Too bad Rose's indiscretions weren't in racing, period. In most jurisdictions, he would have been given a perfunctory wrist slap. They'd have fined him $1,000, or maybe even stayed his sentence, and told him that tomorrow was another day. The Racing Hall of Fame includes a goodly number of miscreants who finagled races for part of their living.
Turfway Park might get its mail in Kentucky, but it is really a track in Greater Cincinnati, and that's where Rose would regularly plant himself when he was employed by the Reds. Long before Kuhn's reign, baseball attached no stigma to horse betting, as evidenced by John McGraw's fascination with the track. In the 1920s, while managing the old New York Giants, McGraw could sometimes be seen at the races with the noted comic/songwriter George Jessel.
One day, in the car that took them to the track, McGraw complained all the way out about his second baseman, Andy Cohen. While Cohen was popular with the large Jewish community, and a gate attraction that way, he was no substitute for the great Rogers Hornsby, who had been traded away after batting .361. "Cohen's killing us," McGraw told Jessel, "but I got nobody else."
At the track, McGraw began betting on horses ridden by Sammy Renick, one of the few Jewish jockeys around. Not one of Renick's mounts amounted to anything, and when McGraw left the track, he wasn't sure whom he disliked the most, the jockey or his butter-fingered infielder. On the ride into Manhattan, McGraw turned to Jessel and said: "You know what? They can't ride, either."
At Turfway one season, there was a rash of bad paper that the track had cashed. Checks were bouncing all the way to Louisville. Finally, toward the end of the meet, management was forced to discontinue cashing checks. Many well-heeled patrons moaned, claiming that they had been painted with too broad a brush, but Pete Rose didn't even blink. His checks, Turfway officials said, would be the exception to the rule.
I first spotted Rose at a track in the 1970s. During spring training, I was in Bradenton, Fla., with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a couple of times a year there would be an excursion over to St. Petersburg, where they had a dog track. The first two times, Rose was there. The next year, the same thing. The following year, more Rose sightings with every visit. There was only one conclusion to be drawn: Rose wasn't there just on the rare nights we were, he was there every night.
At another track in Florida, Rose and his wife sat at a table next to Joe Morgan and his wife. This wasn't Joe Morgan the Hall of Fame second baseman, but Morgan the man who briefly managed the Boston Red Sox. At one point the Roses left their table, to bet or potty or whatever. Morgan looked over and saw a skyscraper of $100 bills, neatly stacked and unattended. There were thousands and thousands of dollars there. Morgan gathered them up and waited. After a while, the Roses nonchalantly returned. Morgan handed Rose his wad and said: "You crazy (s.o.b.). Don't you know any better than to leave money like that on a table at a race track?"
My wife Pat, who's from Liverpool, knows little about baseball. Rounders is her game, Everton of Liverpool is her soccer team, she can quote the offsides rule and she knew before he came to the U.S. that David Beckham was over the hill. So at the Kentucky Derby one year, Pete Rose was pointed out to Pat, with the suggestion that she get his autograph. Rose can be courtly when he wants to, and this was one of those days. He took Pat's program and signed:
PETE ROSE 4,256
Pat looked at the program quizzically. She didn't know what the numbers meant. "That was my prison number," Rose said with a wink. Rose, who did time for tax evasion, had gotten a few more hits after his 4,192nd broke the record.
Whether he gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame may be academic, because the game has to put his name on the ballot first. When asked about my possible ballot with Rose, I used to say, "I haven't made up my mind," but now, after turning down Mark McGwire for steroids, I have to pass on Rose for a different reason. And that's a pity. Racetrackers usually deserve better than that.