LAS VEGAS — Pete Rose believes he still has a chance to one day get back in baseball. In the meantime, he’s turning his attention to the Hall of Fame.
Rose said Tuesday he is a changed person even if he still likes to bet on an occasional baseball game. And while commissioner Rob Manfred rejected his bid to get back in the game partly because Rose still bets legally in this gambling town, he says he still has a lot to offer the sport.
“All I look forward to being some day is a friend of baseball,” Rose said. “I want baseball and Pete Rose to be friends. I want to say I’m not an outsider looking in. I have grandkids, and they want their grandpa to be associated with baseball.”
Baseball’s career hits leader said he was disappointed at Manfred’s decision not to end a ban that has stretched more than a quarter century. But he held out hope he could still one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining teammates such as Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan from the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
“It would be nice to have the opportunity to go to the Hall of Fame,” Rose said. “My whole life has been a Hall of Fame life just by the association with the teammates I had.”
At a news conference fronting his restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip, Rose said he couldn’t rewrite history but still believes even at age 74 that he can one day be back in baseball. He said he was sorry for his mistakes of the past, which included betting on games while with the Cincinnati Reds at a time he said his gambling habit was out of control.
Those days are over, he said, though he still bets on sports and horse racing.
“I don’t live in Las Vegas because I gamble,” he said. “I live in Las Vegas because it’s where my job is. I’m a recreational gambler now. If I want to go home and watch a game, I might make a small wager on it.”
Rose was contrite and somewhat upbeat in offering his first comments since Manfred on Monday rejected his application for reinstatement. But he refused to be drawn into the debate of whether players linked to steroids should be allowed in the Hall of Fame when anyone on the permanently excluded list — Rose is currently the only living person on it — cannot be on a Hall of Fame ballot.
Rose said he believes Manfred will be a great commissioner, but that Manfred was put in a tough spot in having to rule on Rose’s reinstatement 26 years into a lifetime ban. He also said his meeting with Manfred earlier this year — where he first denied still betting on baseball and then admitted he did — could have gone better.
“I’m a good guy, to be honest with you,” Rose said. “I tried to be as honest as I could with the commissioner, but I made some mistakes and I clarified them. Some of his questions, though, I kind of panicked.”
He also would not comment on Manfred’s decision to keep him out of baseball partly because he still does gamble on baseball while at the same time Major League Baseball has a stake in the daily fantasy site DraftKings.
“You can make that evaluation. I’m not a DraftKings guy. I’m not an online guy,” said Rose, who had 4,256 hits in a career that stretched from 1963-86. “I just try to have fun and live my life and have some enjoyable moments.”
Rose spoke on an outdoor patio fronting the Strip, where a crowd of a few hundred onlookers gathered behind the television cameras to watch the spectacle. At one point the crowd started chanting “Let him in, Let him in,” getting a wide smile from Rose in reaction.
While Manfred had the final say in whether Rose could be reinstated, he made a point of noting Monday that his decision was separate from that of the Hall of Fame, which in 1991 adopted a rule keeping anyone on the permanently ineligible list off the ballot.
Rose was joined by one of his sons and flanked by two attorneys, one of whom argued that Rose should be allowed on the Hall ballot.
“He has been punished and he has been punished severely from being banned from the sport he loves,” attorney Mark Rosenbaum said, noting that other players with character flaws have gotten in the Hall of Fame. “It is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Saints.”
Rose agreed to the ban in August 1989 after an investigation for Major League Baseball by lawyer John Dowd found Rose placed numerous bets on the Reds to win from 1985-87 while playing for and managing the team.
The ban prevents Rose from working for any major league team or minor league affiliate, but he is allowed to make ceremonial appearances with the commissioner’s permission and may work for third parties such as Fox, which hired Rose this year as a baseball analyst.
“I’m in control of my life now,” Rose said. “I watch baseball, talk on Fox and talk baseball to anyone who wants to talk about it.”
Rose acknowledged he hasn’t always been in control of his life, including a period in the late 1980s when he said he gambled way too much. He still likes to place bets, he said, but they are not for big money and are perfectly legal in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas.
He’s at peace with Manfred’s decision, he said, but still yearns for a relationship with the game he has loved all his life.
He is, said Rose, not a complicated person.
“I’m a baseball player. I’m a baseball person,” he said. “That’s never going to change.”