This is what Pete Rose says just after the transformer box in front of the hotel catches fire and just before they close I-75 in Cincinnati due to the floods: "Time to go to work, boys."
Now, the parties with Pete Rose don't see all that much percentage in hurrying off to work just yet, on account of it was a bolt of lightning that hit the transformer box right in front of their eyes and power is out all over Cincinnati and there is a live power line doing the shimmy not 20 feet from Pete Rose's rented Lincoln and it's raining a tad harder than very. Of course, the parties know there's no use talking to Rose about these things because when Pete Rose gets a notion in his mind, the whole world starts to look like Ray Fosse blocking the plate.
Sometimes nothing Rose does figures. If there's one guy who is supposed to drop over dead from being banned from baseball, it's Rose, who played more baseball games than anybody anytime anywhere. But Rose does not drop over dead from being banned from baseball and, in fact, does not drop over dead at all. He goes and digs himself up a life and part of that life is doing the Pete Rose coast-to-coast radio call-in show, which is live tonight from Cincinnati and will be picked up by 70 stations in 55 markets around the country. And he doesn't care if the parties with him get fried or drowned or both, he's going to be on time for the show, "on time" being an hour early.
Headfirst is S.O.P. with this guy. If he isn't asking you how the Riverfront Red Cheeseburger is at his Pete Rose Ballpark Cafe in Boca Raton, Fla., then he's at the restaurant trying to dream up a name for his new sweet-and-sour sauce, which will go with his Batter's Box Barbecue Sauce and the 4256 Picante Sauce (4,256 being the record number of hits he got in his big league career). Or he's pitching his new line of frozen pizzas. One day he eats pizza at 9 a.m. with Kroger's, at 11 with Super Food and at 12:30 with Safeway. Each time he acts as if every bite is so good he would like to bronze his mouth.
This is what the commissioner of baseball, Mr. Bart Giamatti, says to Rose a week before he dies but just after he throws Rose out of the game forever: "Reconfigure your life."
Now, Rose doesn't know quite what "reconfigure your life" means, but he takes it to mean straighten up and fly right or the closest he will ever get to the Hall of Fame is the $8 admission price. And Rose wants to get to the Hall of Fame very badly.
So after he admits to cavorting with unsavory characters such as your drug traffickers and steroid dealers, and after he admits to having a very lively interest in illegal sports betting, and after he sells his name, face and memorabilia like he's running a yard sale, and after he gets accused of betting on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and after he does time in jail for tax chiseling, he starts a new life in Florida, which he figures is a chunk of heaven somebody dropped overboard by accident. "We don't even have potholes in Florida," he says.
Born without shame, Rose does not spend a whole lot of time with regret. Instead he simply starts over. He starts making like a respectable person, playing golf, burning his bookies' numbers, fixing breakfast for his kids, making some honest paychecks. This isn't because he's going for Citizen of the Year, either. He's a little low on cabbage.
"When Pete left for prison," says his wife, Carol, a very tough woman, "we sold the Rolls, the Porsche, the house in Indian Hill [Ohio]. All our money went to the attorneys, and look where it got us. We went broke and Pete still went to prison. If it weren't for the card shows, I don't know what we would have done."
Maybe having to sell the Rolls doesn't exactly break the levees behind your tear ducts, but broke is pretty much broke. So in the interests of both the bankbook and the history book, he is reconfiguring like crazy. And when you're up to your elbows in reconfiguring, you can't be late, so this is why Rose guns his rented Lincoln through two feet of water and a few police flares on I-75—not far from Pete Rose Way—just before they close the highway, while the parties riding with Rose wonder how they're going to do a radio show from the county coroner's office. What did they expect? A man who spends 24 years sprinting to first base on walks is not suddenly going to take up a love affair with his Barcalounger.