Pete Rose was an energizing yet enigmatic player during his time in Major League Baseball. He has more base hits than anyone in the history of baseball, but he isn’t in the Hall of Fame. His gambling caused him to be banished from the game. In Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, author Kostya Kennedy delves into the mysterious character of Pete Rose.

Kennedy joined Bill Littlefield to discuss whether or not Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Highlights from Bill’s conversation with Kostya Kennedy

BL: You characterize Pete Rose as “Cincinnati’s every-man.” What qualifies him for that distinction?

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KK: Oh, well he is the most beloved figure in Cincinnati. He grew up on the west side of Cincinnati right on the banks of the Ohio [River]. Pete, he’ll treat you the same whether you’re a janitor or whether you own the building. He cuts across all socioeconomic classes. He’s a little roguish, and, yeah, he likes to gamble a little bit. And all of these things kind of play into the bare-knuckle style of that part of Cincinnati, as of course does the way Pete played the game, which was really a blue-collar-to-the-Nth-degree way of playing the game. Nothing prima donna about Pete in his efforts.

BL: You write of what you term Pete’s keen affection for money which may be an understatement — he’s always looking for opportunities to get more “serious cake.” Is the reason that he got so heavily into gambling — including gambling on baseball — that simple?

KK: A guy very close to him named Charles Sotto, a memorabilia dealer, who appears in the Dowd Report and has known Pete forever … said, “Pete doesn’t really have a gambling problem. He has a cash problem. It’s like he wakes up every day [and] where can I get cash? How can I get it?” Pete, of course, is not alone in this feeling. But it is a marked quality of him, and no question, it related to his gambling and his association with various people who were involved in gambling and had money moving around.

BL: People still argue, of course, about whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame though he’s not eligible for election thanks to a rule invented specifically to keep him out. Is that fair to Pete Rose?

KK: You know, you look at Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, they are getting 35, 40 percent of the vote. You need 70 percent to get in. They may never get in, but at least they have their time. They’re being judged. Pete never had that. And he is literally the only player ever to be denied that chance. Even “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was, of course, banned himself for his involvement in [throwing] the 1919 World Series, he was eligible to be elected from the beginning of the Hall of Fame in the 1930s right through [when] the Pete Rose rule was put in in 1991. And he wasn’t elected, but he might have been and a lot of people are uncomfortable with that.

Pete got 43 write-in votes that first year, which was well shy of what he needed — he needed more than 300 to get in, but it’s also far more than anybody had ever gotten. You know, nobody ever gets more than two or, at most, three write-in votes ever, and Pete has continued to get them. To me that is the most troubling thing: that a rule was made specifically to keep one person out. And I think that’s troubling to fans of the game and certainly to me.

Bill’s Thoughts on Pete Rose: An American Dilemma

Kostya Kennedy contends that Pete Rose embodies all sorts of virtues: hard work, determination, passionate devotion to the improvement of himself and those around him, and amiability, at least toward people who’ll pay for his autograph.

In Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, he makes a convincing case. Rose’s devotion to his craft during his playing days with the Reds and the Phillies was almost monomaniacal, but not quite, and therein lies the problem. Rose, who went to prison for tax evasion, was nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” for the intensity with which he played baseball. He was also intensely interested in betting on horses, football, and baseball, among other activities. His associations among many exceedingly sketchy people who shared his hobby and enabled him in his addiction might charitably be characterized as “unfortunate.” Given that some of Rose’s associates were dealing steroids and various other substances out of the gym where he worked out, his associations might be uncharitably characterized as “criminal.”

For a long time Rose lied about his gambling. First he said he bet on everything but baseball. Since acknowledging that he did bet on the Phillies when he was managing the team, he has offered several variations on that theme. At first he said he only bet on some games. When somebody pointed out that by refraining from betting on other games, he’d be tipping his bookmakers to the fact that the Phils weren’t worth the gamble on those nights, Rose changed his story and said he’d bet on his team all the time. His changing stories have established that anybody who believes anything Pete Rose says is a fool.

Kennedy finds in Rose a likable rogue, and feels Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame have treated him unfairly, or at least inconsistently in terms of the way they’ve handled other rogues. Readers of Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, may agree. They also may conclude that Rose has earned his status as a pariah by being a devious, greed-addled pig with no respect for the rules of the game he loved or for much of anything else that wouldn’t put a dollar in his pocket.