for years on baseball games, but even on games in which he was the manager. The report was turned over to the incoming baseball commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, who negotiated an agreement with Rose in which he agreed to be placed upon baseball's "permanently ineligible list" but would not admit to betting on games. He essentially pleaded nolo contendere. However, in his press conference Giamatti asserted, "I am confronted by the factual record.… On the basis of that, yes, I have concluded he bet on baseball."

Public sentiment, which had initially supported Rose, rapidly receded, even in his hometown of Cincinnati. The negative attitude of baseball's leadership toward Rose, who had violated organized baseball's most sacred rule, intensified when Giamatti died of a massive heart attack just ten days after announcing Rose's ban. Rose was thus faced with the fact that his dream of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame was in serious jeopardy. Throughout the ensuing years debate among sports fans as to whether or not Rose deserved to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame despite his gambling remained a hot topic. Although he has steadfastly denied betting on baseball, Rose was unable to explain why he had agreed to a lifetime ban. As James Reston, Jr., wrote, Rose "continued to deny the undeniable."

Rose's lifetime ban from baseball was not the greatest of his problems, however. For several years the Internal Revenue Service had been carefully monitoring his tax returns, and he was indicted for failure to report income over several years from the sale of memorabilia at sports shows, the sale of autographs, and even a six-figure "pic-six" horse race ticket he cashed at River Downs. He served five months in federal prison for income tax evasion. Although he denied the allegations, many suggested he had been forced to sell his memorabilia, such as gloves, World Series rings, uniforms, and even the bat with which he had broken Ty Cobb's record, to pay off bookies. It may be that Rose was not only a gambler, but a poor one at that.

In the years after his banishment Rose spent much of his time attempting to get his lifetime ban lifted. For a time he hosted a nationally syndicated sports radio talk show and made public appearances for a fee. Speculation remains that his ban may be lifted and that he could become eligible for admission to the Hall of Fame, assuming he publicly admits and apologizes for gambling on baseball.

For Rose's side of the story see Pete Rose and Roger Kahn, Pete Rose: My Story (1989). More reliable is James Reston, Jr., Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti (1991), and Michael Y. Sokolove, Hustle: The Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose (1990). Periodical articles of interest include "Truly a Baseball Immortal," Sports Illustrated (23 Sept. 1985); Jill Lieber and Craig Neff, "An Idol Banned," Sports Illustrated (4 Sept. 1989); and Jill Lieber and Steven Wulf, "Sad Ending for a Hero," Sports Illustrated (30 July 1990).

Richard O. Daviesm