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On the corner of Irrelevance and Oblivion sits Pete Rose. Baseball won't have him, but Las Vegas will, so he plops down in the far reaches of a designer mall, behind a rope, hawking the only thing he has left: himself.
He sits there every Thursday through Sunday, six hours at a time, signing balls, bats, photos, jerseys and jokes. For $199, he'll sign: "Hits-4,256, Steroids-0." For $299, he'll sign: "Sorry I Bet On Baseball." And if you ask politely, he might even write: "Sorry I Shot JFK" or "Sorry I Broke Up The Beatles."
Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez discuss their unique relationship on "Outside the Lines."
The mall is almost always bustling, and stragglers are herded toward Rose's booth -- inside the memorabilia store Field of Dreams -- by a pseudo-ringmaster: Come meet Pete Rose, riiiiiight here, riiiiiight now. Baseball's all-time hit leader is riiiiiight here, riiiiiight now. Come on in, we can set you up with Charlie Hustle. Step right up. Pete Rose! If it smacks of desperation, that's because it is. But the crowds are mesmerized by the old pro, by his bulbous nose, by his snakeskin boots, by the words "Hit King" embroidered on his shirt collar.
He talks to everyone. He'll ask the tourists from Chicago, "Cubbies or White Sox?" And he'll listen to all the stories they tell. One day, a 40-something Reds fan said, "Remember me, Pete? Back in '71, one of your games was rained out, and I had to walk home from Riverfront Stadium. And you stopped in your Corvette and gave me a ride."
Pete's priceless reaction was: "I did? Well, if I ain't got Alzheimer's, I'm pretty sure I got Sometimers."
Inevitably, the gushing will stop, and a bored Hit King will avert his eyes to a 19-inch TV on his table. He'll flip the channels, looking for a ballgame. Damn, nothing beats a ballgame. When he's home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., he watches East Coast games, Central time zone games, then West Coast games. Maybe he has got raging bets on all of them, but he says no. He says he just can't get enough, that he wishes he could get closer to baseball than a TV and a Sharpie, that he'd sell his soul to be able to manage today's ballplayers.
Over the years, some of these players have sauntered in to see him. Roger Clemens has stopped by to pose for pictures, as have Frank Thomas, Jim Edmonds, David Eckstein, Jimmy Rollins and Gary Matthews Jr.
Rollins asked, "Pete, what's the most hits you ever got in a season?"
"Um, 230," Rose said.
"How'd you do that?" Rollins asked.
"Saw ball, hit ball," Rose said....