On August 25, 2011, the New York Yankees made baseball history by becoming the first team to ever hit three grand slam home runs in one game. Many people that day would have heard that future Trivial Pursuit question on the radio or maybe by watching Sportscenter. On that day, I got that information from the person sitting next to me who received the news over his I-Phone. The person who shared the news of the Yankees accomplishment with the exuberance of a ten year old boy who had just gone to the see his first Major League Game. That person was the man who has more hits than anyone else in Baseball history, Pete Rose.
I had the honor of sitting next to Pete Rose during an autograph signing in Las Vegas. While sitting next to a legend, it became very apparent that multiple themes would occur throughout the afternoon. Many of the fans who came up to Rose to get an autograph and chat with the Hit King would tell him that he should be in the Hall of Fame. Upon each Cooperstown related statement Pete would simply shrug it off.
“If I had a dollar for everyone who told me he should be in the Hall, I could retire tomorrow” said Belinda Colon, the Sales Manager for Hit King INC, the company that sets up Pete’s appearances. It’s funny the amount of times you hear the “if I had a dollar” cliché in a day, but this is no exaggeration on her part. Had her wish been true she would have made a few bucks in just the two hours I was there.
Ironically, it is Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame that keeps his profile as high as it is. It can be guaranteed that somewhere in a bar right now there are patrons debating whether Baseball was right or wrong to exclude Rose. When the Hall of Fame annually elects their classes, Sports Radio will always go back to the Pete Rose debate.
“Pete is very much aware that his popularity is aided by the debate that surrounds him” explains Joie Casey, the President of Hit King Inc. This isn’t to say that this is what defines Rose. His list of Baseball records and accomplishments go well past the all time hit record. Batting Titles, World Series Rings, an MVP award, 17 All Star Appearances and his two Gold Gloves (most people forget that) would put Rose as the centerpiece of any Baseball convention virtually regardless of who else attended. He is painted as one of the greatest the game has ever had; a fact that will always put a spotlight in his direction. The controversy that surrounds him just adds a second one.
The men I saw who come up to Pete Rose during this autograph session range in age, income and appearance. A couple of them were tongue-tied, wanting to get their questions out instead spouting nonsense. Many shared their favorite memory of watching him play. Most however were happy just to talk about Baseball with Rose and ask him questions as to who he thinks will win the World Series (for the record he picked Boston and Philadelphia that day).
“Pete just loves to talk about Baseball” stated Casey. “He loves to talk to his fans, and really enjoys interacting with them. It also allows fans to meet an athlete of a caliber they wouldn’t normally see. It is hard to meet Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, but Pete is approachable and wants to talk Baseball. He loves it.”
In my conversation with Pete Rose, I got the opportunity to see how much he still loves Baseball, and was amazed at how candid he was in talking about the Hall of Fame, the players of his time, the players of today and the state of Baseball overall.
I don’t want to ask you about the Hall of Fame as I am sure you get asked that every day.
“I can answer that. I have no problem discussing it. To be perfectly honest with you, I am not in the Hall of Fame because I screwed up. I made mistakes. I am the one that messed up. It’s America, and usually you are given a second chance. Right now, I am waiting in limbo for that second chance. It may come. It may never come. When you mess up like I did, which people understand that I understand that now, you can’t worry about it. I can’t live the rest of my life worrying about the Hall of Fame. If I am lucky enough to go into the Hall of Fame, it will be the biggest thing that ever happens to me. It would be for anyone in his or her sport to make the Hall of Fame, but you can’t get so involved in it that you forget your own life. I know what kind of player I was. I know how I treated the game, how I treated the fans. Those were all good qualities I had. Would I like to be in the Hall of Fame? Certainly. All my teammates are in. All the guys I played against are in. You got to remember, I came up in 1963, and I have watched the Hall of Fame inductions every year since that time. Every guy who has gotten in from 1968 I played either against or with. Remember you have to wait five years. I played against Stan Musial in 1963 and watched him go in five years later.”
Currently there is a controversy surrounding Performance Enhancing Drugs and whether those players should be in the Hall. Do you have an opinion on this?
“I really don’t. I would probably have an opinion on drugs if one of those players got 4,257 (hits) and was linked to drugs. The right guy to ask would be Babe Ruth. Wouldn’t it be nice to ask Roger Maris this question? Wouldn’t it be nice if Hank Aaron would comment on it? Hank wants to stay away from that controversy. Hank knows what they (the PED users) did. But if I know someone cheated to get to my record than I would have some strong words to say about it. Steroids don’t help anyone to pursue my record. Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary that I was suspended. I broke the rules. The only problem I have with steroids is that the guys today broke the rules and don’t do a damn thing to them. They get a slap on the wrist. A couple of years ago A-Rod admitted that he took steroids up to 2003. Well of course he would say that, because 2004 is when the rules against steroids went into effect.”
So you would say that with McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, not in?
“Well, first of all Sosa and Bonds haven’t been on the ballot yet. Personally, I didn’t think that Mark McGwire was a Hall of Fame player. I know he got near 600 Home Runs, but you have to be able to run or play defense or throw and McGwire could never do that stuff. He just hit Home Runs. I don’t know how many votes he would have gotten if he hadn’t done steroids. I admire what he did as far as hitting the amount of Home Runs that he did and he helped save Baseball after the strike; him and Sammy. Now a guy you can really ask why about is Palmeiro. He has been on the ballot, a guy who had 500 Home Runs and 3,000 Hits. Nobody has done that without making the Hall.”
He is only sitting at 10 percent for the Hall right now.
“Right. So if they this to Palmeiro and McGwire, they will do the same to Clemens, Sosa and Bonds. Now here is Clemens who says he never took steroids, and no one has proved he has, will that mean that they will feel comfortable voting for Clemens?”
I don’t know, I am wondering that myself.
“Seriously, If you think about it, what is Baseball going to do five or ten years from now when the guy with the most Home Runs, the guy with most Cy Youngs, and the guy with the most Hits are not in the Hall of Fame? What does that do for the Hall of Fame?”
It doesn’t help the crowd for the induction ceremony.
“Right. You need the big names to draw the crowd. You won’t draw a huge crowd for Roberto Alomar or Bert Blyleven. I can guarantee you, but we may never find this out, that they would have shut down the Interstate if I got in! But none of this is the Hall of Fame’s fault. You also have to remember that Baseball has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame. All Baseball is does is supply the players. Jane Clark owns the Hall of Fame. She doesn’t say who goes in. Baseball creates a list of eligible players and writers vote. If 75% vote for a player they are in, and the Hall then does the rest. (Major League) Baseball really has nothing to do with it. The Commisioner shows up to read the plaque. That’s about it. They are separate entities. Don’t blame the Hall of Fame for me not being in or for Ron Santo not being in. Its Baseball that decides it. I don’t think that the Hall of Fame is against Ron Santo going in, but it is the writers who did not give him 75%.”
The Veterans Committee may still do something for Santo.
“Yeah they can. That’s the players group. That was kind of stingy for a long time too. A couple of guys never made it until they died.”
There has been a big push on sabremetrics. Supporters of this have championed the Hall of Fame cause of certain players, like Ron Santo, and against other players like Steve Garvey who had a very good Batting Average, but walked very little.
“You have a guy today that is in that category. Ichiro. He has a tremendous ten year career. I was looking at his statistics the other day. Here’s a guy that got 200 hits, ten straight years, though it doesn’t look like he will get it this year. He’s got 570 something at bats, with only 30 walks. A guy like that should not have a problem getting 200 hits. He is not hitting .270. So if he is hitting .300, he is going to get that 200 hits. You can’t be a leadoff hitter and have a .310 On Base Percentage. That is what he is at.”
“Yes. If you look at it throughout his career, he has 2,300 hits and only 400 walks. That’s it. How many more hits do you think I would have had if I didn’t have 1,600 walks? But players are the way they are. I was talking to a Japanese fan the other day and he asked me if Ichiro should change his stance and should Seattle drop him in the batting order. Change your stance? If you hit a certain way, you hit that way, regardless of where you hit in the batting order. You hit one way, the way that you were meant to hit. You can’t be a guy who gets 200 hits and then move to third or fourth and then get 30 Home Runs and 100 RBIs. You don’t change because of where you are hitting in the batting order.”
It is interesting that you bring up Ichiro, and Japan in general. You had mentioned that Baseball decides who goes into the Hall. Do you have an opinion on players who only competed in Japan, specifically Sadaharu Oh?
“That would be the same thing as Hank Aaron going in the Japanese Hall. I am not going to get into that where they say that Oh is the Home Run King because he had more in the Japanese League then Hank Aaron did here. That is what they are trying to do now, or not so much because he is tapering off now is Ichiro; that if you count his hits in Japan he will have as many as I got. I am not being a negative person toward the Japanese Baseball, but I have played over there. It is like a strong Triple A League. The highest paid player there makes six million dollars. If they were that good, they would all be coming here making more money, and that isn’t happening”
You are not the first person who has described the Japanese League as strong Triple A.
“The best Japanese team is not going to succeed in Major League Baseball. Forget about combining this or combining that. Sadaharu Oh was a great player. I don’t know what he would have done had he played here. I do know that if Hank Aaron would have played there he would have hit a ton of Home Runs. Korakeun Stadium where he played in Tokyo was a sandbox. It was made for a Home Run hitter. You have to stay away from that debate. Unfortunately, he didn’t play in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, I didn’t play in Japan. Ichiro won about four or five batting titles in Japan before he came here, so when he came here it wasn’t like he was a rookie player. He was already a veteran. There’s not too many guys who start off in the big leagues and dominate winning Batting Titles. I can’t remember the last time a rookie won a Batting Title.”
Would I be able to rattle off a few names, and get your opinion on Hall of Fame or not?
“The way I want to comment on that I would have nothing negative to say about Ron Santo making the Hall of Fame. I played against Ron and he was a fine baseball player. If you look at his stats today and compare him to a great Hall of Famer, Brooks Robinson, Ron’s are better.”
“He had a great career. I played with him in Montreal. A lot of Stolen Bases, a lot of Runs; I would not be unsatisfied if he made it.”
“Jim Kaat should make the Hall of Fame just based on his 15 or 16 straight Gold Gloves. That isn’t even talking about his 280 wins. Kaat was a great pitcher. He wasn’t a guy like Koufax, but he pitched a lot of innings and won a lot of games.”
“I can’t vote for Tommy John. I like him, a good guy but he doesn’t have the stats.”
“Absoultely. What a great hitter.”
“Great Player, but doesn’t have the stats.”
“He retired with the most saves. I would say in.”
Do you think that some are in the Hall who shouldn’t be?
Statistic wise, I would say yes. I don’t want to knock them, some of them are gone. When you talk about guys like Larry Bowa and Alan Trammell, well compare them to Pee Wee Reese or Phil Rizzuto. For many years when he did the Yankee games, they would say that Rizzuto was the Pee Wee Reese of the Yankees. I can guarantee you one thing. When I was a kid watching the Dodgers, or when I was watching the Yankees play, I wasn’t focused on Pee Wee Reese or Phil Rizzuto. I was focused on Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and Duke Snider. With New York it was Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. It wasn’t Reese or Rizzuto. There are some guys in the Hall of Fame that just don’t have Hall of Fame stats.
Basically some guys were the beneficiary of being on good teams?
“Yeah, for some. First off there aren’t a lot of altar boys in the Hall. The Hall of Fame should be about one thing; statistics. That’s what a Hall of Fame is. You don’t go the Hall of Fame because you are a great Christian guy and went to church services on Sunday. That’s great of you do that, but that’s not going to get you in the Hall of Fame. The sooner that people understand that, the better off everyone’s going to be. You hope that guys that go to the Hall of Fame are all great individuals and human beings, but unfortunately there are guys of all walks of life there. O.J. Simpson is in the Hall of Fame. Fergie Jenkins is in the Hall of Fame, he went to the jail for drugs. Orlando Cepeda. I am not singling those guys out. Jenkins and Cepeda are good guys, but people make mistakes. They are all in the Hall of Fame because they had Hall of Fame statistics.”
A few years ago you were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Was that something you ever expected?
“Vince McMahon is a PR man. I did a few appearances for him, did Wrestlemania. I am not a WWE Hall of Famer, but they put other guys in there that did appearances for them too. It was fun; a lot of fun. They didn’t do it to mock baseball. I am a wrestling fan. They are all really nice guys”
“Listen, I ever get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I know one thing I wouldn’t do.”
“I wouldn’t bad mouth anybody there, or anybody in the world of Baseball. That isn’t the time to do something like that. That’s the time to think about everyone who helped you get there. That is why so many inductions get teary eyed. Baseball will always be the Nation’s pass time, but Football is more popular to watch right now. Go on the ratings of the All Star Game, the ratings of the Playoffs, the World Series and compare them to Football. There is no comparison, and Baseball has to understand that. There is a lot of money to made for both Football and Baseball. Did you think that there would be no Football season this year?”
No, I didn’t.
“That’s right, because there is too much money to be made. They only lost the Hall of Fame Game, and I feel sorry for the people of Canton, Ohio who depend on that game every year. Football players didn’t worry about that. Ownership didn’t worry about that. Do you think that they would kick in money to the people of Canton?”
It is a shame, because Canton needs that revenue.
“So does Cooperstown.”
Going back to your playing days, just for my own curiosity was there ever a pitcher who you were ever afraid or hesitant to face?
“No. Well, there were pitchers you wouldn’t want to go against but not because I was afraid. Everybody would have certain pitchers that maybe you wouldn’t see a certain way. There wasn’t, nor there ever a pitcher that you fear. Sure, I would rather face certain guys over Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax. I wouldn’t want to face him five days a week, or Juan Marichal or Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton. If I was playing today, I wouldn’t want to face Verlander if I was in Detroit. I would hope not to see him for those three days. Same for Roy Halladay. It is always a tough chore to face guys like that. It is a scramble to get one hit. Same then, same now. You don’t want to face the great pitchers every day. We call them lions. You are going to get your hits off the lambs, because the lions will eat you up. I would hate to face Sabathia today. He’s good. Halladay’s good. Cliff Lee’s good. We used to have a road trip where we would go to Cincinnati to L.A. and face two Hall of Famers, then go to San Francisco and face two Hall of Famers then stop in St. Louis and face two Hall of Famers. Those were Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Perry, Gibson & Carlton. That’s a tough road trip.”
What are you up these days?
“This right here. Signing autographs right here at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas. I get to talk Baseball with the people, which is good. Life is good.
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