Ask a non-Cincinnati native of a certain age what they know of the Queen City, and inevitably Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine will come up. Hey, probably better that than the Mapplethorpe controversy, WKRP in Cincinnati or Jerry Springer’s various post-mayoral hijinks.
Cincinnati is a baseball town — a fact never more evident than on Opening Day, which is something of a local holiday around here. And, despite his largely self-inflicted controversies and sometimes crass behavior, Rose remains a source of local pride — a gritty guy’s guy who got the most out of his limited physical abilities to become Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader and one of the fiercest competitors in any sport.
Speaking by phone from his home in Las Vegas, Rose remains an acute sports junkie, as interested in the current NCAA basketball tournament as he is his enduring enthusiasm for everything baseball. Asked about this year’s Cincinnati Reds, Rose launches into a detailed analysis of their chances (he thinks they’re the favorite to win the NL Central) before discussing the best way to use pitcher Aroldis Chapman (see sidebar on page 14) and making known his disgust with the way players are babied these days (“We had pitch counts for one reason and one reason only: if a guy was coming off surgery. You think I’m going to tell Mario Soto, ‘You’re only going to throw 100 pitches?’ He’d say, ‘Are you crazy?’ ”).
It then comes as something of a surprise that he’s far less incisive when it comes to the details of Pete Rose LIVE, which takes over U.S. Bank Arena on the evening of Opening Day.
“All I know is that I’m going there at 8 p.m., and I know I’m up on the stage, and I know I’m talking to baseball fans, and I know I’m talking about baseball,” Rose says with typical unvarnished honesty.
J.T. Stewart, the guy behind Sprocket Entertainment, which is producing the show, sheds a little more light on what to expect.
“I thought it would be cool to create a theatrical stage version of Pete’s life,” Stewart says.
“Dave Wilcox from Planet Nashville and I came up with the concept for the show. It is like going to the ballpark. It is like a play with only an outline and no script; like reality TV, only on stage. When the people come to the show it is a true theatrical production. We have big-screen media; the set is like a home plate and batters box. We have someone throw out the first pitch and someone sing the national anthem.”
Props and set design aside, if the show’s brief online teaser (www.aneveningwithpeterose.com) is any indication, expect a heavy dose of first-person Pete. Stewart says the show will tour 25 cities this summer, which means Rose will have ample opportunity to talk about the influence of his father, Harry “Pete” Rose, on his baseball career and beyond.
“There’s no way I can get up in front of a crowd and talk and bring up my baseball career and my childhood in Cincinnati without bringing up that fact that I’m a chip off the old block,” Rose says. “My dad was a better athlete than I was. He was great, but he just didn’t get the opportunity like I did. All the years I played in Cincinnati — though most of my dad’s buddies now are gone, most of the guys he played against — I was the second-best known Pete Rose in town. He was very, very aggressive, very prompt, never missed a day of work. I approached my occupation just like he did, and he worked 37 years at the Fifth Third Union Trust Company.”
That work ethic obviously rubbed off on the son — no one has played in as many MLB games as Pete Rose. And very few played the game with as much intensity.
“My dad told my little league coach one time, ‘I want my son to be a switch batter, and I’ll promise you one thing: He will never miss a practice, he will never miss a game.’ And because of that I never in my life went on a vacation when I was a kid. The first time I got in an airplane was to go to Geneva, N.Y., which was the day I signed with Reds. That was the first time I was ever on an airplane or left Cincinnati.”
After 40 minutes of baseball talk — from his days at Western Hills High School, which has produced an unheard of 11 big-leaguers, to his relationship with Marge Schott to his pride in Barry Larkin’s Hall of Fame induction — the conversation eventually moves to Rose’s most recent endeavor: an ill-fated reality show on TLC called Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs., which was shelved after just two weeks on the air.
“It was a lot of fun, to be honest with you,” Rose says. “Me and my fiancé were very surprised, to say the least, that they didn’t pick it up for a second season. TLC has so many shows that they’re always looking for another Honey Boo Boo; they’re looking for an overnight hit.”
It seems Rose has thought a lot about this reality show thing.
“When you do a reality show, it comes down to editing, and I wasn’t privy to the editing,” he says. “I didn’t have a chance to comment on it. I would have edited it in a different way. I would have put less baseball in there and more of my girlfriend and family and stuff like that, because TLC is a women’s network, and when you start talking about the Hall of Fame and being reinstated and stuff, that eludes most women viewers.”
Which brings us to a topic that has been at the forefront of Rose’s mind since he was forced out of baseball in 1989: the possibility of being “reinstated and stuff.”
“This is America — keep your nose clean, keep grinding and maybe you’ll get a second chance,” he says. “And if I don’t, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I’m the one that screwed up, so I can’t get mad at you, I can’t get mad at Bud (Selig), I can’t get mad at Bart (Giamatti), I can’t get mad at Johnny (Bench), I can’t get mad at Joe (Morgan), I can’t get mad at Mike (Schmidt). I’m the one that screwed up, so I’m the one who has to pay the consequences.”
PETE ROSE LIVE takes place 8 p.m. Monday at U.S. Bank Arena. Tickets run $25-$100; usbankarena.com.