Pete Rose met his wife, the former Karolyn Englehardt, in 1963, his rookie year, at a racetrack. Through binoculars he spotted her standing in a crowd near the rail. With the help of a mutual friend he maneuvered an introduction. "Don't you play football for a local tavern?" she inquired of the National League's Rookie of the Year, only mildly flustering him. They were married in January of 1964. Rose was several hours late to the wedding reception, however. He had first to accept a Rookie of the Year award from the Cincinnati baseball writers, a conflict of priorities that only mildly flustered the new bride.
Karolyn Rose is a bouncy, curly-haired brunette who, in an earlier time, might have been called a "kook," a term that has mercifully outlived its vogue. She is as lively as her husband and even more puckish, although she has had the role of mother superior to the younger baseball wives thrust upon her by virtue of her husband's seniority on the roster. Indeed, she is writing a book on the plight of the baseball player's wife, a work she trusts will be invaluable to future generations of the suffering sisterhood. She has also conducted her own sports radio show and joshingly entertains notions of being discovered by movie talent scouts in a soda fountain.
The Roses, man and wife, never enter into any project halfheartedly, and their two children have inherited their energy and directness. Fawn Rose once asked Sparky Anderson why her father was not permitted to take a summer vacation like all the other fathers in her neighborhood. "Because," the manager replied meekly, "I need him."
We are all merely extensions of ourselves as children, but when a man plays a child's game for his living, he seems removed only a slight distance from his former self. From afar he still could be a child at play. But he will tell you he approaches his job with the same seriousness as, say, a chiropractor or an airline pilot. It is grown-up stuff. So where is the joy?
No baseball player dedicates himself to his craft with more zeal than Pete Rose. His knowledge of pitchers is encyclopedic. He is a veritable savant on the subject of hitting a baseball or fielding it. He knows base running the way Pythagoras knew geometry. He is a competent baseball historian, able to quote columns of figures and recall pivotal situations without recourse to reference works. He earns more than $160,000 a year, funds he entrusts primarily to the keeping of an attorney, an agent and an accountant.
Ah, but we do not care about his money. His familiarity with the intricacies of his craft is moderately diverting, but of no lasting consequence. No, we are drawn to him for a quality he exhibits in greater abundance than any other athlete in sport today—the joy of participation. When Pete Rose says, as he will, "I'd play for nothing if I could afford it," it is impossible not to believe him. The pleasure he gets out of playing his game is infectious. " Hollywood?" "Hot Dog?" Who cares? Pete Rose is for real.
The experts come acropper when they grope for comparisons. Ty Cobb? Hardly. Enos Slaughter? Not really. Batting Coach Kluszewski has finally abandoned his own quest for a likeness. " Pete Rose," Kluszewski says, "is an original. You won't see another like him in a thousand years."