ROSE AND THE DIAMOND PARADISE
I had forgotten how manipulative and deceitful Pete Rose can be.
Rose was back on national television the other day attempting to convince everyone he never bet on the outcome of baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
Recently released from Marion Federal Prison, where he served time for income-tax evasion, Rose was making his first appearance on network television with Jane Pauley.
To her credit, Pauley asked Rose several times why anyone should now believe his renewed protestations of innocence.
In answer, Rose said a disturbing thing.
He placed the blame for the belief that he was guilty of gambling on the outcome of baseball games squarely on the shoulders of the late commissioner of major league baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Dallas Mavericks
TicketsFri., Oct. 14, 7:00pm
Like most television interviewers, Pauley didn't know enough about the subject under discussion--in this case the protracted war between Commissioner Giamatti and Rose--to press the matter to an effective conclusion.
Her lack of knowledge was a disservice to Giamatti, the former president of Yale University. He was a gifted scholar and a realist whose expertise in Renaissance literature taught him much about human nature. He would not be surprised by Rose's current strategy.
"I'm the one person who didn't come into baseball to make friends with the stars," he once told Roger Angell of the New Yorker. "I already knew a lot of guys that age."
Before taking the job as president of the National League, Giamatti had taught, first at Princeton, then at Yale for twenty years. He was Yale's president for the last eight years he was there.
The fascinating tale of the Rose-Giamatti conflict has now been told by James Reston Jr. in his superb book Collision at Home Plate, published by Edward Burlingame Books.
Reston traces the lives of Rose and Giamatti from childhood through the confrontation that led to Rose's banishment from the major leagues and Giamatti's death by heart attack at 51 years. At the time of his death, Giamatti was just three years older than Rose.
The wit and intelligence of Giamatti lit up baseball's skies during the too-brief period he served, first as president of the National League and then as baseball commissioner.
Following the parallel lives, the reader is drawn ever closer to Giamatti's fascinating character and repulsed by Rose, who turns by degrees into a totally insensitive lout.
Giamatti becomes the victim rather than the stern judge. The six-months' war with Rose takes its toll. Smoking four packs of cigarettes a day and eating rich meals at the 21 Club, he gains eighty pounds. Only days after suspending Rose at an August 23, 1989, press conference, he succumbs to a heart attack.
Giamatti didn't merely suspend Rose. Falling back on his expertise as a Renaissance scholar, he used phrases that implied a punishment much more Biblical and severe.
As Reston writes, "He [Rose] was ostracized, expelled, driven away. He was proclaimed an outcast, an exile, a pariah . . . . He could not participate in an oldtimer's game that was sanctioned by baseball, nor attend dinners that were approved officially, nor could he set foot in a team clubhouse or front office."
Rose's current strategy is clear. Giamatti's moral suasion and conscience have been removed from the scene. By denying his guilt often enough, he can convince baseball people to forget the past. This accomplished, Rose will sooner or later be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York's Hall of Fame. He deserves inclusion only if crass commercialism has become such a part of the game that it's determined a special corner of the Hall must be set aside for convicted felons.
Rose bases his defense on his insistence that he never bet on baseball and certainly never on the team he was managing, the Cincinnati Reds.
Rose conveniently forgets all the evidence that was uncovered by Giamatti's investigator, John Dowd. Some of the records of bets made by Rose are actually in his own handwriting.
From Paul Janszen, the man who served as Rose's runner with the bookies, Dowd learned enough about Rose's betting activities in two days of questioning to make an ironclad case against him.
Reston quotes Janszen:
"`He would call up different managers and ask how certain pitchers' arms were, and if they were going to play certain players that night. He would try to get as much information as he could about a game, so then he could go ahead and either bet the game or not bet the game. Once he called up Sparky Anderson to find out how Jack Morris' pitching arm was.'
"About betting on the Reds, however, Rose was principled. He never bet against them, and he only abstained once from betting for them. There was a time when a declining Mario Soto was slated to pitch and the gambling manager did not like the way his pitcher was throwing in his warm-up, so he did not bet on the game. In fact, Rose was downright mad at Soto; the pitcher had cost him money in the past. Soon enough, Soto was sent down to Triple-A ball."
Rose bet $2,000 a game and generally bet on seven games a night. There were times when he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a trio of bookies.
Reston writes: "But his principle about betting the Reds to win had its price, too. `If I had enough money riding on a game,' Rose told Janszen, as Janszen remembered it, `I'd think about throwing the game. There are a lot of easy ways to do it. Hell, Paul, I could pinch-hit a guy at the wrong time or hit and run at the wrong time.'"
We live in an age when the selling price of baseball memorabilia has reached stratospheric prices. The other day, one of Mickey Mantle's baseball shirts, which he last wore in 1968, was offered at a New York City auction for $60,000.
To understand how prices have jumped for former major league greats, you must realize that Mantle was paid only $7,500 for his rookie year with the New York Yankees and now is paid at least $30,000 to appear at a weekend baseball show where he autographs cards, baseballs, photographs and other memorabilia.
Rose has made more than his share of money in this area and continues to do so. On the night of September 11, 1985, when he broke Ty Cobb's record for the most hits in baseball history, Rose changed shirts three times during the game.
He wanted to sell the shirts and at first thought he might wear three or four on top of one another. He decided, however, that they would look too lumpy on his body all at once.
Rose kept one for himself and one for Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, and sold the third to a collector for $50,000. He sold the bat with which he stroked the hit, a black Mizuno, for $125,000.
In 1975, when Rose was awarded the Hickok belt, given to the outstanding professional athlete of the year, its worth was estimated at $30,000. He later sold it for $30,000, but only after taking it to a jeweler, who removed the precious stones and replaced them with fakes.
In 1985, he made $200,000 by appearing at card shows to sign his autograph. The money was always paid in cash in a brown bag to one of Rose's flunkies. When Rose got home he always placed the cash next to the Tupperware in the kitchen cabinet so he would have it ready to pay his bookies.
Rose used gofers to pick up his money in an effort to keep his winnings secret from the IRS. This happened on the night at Churchill Downs racetrack when Rose won as much as $95,000.
Rose's friends were not baseball people but a seedy crew of hangers-on from Gold's Gymnasium in Cincinnati. They were drug dealers and muscle-bound, steroid-ingesting half-wits who were into various scams as a way to make a living.
Rose did not win all his bets. It was estimated he was losing $30,000 a week in 1987 and took a fall of $34,000 on the Super Bowl game alone.
He was not only spending too much time gambling, but he was also chasing around openly with various women who were enamored of his fame as a baseball player.
Reston recounts this story from Rose's pal Janszen. It is clearly an incident that was typical of Rose's life at the time:
"As they started out of Cincinnati, Rose made an unscheduled stop at a house, and out came a young woman whom Janszen knew. The threesome proceeded happily to Cleveland and checked into adjoining rooms in a Holiday Inn. A half hour later, there was a bang on the door, and there stood Pete's [second] wife. Long-suffering and often cheated upon Carol Rose had finally put a sleuth on her husband's tail.
"Janszen described what took place next: `Pete is frantic. "Paul, would you please take the blame. If I put the girl in your room, we'll lock the middle door. I'll tell my wife you are with the girl."
"`So he lets Carol in, and they are fighting and arguing, you know. And she thinks there's two girls. He finally throws her out of the room. I said, Pete, why don't I take this girl to the airport? Just get in there with your wife . . . Carol was going crazy . . . Pete, I said, just have Carol come in the room, stay with her, and I'll take the blame.'
"`Hell with that,' he says. `I didn't drive 200 miles to sleep with my own wife!'
"`So his wife is in the hallway crying. She finally gets a room. I go down and find out what room she's checked into. I am down in her room. She is crying. I'm upset, trying to explain to her. I am with a girl that I'm not with. And Pete is up in the room, having sex with this girl.'"
There is also the story of Rose's first wife, Karolyn, who used to go to Reds' games wearing tight-fitting tee shirts with off-color slogans on them.
One day she was driving the family Rolls-Royce and spotted Rose's Porsche being driven down the street by another woman, who turned out to be a cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mrs. Rose turned her Rolls-Royce around and gave chase. Catching up with the Porsche at a stoplight, she jumped out and tapped on the window.
When the cheerleader rolled down the window, Mrs. Rose punched her in the nose.
None of this domestic furor seemed to faze Rose.
"Nuthin' bothers me," he said. "If I'm home in bed I sleep. If I'm at the ballpark I play baseball. Just whatever is goin' on, that's what I do."
On the day that his wife, Karolyn, filed for divorce, Rose got five hits in five times at bat.
"He's making so much money," Karolyn said, "that he thinks he doesn't have to play by the rules."
This was an echo of something Giamatti had once said of baseball players in general in an interview with the Vineyard Gazette on Martha's Vineyard in 1986:
"Athletes are sheltered and idolized like a special breed," Giamatti said. "You don't get to the top of your profession without having lived a life where a lot of people are taking care of you. It's an adulate, isolated life, and you're vulnerable. These people who have developed their physical gifts haven't necessarily developed the rest of themselves. They think they're immune."
It would be hard to find two men with such dissimilar characters as Rose and Giamatti.
Rose grew up in a working-class district of Cincinnati where his father was a renowned sandlot football player who kept at the game until he was 42 years old. Don Zimmer and Jim Frey of the Chicago Cubs had preceded him as local sandlot heroes.
Pete took five years to get through high school.
Giamatti was the son of an Italian immigrant. His father grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, earned a scholarship to Yale and went on to become a professor at Mount Holyoke College.
Young Giamatti was unathletic, loved literature and the theatre and was an outstanding student who was graduated from Andover and then Yale with honors.
But he, too, loved baseball as a fan and was fiercely proud of the Boston Red Sox. When people asked about his desire to become president of Yale, Giamatti replied:
"I never wanted to be president of anything but the American League."
Once, in 1974, Giamatti gave a lecture on television in which he described Niccolo Machiavelli's view of politics as art.
"Machiavelli was the poet of power who drew lessons about political life from the ancient historians he so loved," Giamatti said.
He wanted his audience to appreciate Machiavelli for more than his deviousness and treachery.
Giamatti described "poet of power" Machiavelli as "shrewd, warm, full of sly humor, with an extraordinary capacity for friendship, loyal to his patron and his employers, a fond father; scrupulously honest in his personal dealings and his financial affairs--he never profited from his official positions."
There was the assumption that Giamatti was somehow actually describing himself.
Throughout the rest of his life people asked him if he resembled Machiavelli.
"If I'm lucky," he always replied.
Giamatti will be remembered by those who crossed his path for his wit, intelligence, charm and sense of order.
Rose will be remembered for his exploits on the field. He did, after all, become one of the great players in the history of the game.
But he will not be remembered for his sensitivity. Several days after being banned from baseball, Rose gave an extended interview.
He was stretched out on his couch wearing a tee shirt that featured Rose in uniform in his early days. His right hand was grabbing his genitals and there was a cocky look on his face.
Giamatti didn't merely suspend Rose. He used phrases that implied a punishment much more Biblical and severe.
When Rose got home he always placed the cash next to the Tupperware in the kitchen cabinet so he would have it ready to pay his bookies.
Rose's friends were not baseball people but a seedy crew of hangers-on from Gold's Gymnasium in Cincinnati.
"I never wanted to be president of anything but the American League," Giamatti once revealed.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.