Pete Rose book tour hits Philadelphia

Pete Rose was not in unknown environs. In fact, Rose has spent the better part of the past decade in similar situations. The line ’em up and sign drill that has become the main source of income for many former athletes who missed out on sports’ big money has become as ubiquitous as the jocks themselves.

  Pete Rose signs a book for a young reader at the Barnes & Noble near Rittenhouse Square on Friday. Rose, who won a World Series title with the Phillies in 1980, was in town to promote his book, which is currently No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction. (AP)

So there was Pete Rose on Friday afternoon, signing away with his cache of black sharpies at his side. This time, however, old Charlie Hustle wasn’t doing a sign-for-pay gig that has sustained him since his banishment from baseball. No, this time, the Hustler was in a Barnes & Noble across the street from Rittenhouse Square, where he added his signature to copies of his latest “As told to” epic called, cleverly, Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars.

And once again, Pete Rose’s presence had nothing to do with baseball.

Dressed casually in a Cincinnati Reds colored Nike dri-fit top, blue sweat pants, gaudy Nike cross-trainers all accessorized by a large gold watch, Rose signed his latest book, and his latest book only on Friday. Patrons who braved the sub-zero wind chills to spend the $18.69 (30 percent discount included) got to spend 25 minutes in line to be shepherded out of the signing area and into the fiction section of the store after Rose scrawled his distinctive autograph on the book. Oh sure, occasionally there would be an acknowledgment, a “thank you for coming,” and some sports-related chitchat.

Though his book admits a penchant for gambling on football, no one asked Rose which way he was leaning for next week’s Super Bowl. No one asked him what he thought of the revamped Phillies chances in 2004, either, but Rose offered takes on the Eagles (“Three years in a row… “) and his hometown Bengals’ future with top draft pick Carson Palmer (“They gave the kid a $12 million bonus and he didn’t take one snap… “).

But that’s about all Rose had to say on Friday. Between chastising autograph seekers for asking for multiple signatures on the five or six books they had purchased, including one elderly woman who was sent on her way with a, “you’re cute. Now get outta here,” or for asking for a personalized signature (“Everyone has a son or daughter they want to give this to.”), Rose was an efficient signer. Occasionally, he would stop so that he could get a quick swig from a beverage provided by the store’s cappuccino bar, but rarely did Rose look away from the task at hand.

Just like during his playing days, Rose was all business. Which, sadly, is what Friday’s signing was all about.

Sure, no one can begrudge Rose for writing a book to make some money. After all, he never masked its release as an unspoken desire to contribute to the culture’s literary history. However, there seemed to be an element that Rose was going to have his lifetime banishment from baseball lifted if he admitted to gambling on the game while a manager for the Reds during the late 1980s. But Rose’s concessions appear to have stalled his reinstatement, and the focus is less about returning to the game he claims he “owes” and more on the bottom line.

Perhaps that is why Rose has refused to meet with the media at any of the stops on his book tour. Reportedly, baseball’s all-time hit leader received payment for his tell-all interviews on ABC’s Prime Time and Good Morning America. If he has nothing to gain — at least monetarily — from talking to the press, why should he?

Nevertheless, Rick Hill, as in “as told to… ” chatted away with the media while his muse signed away. Leaning againsta shelf holding books by William Shakespeare when he spoke, Hill related stories about his relationship with Rose. For instance, it took Rose six months into the writing process to admit to Hill that he bet on baseball, and that he says Rose’s addiction to gambling is no different than any other type of addiction. Most of all, he believes Rose is a pretty decent star to pin his literary hopes on.

“Pete Rose’s life is a Greek tragedy. He reached a god-like status in his profession, and had a tragic fall from grace. When you’re writing that story, you don’t want the hero to fall and you want to relish that. You can’t stomp him down so low that you can’t bring him back up,” Hill said. “We cut 100 pages out of the book, which were elements that we dealt with things that are coming out in the press right now. They were cut because they were redundant. You can do 12 chapters on gambling. This is a full story of a life.”

Reading the book — bias toward Rose aside — leaves one with a story of a man cloaked in sadness. There was a sad, yet loving relationship with his father, and his own family. There was the sadness of a man wallowing in the abyss of addiction, his inability to come to terms with it and his public revelations.

Sad. Not sadness in a condescending way, but in truest sense of the word. Sad because a man who had accomplished so much was now reduced to schlepping a book that is a diary of his failure.

“He feels liberated,” Hill said. “The 63-year-old Pete Rose doesn’t have the same cravings that the 50-year-old or 40-year-old Pete Rose had. He’s slowing down. He’s getting older.”

He’s getting richer, too. In just two hours on Friday, the Barnes & Noble sold approximately 800 copies of Rose’s tome. Nationwide, the interest has been just as high as it is in Philadelphia. In fact, one observer noted that Rose’s book signings rival only Howard Stern in generating a buzz and long lines that snake through the stacks. And unlike a fiction writer or literary lion, Rose doesn’t give readings. Perhaps this is both a blessing and a curse.

Regardless, the sentiment from those waiting on line seems to be uniform. Though Rose bet on baseball, and the public just shelled out nearly 17 bucks to get their copy of the book signed, he should be admitted to the baseball Hall of Fame.

As far as full reinstatement that would allow Rose to don a uniform and manage a club, well…

“Put him in the Hall of Fame for what he did as a player, but don’t let him back on the field,” said Mike Capaldo, from Bucks County, as well as many others exiting with their signed copies.

Though the book is out and selling well, the final chapter on Pete Rose has yet to be written. Seemingly at a crossroads, the plot has several ways it can go. Will Rose ever show the contrition some are clamoring for that will lead to his reinstatement, or will Rose need another product to keep him in the public eye and keep the cash rolling in?

Which way will the story go?

“I think it will be happy ending,” Hill said, though he couldn’t speculate how.

Either way, tomorrow brings a new city and more books to sign.

E-mail John R. Finger

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