'I'm a lot better guy,' Pete Rose says

Updated: September 13, 2010, 12:59 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CINCINNATI -- Pete Rose stood on first base and tipped his cap to the screaming crowd -- a little bit like 25 years ago.

The banished hits king made a rare on-field appearance Saturday while the Cincinnati Reds commemorated the 25th anniversary of his record-setting hit No. 4,192 at Cinergy Field.

[+] EnlargePete Rose
AP Photo/Al BehrmanWearing a No. 14 jersey, Pete Rose was driven onto the field in a cart, walked over to first base and stomped on it Saturday.

A contrite Rose, who wasn't permitted to address fans during the stadium ceremony, later broke down during an event held for him in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

Wearing a No. 14 Rose jersey, he was driven onto the field at Great American Ball Park, walked over to first base and stomped on it with his booted right foot while a less-than-capacity crowd stood and cheered. Rose broke Ty Cobb's hits record with his single off San Diego's Eric Show on Sept. 11, 1985.

The 69-year-old Rose was greeted at first base by former teammates Tony Perez and Cesar Geronimo, along with a few other former Reds players. Owner Bob Castellini gave him a trophy commemorating the anniversary.

Rose didn't do interviews or speak directly to the crowd. Highlights of his pursuit of the historic hit, along with his recollections of it, were shown on the videoboard.

But he talked to an audience of about 500 at Hollywood Casino later Saturday night, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"I disrespected the game of baseball," Rose told a crowded ballroom. "When you do that, you disrespect your teammates, the game and your family."

Rose broke down as he spoke, according to the Enquirer, sobbing during a comedy roast that featured speeches from former Reds teammates Perez, Geronimo, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster and Tom Browning.

Rose recalled a 1989 conversation with Bart Giamatti in which the late baseball commissioner suggested he "reconfigure" his life.

"I didn't know what that meant," Rose said. "It took me years and years [to come to grips with it]. ... I'm a hard-headed guy. ... But I'm a lot better guy standing here tonight."

Rose apologized to his former teammates, including those who weren't in attendance -- Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Davey Concepcion, the Enquirer reported.

Rose offered an apology directly to Perez, seated at his right, looking straight at him.

"I've known Tony 50 years -- he's like a brother to me," Rose said.

It was, according to the Cincinnati newspaper, the first time Rose had publicly addressed his past transgressions in such a direct, emotional way.

"I guarantee everybody in this room, I will never disrespect you again," Rose said.

"You can talk about hits and runs and championship games. ... [But] I want my legacy to be [that of] somebody who came forward. If anybody has a problem here today, come forward. Don't hide it. ... You can run, but you can't hide. If I can help a young kid to know what I went through, maybe I can prevent them from going through the same thing.

"I got suspended 21 years ago. For 10-12 years, I kept it inside. ... That's changed. I'm a different guy. ... I love the fans, I love the game of baseball, and I love Cincinnati baseball."

"Nice, nice," said Perez afterward. "I was crying. He finally got it off his chest."

"Out of left field," said Browning, shaking his head. "I didn't see it coming."

Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits. He agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 for gambling on baseball. After denying for more than 14 years that he ever bet on baseball, Rose acknowledged in a 2004 autobiography that he bet on Reds games.

Fans chanted "Hall of Fame" before he left Great American Ball Park on a cart.

It was his first appearance on the field at the stadium since it opened in 2003, next to where Cinergy Field stood. A rose garden outside the ballpark commemorates the spot where his record hit landed.

Rose's lifetime ban prohibits him from doing anything more than a regular fan. He occasionally attends games in his hometown, sitting in the seats. He's barred from the Hall of Fame because of his ban.

Major League Baseball gave permission for Rose to go on the field for the 25th anniversary commemoration before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rose also was allowed to go onto the field in Atlanta before a World Series game in 1999 so he could be honored as part of baseball's All-Century team. During that event, reporter Jim Gray famously asked Rose about his gambling.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.