WASHINGTON, Pa. — Will he meet with the press or won’t he?
That was the question on the minds of the assembled media huddling away from the rain on a blustery Tuesday evening at Consol Energy Park. Disgraced baseball great Pete Rose was scheduled to be part of the action during the Washington Wild Things’ game against the Lake Erie Crushers.
Though Rose was banned for life from Major League Baseball in 1989 for gambling on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980s, the all time Major League leader in hits is able to participate in independent league functions, such as the one last night.
The appearance had been on the books for months, but on June 22 everything was shaken up when ESPN concluded an investigation that claims Rose bet not only as a manager but as a player from 1984 to 1986.
Needless to say this cast major doubts as to his potential reinstatement to baseball and his chances of making the Hall of Fame. And it definitely cast a shadow over his scheduled feting at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. Last night was to be his first public appearance since the damning report.
While the media waited on a decision, “Charlie Hustle” apparently gave a rousing speech to the slumping Wild Things in the clubhouse. As was described by outfiedler CJ Beatty.
“We were in agreeance that if we could, we would have stayed there for hours and just listened to him,” he said. “Soak up everything like sponges, man. He was telling us historic things about His career. He was telling us about his home runs and the times he didn’t feel like hustling but he did and it was the difference that won the ball game. The message – like it always is – just play hard. And it came from a good guy.”
Eventually it was decided that the media would indeed be allowed access to Rose during a brief press conference. So long as nobody asked anything about gambling on games or his upcoming meeting with the commissioner of baseball.
A game press corp shambled through the drenching rain to a nearby building with a small conference room. Where Rose himself held court. He was a smallish, 74-year-old man, imbued with a nervous, irritated sort of energy and decked out in Wild Things gear.
He was happy to talk about the toughest curveball he ever faced – Sandy Koufax – or how nice Roberto Clemente was, or sliding into base against Bill Mazeroski and his legs like oak trees. He also said that Pittsburgh Pirate Andrew McCutchen is his favorite player today. But any questions deemed off limits were bitterly shot down. He opened up, however, when asked if he enjoyed being there.
“I enjoy these kinds of things,” he said. “I’ll tell you why. Because I enjoy the enthusiasm that the players have. Trying to keep their dreams alive of maybe someday getting a minor league job or perhaps a big league job. There have been several players from the independent league teams that made the big leagues. And that’s why they’re in there preparing for tonight’s game. I had a meeting with them. Just tried to give them some different tips that helped me in the big leagues. Good old hard work eliminates a lot of problems.”
He said that he expected a warm welcome from Cincinnati fans at the 2015 All-Star Game. Especially given that he’s going to trot out onto the field with former Big Red Machine co-star Johnny Bench. He would not be in uniform though, he said. He also said he knew a hell of a lot more about baseball than anybody in the room. Which was probably true.
“I usually don’t stick my foot in my mouth when I’m in front of a baseball press,” he said. “Because I kind of have an idea what I’m talking about. I’ve got a lot of experience with the game of baseball. Lord knows I’ve got more experience than anybody with the press. Well I have. I’ve had more big moments. Three thousand hits or 4 thousand hits. You know, or 4,192. Or World Series or All Star Games. You know. Or being suspended from baseball. There’s been so much going on in my life.”
With that he stalked off with the help of an off duty police officer and various members of the Wild Things’ staff.
Standing around the building looking forlorn was high school baseball coach Dave Reynolds. He’d driven all the way from Reston, VA to hopefully meet Rose. By that point in the night he had given up. Why did he drive all that way? What did he admire about Rose as a player?
“His hustle and the way he played hard,” Reynolds said. “He played like it was his last day and he played for the fans. Which is kind of ridiculous that he won’t give back to the fans. I hope he lightens up and I’d like to see him in the hall of fame.”