"Worst thing I ever did was say I had a gambling problem on Phil Donahue," says Rose. "I said it before I knew one way or another. I mean, the first thing that went through my mind was, Maybe I do have a gambling problem. Everybody's telling me I got a gambling problem. Maybe I do. But I went to those Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Eight guys sitting around talking about their problems. And I went home to the halfway house and I had a lot of time to think. Did I ever think about committing suicide? Did I ever take my gas and electric money to the racetrack? Did I ever lie to my wife about taking money out of our account? Did my family starve because I was gambling all the time?
"And I just sat there and I thought about it a long time, and I finally said, 'No.' I mean, when did I gamble? When I had a lot of free time. That's it. You never saw me at the track during the summer. I used to have the winter off; what else is there to do around Cincinnati? I'd go to Turfway Park, take my family, sit with the owner, have a steak. And when I won, I'd give the money to my wife to go shop."
Now this would make Rose a swell guy in most anybody's book, especially since he cashes Pik Six tickets totaling some $136,945 between 1984 and 1987, which is good for at least a three-day homestand of shopping. Except that Rose apparently doesn't let the U.S. government in on any of this, for tax-accounting purposes, of course. And that's one reason the IRS throws Rose in the cooler.
Anyway, none of this is supposed to mean anything to baseball, says Rose, as most of his gambling is as legal as lemonade. "I mean, I admitted to betting on the Super Bowl," he says. "I admitted that to Bart Giamatti in his office. I told him I bet $2,000 on the wrong team. And I bet Monday-night football. Lemme tell you something, people get all bent out of shape about gambling. But how come every newspaper I pick up will have the odds on the games tonight? They have Lotto. Hey, believe it or not, Lotto is gambling. I read that $1 billion gets bet, illegally, on the Super Bowl every year. And all these years I thought I was the only son of a bitch that bet on the Super Bowl."
Of course, this prompts the eyeballs of one of the parties with Pete Rose to roll up high in the skull, since any schoolkid knows that it isn't just the track and the betting on Monday-night football that gets Rose in the doghouse with Mr. Giamatti. It is testimony from no fewer than nine people who say Rose bet baseball, and more than somewhat, and that three slips from his own betting diary turned up with baseball notations on them.
"Those slips are——," says Rose. "They're——." He claims that his handwriting on the slips is forged and that there are mistakes made on the slips that he never would have made. He says one slip "had Cincy at Montreal, but there were no odds for the game or pitchers or anything. And for that game the slip had the wrong home team."
About now Rose has his made-for-radio haircut right up in the haircut of one of the parties and is very desirous of pointing out that when he got the forever boot from baseball, Giamatti himself signed a piece of paper that said nowhere will it be construed from the banishment agreement that Rose bet on baseball. And then Giamatti put the paper down and somebody asked him, "Yeah, but do you think he bet baseball?" And the commissioner said, "Yes, I do." Which came as kind of a kick in the eye to Rose, who still wonders why he signed the agreement in the first place. "What I shoulda did right then," he says, "was go outside and tell the press, 'The deal's off.' "
It takes a hard man indeed not to buy into this point, for what Giamatti did that day has a bit of an odor to it, and it probably would have been called that way by the scribes in short order if Giamatti hadn't dropped dead a week later.
All of which, says Rose, leaves him with a lifetime banishment on the one hand and a double cross on the other. And only a dead man to argue it with.
This is what Rose yells as he's trying to park his rented Lincoln someplace that isn't two ground-rule doubles away from Riverfront Stadium: "How the hell am I supposed to know where to park? I've never had to go to the ballpark this way!"