In his new book, written with Rick Hill, Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars, excerpts of which appear in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, Rose admits for the first time publicly that he placed bet with bookies on Cincinnati Reds games as often as five times a week while managing the team in 1987.
SI senior writer Tom Verducci was the only print journalist to read an advance copy of the manuscript. SI.com spoke to him about his impressions of the book and the impact Rose's revelations will have on his Hall of Fame candidacy.
SI.com: Why do you think Rose chose to come clean now?
Verducci: I think there are two things at work here: First, Rose finally got it in his head that he would not be reinstated without a confession, and former teammate Mike Schmidt helped Rose realize that he has to be contrite about what he has done. Second, Rose realizes his Hall of Fame clock is ticking. He must be reinstated before December 2005 to be placed on the baseball writers' Hall of Fame ballot. Writers may not consider players 20 years past their retirement; Rose played his last game in 1986. After that, his only chance of getting into the Hall would be via the Veterans Committee, which would be much tougher. Many Veterans Committee members have spoken publicly or privately against letting Rose in. Some have even threatened to boycott the Hall of Fame ceremonies if he is elected. So his best chances of getting into the Hall are during the next two years.
SI.com: In your introduction to the Rose excerpt in this week's SI, you note that until very recently commissioner Bud Selig refused to even entertain the idea of reinstating Rose. What changed?
Verducci: The spring of 2002 was the first time Selig got vibes from Rose's camp that Rose was willing to publicly admit he bet on baseball. One of Rose's representatives floated the magic word to Selig's top deputy, Bob DuPuy: confession. Selig was ready to listen.
SI.com: Do you believe his reinstatement is inevitable?
Verducci: I do believe it's inevitable. I'm not sure what form it's going to take, but it's very likely Selig will enforce some sort of probation for Rose, rather than immediately reinstating him in full and risking that Rose would somehow tarnish the game again. Selig could make Rose immediately eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot and employment with a major league club but restrict him from managing or coaching. Barring another major slipup on Rose's part, he's on track to be reinstated.
SI.com: How much influence do you think fan support for Rose had on Selig?
Verducci: Selig was clearly moved by Rose's popularity. I think the commissioner really took note of the standing ovations Rose received at the All-Star Game in Atlanta in 1999 and before Game 4 of the 2002 World Series in San Francisco. The crowd in San Francisco chanted, "Hall of Fame!"
SI.com: What was the commissioner's response to the book?
Verducci: Selig told me he has not read the book and doesn't know the specifics of what's in it. But my guess is the contents won't surprise him at all. There's little in there that Selig doesn't already know. But this confession alone won't be enough to bring Rose back. This is Rose's project, his book, his timing. Selig will want to be the one who drives the process.
SI.com: After reading the book, do you believe Rose has "reconfigured his life," as Selig's predecessor, Bart Giamatti, instructed him to do in 1989?
Verducci: I think he has changed somewhat, but I don't think he's being candid enough about his gambling habits. Gambling is clearly an addiction for him. And while Rose no longer makes illegal bets and has reduced the frequency of his legal wagers, you realize after reading this book how deeply involved he was. He reveals that in 1987 he would often bet on eight or nine baseball games a day, which is those days was almost every game. Gambling was clearly not a casual interest to him. It was chronic.
SI.com: Do you think he expects sympathy from this admission?
Verducci: No. I think he expects people will simply give him a fair shake. Rose is incapable of introspection. His basic premise in the book is, "Hey, I screwed up. Do what you want with me." It's a rather unemotional tack, and his tone is decidedly unapologetic, but not surprising given his nature. If you're waiting for him to throw himself on his sword, that's not going to happen.
SI.com: How do you expect Rose's former teammates, especially guys like Schmidt and Joe Morgan, who have been vocal about his need to change his ways, to respond to the book?
Verducci: I think they'll be encouraged that Rose has finally taken this first step -- admitting publicly that he did bet on baseball. I think Morgan will stay out of the way and let Rose speak for himself. Schmidt has clearly been Rose's major benefactor. It's likely Rose's initial meeting with Selig wouldn't have happened without Schmidt's involvement. Rose is a very naïve guy. He admits in the book that he's too quick to adopt and trust people he meets incidentally. Someone like Schmidt is a rare influence in Rose's life, and as much of a true friend as Rose has perhaps ever had.
SI.com: What do you think the public reaction will be?
Verducci: I'm really curious to see how fans react to this. Rose has remained far more popular than I could imagine all these years, especially in the way he has been perceived as being victimized by baseball. If you believed he had been wronged, do you now hold it against him that he was lying for all these years? And does he go far enough toward explaining himself? My guess is that in Cincinnati, where he's still revered, that he be wildly popular no matter what he does. Outside Cincy, it'll be interesting to see what the reaction is. I think fans want to forgive him, but they need to see at least a pilot light of contrition. I think the commissioner really took note of the ovations Rose received in Atlanta in 1999 and in San Francisco in 2002. He's going to be watching the fallout from this confession very closely.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.