The man who drew Pete Rose
By Hal McCoy | Sunday, February 8, 2009, 09:39 PM
There is a new book out called “Drawing Pete,” a book stuffed with cartoons of Pete Rose drawn over the years by former Cincinnati Enquirer sports cartoonist Jerry Dowling. It’s a winner that anybody who loves (or despises) Pete Rose should grab.
Dowling asked me to write the foreward in the book and I’m going to share it with you here. Then go out and buy the book. It’s available mostly in Cincinnati and at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
By the way, Rose will be in Dayton Thursday morning speaking at the annual Boy Scouts Breakfast at the Mandalay Banquet Center.
The foreward I wrote:
When it comes to the cartoonist’s pen, Pete Rose is easy and Pete Rose is prefect. He is a walking caricature. With his jutting jaw, his constantly changing hairstyle and his forest fire lifestyle, he is the perfect foil. Rose once said, “To play baseball, I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit.” And that’s the way he walked through life, setting himself on fire wherever he want, on and off the baseball field.
Nobody capture the hairpin twists and turns of Rose’s life better than talented cartoonist Jerry Dowling. Rose may have been easy to draw - and Dowling does it better than anybody - but capturing his life and its constantly changing ascents and descents was something Dowling mastered.
From his rise as a brash rookie who ran hard to first base on walks, a deed that earned him the nickname “Charlie Hustle” from former New York Yankees pitcher White Ford, to his plunge into the abyss of gambling on baseball, Dowling recorded it all cleverly with pen and ink.
Pete Rose was a beat writer’s delight and I was fortuante to cover it all, from the majextic takeoff the the burning crash landing. Wanst a story? Walk over to Rose’s locker, click your Bic, open your spiral notebook and Rose would fill it full of pithy, un-cliched quotes and astoundingly funny anecdotes. His recall was unfathomable. He could go back fived years and recall any at-bat, the pitch he hit for a double, the count, the inning, the situation.
I was commissioned to do a coffee table picture book called “The Pete Rose Scrapbook” in the 1970s. Armed with about 500 photographs, I sat down to breakfast with Rose. The backs of the photographs contained cutlines describing each event depicted in the pictures. Rose didn’t need them. Each time he was shown a photo, he described what was happening, when it happened, why it happened and he furnished anectodal material. Fascinating stuff.
Off the field, he left you scratching your head. Once in Philadelphia, he walked through the hotel lobby arm-in-arm with his pregnant girl friend and she wore a T-shirt over her swollen stomach on which was printed, “Pete’s Baby.” When his first wife, Karolyn, filed for divorce, it was no distraction to Rose. That night in New York he went 5-for-5 against the Mets.
As a player he had no equal at the craft of collecting base hits. He was obsessive. He doesn’t like people to say it, but he got more out of his abilities than any player…ever. There wasn’t a team in baseball who wanted him and the only reason was given an opportunity was because the scout who signed him, Buddy Bloebaum, was his uncle and the Reds were doing Bloebaum a favor, never realizing they were doing themselves an unbelievable favor. When he reported to big-league camp, most of the players despised him because he was there to take the job of popular infielder Don Blasingame.
Rose and his magnetic personality won them over. Rose’s competititve spirit was always on the sleeve on his uniform and sometimes it bristled, especially during his 44-game hitting streak. He was angry aftrer Atlanta relief pitcher Gene Garber ended the streak by striking him out with a 3-and-2 slider.
“He pitched me like it was Game 7 0of the Word Series,” said Rose. Even Rose should have known that if he was Gene Garber, he, too, would have done anything imaginal to be the guy to stop the streak.
Rose helped win an All-Star game in Cincinnati and ruined a career. He scored a run by obliterating Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse, who was never the same after injuring his shoulder. The night before, Rose had entertained Fosse with dinner at Rose’s home.
Rose was so popular in Cincinnati that when he became a free agent and went on tour listening to offers, fans ridiculed the Reds for not coming up with the casth and accoutrements to keep him in Cincinnati. Rose was offered A Budweiser beer distributorship by the Busch family in St. Louis. He was offered a racehorse by Pittsburgh owner John Galbreath. The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t offer him the Liberty Bell or a lifetime supply of Philly cheesesteaks, but he took their offer and led the Phillies to a world Series title.
He wasn’t gone long. Eventually he came back to Cincinnati, amidst much fanfare and folderol, as the team’s player/manager. He first time at bat, fans rattled Riverfront Stadium on its concrete foundation by diving head-first into third base.
Everybody knew Rose loved to gamble on horses, dogs, jai-alai, football, basketball, boxing, hockey and, hell, if you could have bet on track and field he would have done that, too. He began hanging around unsavory characters, body builders whose bodies were built by steroids. And he began betting on baseball.
People ask if writers covering theam knew he was doing it. We knew he loved to gamble. He didn’t hide it. His regular haunts during spring training were Tampa Bay Downs, a horse track, and Derby Lane, a greyhound-racing emporium in St. Petersburg. He talked openly about betting on football and basketball. He never, of course, talked about betting on baseball. He knew the rule was clear, posted on every clubhouse wall, Rule 21(D). Betting on baseball and better on games in which you were involved brought on life-time banishment.
But he was Pete Rose. He was Mr. Baseball. The rule didn’t apply to him. He wouldn’t get caught and if he did he could talk his way out of it. He stiffed bookies. One Dayton bookmaker said, “If he wasn’t Pete Rose he would be in the bottom of the Ohio River with cement shoes.”
As manager he bet on games involving the Reds. He says he never bet against the Reds, only bet on them to win. But there were days when he didn’t bet and the same Dayton bookie said, “When Pete didn’t bet on the Reds that was like he was telling us that he didn’t think the Reds would win that day.”
In the spring of 1989, he was standing on a practice filed talking to me and another writer and said, out of the blue, ‘I have to go to New York for a couple of days. The commissioner wants to ask my opinion on a couple of things.” It was strange. Why would the commissioner request an audience form a major league manager at the start of spring training, ‘To ask his opinion on a couple of things.”
Couldn’t that be done over the telephone? That was his summons by the commissioner to answer questions about an upcoming Sports Illustrated story that Rose had bet on baseball.
Right then was the turning point of Rose’s life. I was time to come clean. Time to ask for help. As a forgiving nation, fans would have sided with Rose and his problems. Baseball probably would have suspended him for a short time, reaquired him to get hop and that would have been that.
Rose, though, took the low road, took a 15-year denial trip, denying, denying, denying and once saying, “I’m only guilty of being a bad picker of friends.” Even faced with the staggering evidence compiled in investigator John Dowd’s report, he denied, denied, denied.
The Dowd Report. completed in 1989 before Rose’s banishment from baseball, opened a lot of eyes, including mine. While I had no idea he was better on baseball, the Dowd Report revealed some things I had witnessed. Rose once called Detroit manager Sparky Anderson from his office before one game when I was seated there. He asked Sparky, “How’s your pitcher tonight? Does he look good?” When he finished the call, I asked Pete, “Detroit is in the American League so why do you care about tonight’s pitcher?”
His answer was, “You know me, Hal, I just want to know what’s going on all over baseball. After reading the Dowd Report, I surmised that rose was pumping Sparky for information before making a bet. Even when he admitted he bet on baseball, he did it all wrong.
Take a $1 million commission, he admitted in a book, “My Prison Without Bars,” that he did, indeed, bet on baseball, including games involving the Cincinnati Reds. Before the book’s release, he went on television and admitted his guilt, but continued to dodge the truth. He said he never made bets from the clubhouse, but one of his bookmakers, Ron Peters, said he not only made bets from the clubouse, but he made them from a dugout telephone.
Peters said Rose called him once and while they were on the phone Peters looked at his television during a pre-game show and saw Rose in the background, in the dugout, talking to Peters on the telephone, placing his bets.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Think about it - 4,256 hits. No player will do that again. If a players has 200 hits a year for 20 straight years, that’s 4,000 hits. And he still is 256 hits shy of Rose’s record.
There is also doubt in my mind that Rose never should be allowed back into the game. He violated the cardinal rule of baseball and lied about it for 15 years. It’s a Catch-22. He is not eligible for the Hall of Fame until he is re-instated from his banishment. It he is re-instated, he can come back to the game in some capacity and be eligible for the Veteran’s Committee to put him in the Hall of Fame. That won’t happen. The veterans are dead-set against him.
I may have to buy that book.