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Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Updated: January 14, 8:31 AM ET
All of Rose's thorns on display

By Alysse Minkoff
Page 2 columnist

While the media firestorm continues to blaze over Pete Rose's admission that he gambled on baseball while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds, it's easy to forget there is an actual 288-page book at the center of this controversy.

Rose book
"Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars" has provided Rose supporters and detractors another opportunity to square off, yet again, about the Hit King's exile from baseball. Without taking a position in the great moral debate, let's take a look at the book simply on the merits of what's on the page.

Right away, one thing becomes as blazingly apparent as the bright red dust jacket: This is a damn good book and an enthralling read. Pete Rose is a compelling, tragic figure in this drama of his own making, and as a reader I never once felt the least bit sorry for him -- which is exactly the way he wants it.

Much has been written and will continue to be written about Rose's admission (finally) that he bet on baseball and violated rule 21(d). And it's about time. Actually, it's about 14 years past the time of his very first lie that he had never bet on baseball games to then commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Rose admits for the first time in print that he placed bets with bookies on Reds games (often four or five games a week) while we was managing the team in 1987 -- as well as the devastating series of life choices that got him there.

Rose's description of the not-so-clandestine meeting with baseball commissioner Bud Selig for Rose's first mea culpa, is nothing short of poignantly hilarious.

How I got the book
I just spent the last 16 hours with Pete Rose.

It all started when I called my friend Jeremy Katz, Rose's executive editor at Rodale, which published the book "Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars," to congratulate him on the media frenzy and SI cover surrounding the launch of the book. And, of course, to see if our friendship merited an advance copy.

It didn't: A strict embargo was in place that even our friendship couldn't/wouldn't circumnavigate.

To the best of his knowledge only four people had read the book. Two at ABC, and two at Sports Illustrated. The on-sale date is so strictly enforced, booksellers are not even allowed to open the cartons of the book until Thursday morning. The journalists who will be interviewing Rose on that day will receive their copies Wednesday night.

This was like putting a red flag in front of a bull -- a very pushy girl-bull who just about always gets what she wants. Mad cow indeed.

After five phone calls to local booksellers who reiterated that they will be sued for selling me an advance copy of the book, I am about to give up. And then I get the manager of "The Unnamed Because We Don't Want To Get Him/Them Into Trouble Bookstore." When I asked if he could take my credit-card number and charge me for the books on Thursday, he said certainly. Come on over. He even sold me two copies -- why the heck not? I instantly thought about calling Bob Costas, Lesley Visser, Peter Gammons and Bryant Gumbel to auction the other copy off for my retirement fund. But there is no I in Team, nor in ESPN. Kevin Jackson, one of my editors, was the lucky recipient of the second copy.

And then the fun really started.

With two bright red books in the Unnamed Bookstore's guilty-looking bag, I called my editor. After breaking a date with a darling yet clueless man who asked, "Pete, who? Is he related to Charlie Rose?" I had no one to share this very guilty pleasure with. I was going to get to spend the night with Pete Rose, a good three days before the rest of the planet would. I had him all to myself.

So I took Pete out for a drink. We had Martini's at Maple Drive Restaurant in Beverly Hills, and I suddenly became very, very popular. No fewer than 10 people asked me about the book. The bartender recognized me from the bathtub photos I did for my Page 2 column.

While desperately trying not to get their Kick-Ass Chili all over the dust-jacket, I became completely engrossed ...

What makes the book so compelling is its tone and emotional resonance. Clearly, Rose is not a man for whom introspection comes easily. He's the quintessential short-guy hardscrabble jock who came of age in a very different game of baseball -- Rose worked offseasons his first few years in the majors just to make ends meet.

With more than enough fast-paced narrative to appeal to the reader who knows nothing about baseball or Pete Rose (Think: "Seabiscuit"), the book is also chock full of enough statistically heavy "Inside Baseball" anecdotes to satisfy the hard-core seamhead.

From the moment Rose describes his first trip to the racetrack with his father and his cronies, the overwhelming intoxication of gambling is palpable. It makes you want to spend a day at the track with him. The joy and the passion and the vocabulary he uses to describe his knack (or lack thereof) for handicapping horses is only surpassed by his complete adoration for the game of baseball.

To read the thought processes behind what Charlie Hustle did in the batter's box or out on the field is every bit as fascinating and engrossing as the emotional train wreck that was to become his life.

Rose, an unapologetic man's man, refuses to turn his autobiography into a whiny "poor me" confessional. He is, at turns both defiant and deeply embarrassed by his own behavior, and it's often quite difficult to discern where the defiance ends and the embarrassment begins. Remorseful, and while he offers that he's glad that he got caught betting, he still swears he never bet against the Reds. (Have we heard this one before?) He still manages to take an unflinching look at some rather painful, life-changing experiences with his devastatingly self-deprecating wit.

As his fame and success on the field grew, so too did his restlessness and hunger for illegal betting and the intriguing supporting cast of unsavory characters that became a part of Rose's world. What started as an offseason diversion with football and basketball wagers, spirals downward into betting on baseball and his eventual exile from the game he loved. The bottom is an interesting place to look up from, especially when you're Pete Rose.

Rose was out of control, and an addict, and he owns up to it. And I can't help but wonder: If the clubhouse is indeed a sacred place, a family where problems are handled internally, and if Rose's gambling problems surfaced during a more therapy-oriented era (remember this was the Go-Go Eighties, not the Twelve-Step Confessional of the New Millennium), would Major League Baseball have intervened to attempt to save this self-destructive superstar from himself? And if they had, would it have worked?

There's a lot at stake in the writing of this book: Possible reinstatement in baseball, possible enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, not to mention a reported $1 million publishing deal. Today, Rose has to look into the faces of all four of his children and say, "I have lived a lie for almost 14 years." He must do the same with the fans who still adore him, despite what he put them -- and baseball -- through.

A brilliant raconteur, Rose makes all of the vivid characters come to life. From his trip to Vietnam with Joe DiMaggio, who was still grieving the death of Marilyn Monroe, to the five months spent in prison for tax evasion. From the names that we know: Garvey, Steinbrenner, Zimmer, Morgan, Bench, Anderson, to the bookies whose names Rose would probably like to forget. The hangers-on. The women. The hair dye. The defiance. The hustler who didn't think he'd ever get caught. And, of course, Charlie Hustle.

To many die-hard baseball fans nothing Pete Rose will ever do, or say will be enough. To others, Rose can do no wrong. Remember that moving three-minute ovation when Rose was named to the All-Century Team at the 1999 All-Star Game?

And while the meter is about to expire on Rose's chances for Cooperstown, he has precious little to lose by finally letting it all hang out there: His goal as a leadoff hitter always was to get on base. Well, with this book, he's on base -- but it's 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth.

The question remains, will Rose's admission of guilt be enough to get him reinstated in the game he both loved and disgraced?

Alysse Minkoff has written for Ladies Home Journal, Cigar Aficionado Magazine, and MSNBC. She can be reached at AGirlReporter@aol.com.