Even Sportswriters Weary of the Pete Rose Act

He has only changed physically after 14 years -- he is wider of girth, his hair is thinning and cropped short. He is, after all, 62 years old, almost two decades removed from that September evening

He has only changed physically after 14 years — he is wider of girth, his hair is thinning and cropped short. He is, after all, 62 years old, almost two decades removed from that September evening in 1985 when he became Major League Baseball's all-time hits leader.

He is older but not wiser, at least not to many in the media who wrote about him, who covered his years as a player and manager and now say he has changed little in the years he has approached senior citizen status.

Pete Rose has been working hard this past month to reinvent himself. Repentant, apologetic. Remorseful? As best he can muster. Yes, he now admits in yet another autobiography (My Prison Without Bars) he did indeed bet on baseball back when his playing career ended in 1987. Banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on baseball — without admitting it — he now says he did, and he's wagering his book will be a ticket back into baseball.

Sportswriters aren't cooperating.

They have grown weary of him and wary of his tactics. Pete Rose might have written two books about Pete Rose — contradictory books, as it turns out — but former sportswriter Michael Sokolove wrote THE book on Pete Rose way back in 1990.

Sokolove, who lives in Bethesda, Md., is now a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine; he had the cover story Jan. 25. He spent a season covering the Reds and manager Pete Rose for The Cincinnati Post in 1987, left and then spent more than a year delving into the betting allegations but, more to the point, exploring Rose's character and personality. His conclusions were startling — not just the Rose who bet, but Rose the ballplayer and person.

In Sokolove's account (Hustle: The Myth, Life, and Lies of Pete Rose, 1990, Simon and Schuster), Rose was childlike, self-centered, a narcissist who cared for the game, yes, but little for his teammates. He was "the author of his own myths," "an outsider within the game itself." He was a player who was obsessed with stats, a player "who played for himself." Indeed, had he not been Reds manager by the end of his career, no one else would've played him just to break the Ty Cobb hits record.

"By the mid-1980s," Sokolove wrote, "Pete Rose was a lonely, pathetic man." He had, by the end of his career, few friends in baseball. He drifted away from people he should have stayed close to and chose of his own free will a coterie of friends on the margins.

"The cocaine dealers, gamblers, and fast-buck memorabilia hucksters were his real friends, to the extent he had friends at all," Sokolove wrote.

More than a decade later, he hasn't softened on his assessment.

"He still doesn't get it," Sokolove says by phone from his home. "It's sad to see someone who may have had a chance to save himself just dig himself into a bigger hole. When Pete says he's not really not good at saying he's sorry, well, it's because Pete's not really sorry. Pete is only sorry for what happened to him."

The assessment of Sokolove and local sportswriters and what they've written in the past month is counter-intuitive. For the most part, over three decades, Rose always had time for the sports media. He loved talking baseball, loved talking about himself. He made time for reporters.

When major leaguers grew salary-bloated and consequently petulant, testy and inaccessible, there was always Pete Rose. If a reporter needed a story for tomorrow's newspaper, go talk to Rose. Sure, he was crass, earthy, but eminently quotable and eminently approachable.

So what has happened? Why have the sports media — who made Rose the figure he is and who, in turn, helped them with daily deadlines — turned on him? Rose thought all he had to do was make the admission and all would be forgiven, by Major League Baseball most of all and by the sportswriters who will initially hold his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

"I think two things are happening," Sokolove says. "One is he's just coming off so badly and those who wanted to defend him just can't find a way, and that includes the media. The other factor is the timing — the book came out and overshadowed in the induction of Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor into the Hall of Fame. That's huge for a lot of people."

They point out that Rose doesn't make a confession without the opportunity to make some money from it in the form of what has become a best-selling book. Local sportswriters such as Paul Daugherty and John Erardi in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Lonnie Wheeler in The Post have pointed out he's taken his lumps nationally and locally. Daugherty hasn't been kind, and Erardi pointed out, "The reviews of his contrition and remorse — or more correctly, his lack thereof — are pouring in, and almost none have been favorable."

Yes, the local media was tough on Rose, says Sokolove.

"I don't know any other way there was to be on Pete," he says. "I never understood people who were anything but hard on him. He denied something that was obviously true, and it was incredibly selfish."

The man who grew up in Cincinnati, played the lion's share of his career here and broke the hits record here has found an unsympathetic ear here among the media.

Will he spend his last days at a memorabilia show? Dreaming, just dreaming, of a shot in baseball.

Lew Moores worked 30 years as a reporter for The Cincinnati Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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