Culture / Sporting Life

Hanging With Pete Rose on the Las Vegas Strip — a Lesson in Baseball Purgatory

The Hit King Can Tell the Current Astros a Thing or Two About Life in Sports Limbo

BY // 01.20.20

Editor’s note: With the Houston Astros embroiled in an electronic sign stealing scandal that’s cost three managers and one general manager their jobs, PaperCity’s Chris Baldwin revisits the day he spent on the Las Vegas strip with Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time pariah, a few years ago. Time will tell if anyone in this modern day cheating scheme gets stuck in permanent baseball limbo like Rose, who bet on baseball while managing and playing.

LAS VEGAS — Pete Rose peers out from his booth on Las Vegas Boulevard, his famous brow furrowing in pure Charlie Hustle intensity.

“Chuckles,” Rose calls out. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say there’s no line.”

The man hired to scream out and stop tourists streaming down The Strip with shouts of “Pete Rose! Meet the great Pete Rose!” turns around. This guy is the modern-day equivalent of a medieval crier and you get the idea he knows his lot in life

“Chuckles,” Rose continues. “What do you think when you see a restaurant with no line? You think the food must be horrible. The restaurant with a line at the door, that’s the place you think, ‘I’ve got to eat here.’ ”

Chuckles shrugs. “I don’t go to restaurants with lines,” he says.

Rose turns away. “Just don’t say there’s no line, all right?”

Rose smiles at the visitor in his booth. This is what the baseball legend has to deal with, the look seems to say. With 4,256 hits to his name, Rose sits in a booth, a glorified box really, on the Las Vegas Strip. Right in front of a rock-climbing wall that rewards those who reach the top with a bell ring. Right next to gigantic M&M figures.

Chances are if you come to Las Vegas any time soon, you too will be able to run into Pete Rose sitting in his box on The Strip.

“How many times have I been here this month,” Rose asks Joie Casey, the promoter who dreamt up this Stars Live 365 booth (a star in the booth to meet and interact with fans every day of the year).

“Fifteen I think, Pete,” Casey answers.

“Fifteen,” Rose repeats.

If you were looking for a quintessential Las Vegan, it’d be hard to beat Pete Rose. Sure, he’s a southern Ohio boy, most often linked with Cincinnati, who claims Los Angeles as his primary residence. But there’s no one more Las Vegas than Charlie Hustle. He commands The Strip, puts on a show for the folks who stop by, better than any carnival act.

For $50 plus the cost of whatever photo, bat, ball or bobblehead you purchase from him for him to sign, Rose gives you a signature, a photo in which he’ll look like your best friend, a healthy dose of banter and maybe even a smartphone call back home to a Pete Rose admirer unlucky to have missed it all.

“Is that your daughter,” Rose asks the man in an elderly couple, repeating a line that like his other favorite, “Is that your sister?” for mother-daughter combos, always seems to draw a smile. The man banned from baseball and its Hall of Fame for betting on the sport when he was manager is more than willing to please. When he finds out that the reporter in his booth used to write about golf, he starts talking golf.

Free of charge.

Hit King, Rehabbed Duffer

Pete Rose caught the golf bug for a while, claims to have even worked his way down to a 10-handicap. He used to play on his many Las Vegas trips (he has a timeshare in Sin City). But the man who relentlessly chased perfection on the diamond, even leveled a catcher in an exhibition All-Star Game, couldn’t come to terms with golf’s fickle nature.

“I could hit 300, 400 balls a day and still not get that consistency,” Rose says. “Being able to hit a shot 175 yards on Sunday and not being able to hit that same club 175 yards on Monday, that bothered me.”

Rose also laments his lack of power. That’s right, the man sometimes derided as a singles hitter found the long bomb absent in his golf arsenal as well.

“I couldn’t hit the driver,” Rose says. “You know why? Because in baseball, you’re swinging up at the ball off your back foot. In golf, you’re swinging down off your front foot.”

Rose picks up one of the bats he’s selling, mimics a hitting motion. It’s something he does often during these long autograph sessions with no prompting.

A fan appears with a Pete Rose Phillies bobblehead, breaking the spell. Rose isn’t a fan of the Phillies bobblehead.

“Have you seen the head-first bobblehead,” Rose asks, referring to his sliding, Reds bobblehead – the premium $29.95 bobblehead. “It’s the best bobblehead ever.”

Pete Rose slide
Pete Rose is known for his all-out, relentless style of play, his 4,256 hits and being banned from baseball.

A few minutes of this and the couple is buying the Cincinnati head-first bobblehead. For a Phillies fan.

Casey tries shoving the signed, bulky head-first bobblehead into its box, straining to push the cardboard.

“Joie, you’re putting it in backwards,” Rose says, grabbing the box. Baseball’s all-time hit king turns the bobblehead around, slides it in.

“Do I have to do everything?” Rose asks as the couple walks away.

Rose gives a signal. The receipts from the day so far are brought over for his inspection. This is the only thing Rose does more than parrot a baseball swing during these sessions. He checks the receipts religiously, wanting to know how much he’s earned up to the half hour.

A woman makes a casual comment about the $50 price tag. Rose answers back with the speed of a Jeopardy champion. “If it was Barry Bonds, you’d be paying $300,” he says.

It’s not a snap, but it’s not gentle either.

Soon, Casey’s left the booth, sent out to grab the Hit King a Wendy’s coffee.

Pete Rose on Modern Athletes

Rose gets back to the golf on his own time. He doesn’t play anymore, but he watches. And like with most things, carries concrete opinions on it. Rose likes the old guys on the Champions Tour, who he’s sure get things the way he gets things.

“The guys on the PGA Tour don’t understand how to treat fans,” Rose says. “They have too much money. Look at Tiger Woods’ caddy. What’s his name? Yanking that camera from a fan. You can’t do that. Unless it says ‘absolutely no pictures’ on the tickets, you can’t do that.”

Rose laughs at the idea of a flash from the crowd being distracting. He makes it clear that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Co. might as well be sucking pacifiers in his book.

“I’ve played baseball with whiskey bottles being thrown at my head,” Rose says. “At Shea Stadium, in New York. I have no sympathy for these golfers who can’t be bothered by a guy talking in the crowd. That’s all history. . . that’s what that shit is.”

Rose looks up. A bubbly girl who cannot be a day over 20 is bouncing up to his table, her boyfriend trailing behind.

“Oh my God,” the girl gushes. “Oh my God.”

Rose smiles, prepared to answer to that moniker.

“Look at you,” the baseball legend says, before turning his attention to the boyfriend. “How did you get a woman like this? You must have got her drunk.”

The boyfriend smiles politely, moves a little closer to his girlfriend. She’s leaning over the table in front of Rose.

“You must wake up smiling every day,” Rose says to the boyfriend. “I’m sure she keeps a smile on your face.”

The boyfriend runs his hands along the girl’s back, squeezes her a little tighter. Anything to make it clear she’s with him. Rose winks. The girl grins.

Alas, the moment cannot last. In the end, the boyfriend gets a reprieve because line must move along. After all, a moving line’s money.

Rose also talks steroids. He talks Jose Canseco (doesn’t trust him).

“I went to the plate 15,000 times and never needed steroids,” Rose says. “. . . But why’s everyone getting on Mark McGwire now? Was there any rule against it back when he took whatever he took? If there’s no rule, how can you complain about him taking Nandro or whatever it was? There wasn’t even a rule against steroids. If you don’t have a rule against it, how can you criticize guys for taking it?”

A college-aged kid approaches the table, brandishing a baseball.

“Can you write HOF?” the kid asks, referring to the Hall Of Fame of course.

“No,” Rose answers evenly.

“How about HOF question mark?” the kid asks.

Rose gives him a look. “What are you going to do with the question mark if I get in the Hall,” Charlie Hustle finally says.

The college kid shrugs, a perfect what-me-worry gesture.

The man with more hits than any other player in baseball history simply signs the ball Pete Rose, settles into his booth.

“Joie, can I get something to eat?”

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