CINCINNATI — A photograph of the bat and ball from Pete Rose’s record-setting 4,192nd hit has adorned the back of the enormous video board at Great American Ball Park for a dozen years, reminding everyone of one of the city’s biggest sports moments.
It’s also a reminder of something more: Even with the gambling scandal, a lifetime ban and the fact that he hasn’t lived in Cincinnati for a long time, this is still Pete’s place.
Baseball’s hits king remains revered in his hometown, no matter how much evidence surfaces about how he violated the sport’s cardinal rule by betting on baseball. For a generation, he represented Reds baseball with his grit and hustle.
Still does for many Cincinnatians, who will get another chance to cheer him during the All-Star Game at Great American next week.
“When you play in your hometown and you’re a great player like Pete was, you’ve got to be loved,” said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a teammate on the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. “The people appreciate what I did for the team and the great years I had here, which is why they love me, too. But it’s different. When it’s your home and you’re doing great, they love you more.”
They’ve never stopped loving him, even though he’s been banned from the sport since 1989 for betting on baseball. The Reds have moved into a new ballpark since then, and Rose’s fingerprints are all over the place.
Beyond the photo that was replaced by one of many All-Star Game banners throughout the stadium last week, the ballpark is located on Pete Rose Way, which was named before before his gambling scandal.
Fans in Rose jerseys dot the stands at home games. The team’s adjacent Hall of Fame includes Rose prominently in the displays. A rose garden just outside the ballpark marks the spot where his record-breaking hit landed at old Riverfront Stadium in 1985.
The 74-year-old hits king visits town a few times a year and attends games, sitting in the seats like any other fan. When he’s shown on the video screen, fans cheer and chant “Pete! Pete! Pete!”
Those chants will fill Pete Rose Way again next week before the All-Star Game. Rose is being honored in Major League Baseball’s Franchise Four promotion — fans got to pick four top players from each team.
Rose says Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin also were chosen to represent Cincinnati’s baseball tradition.
How will everyone react when he makes a rare on-field appearance with baseball’s permission?
“I don’t know what kind of reception (to expect),” Rose said recently. “When you’re walking out alongside Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, a pretty good reception, you would think.”
Oh, he knows. It’ll be loud. And everybody knows what they’ll be yelling.
Larkin is also a Cincinnati native who played for the Reds in the 1980s when Rose was the player/manager. He understands what Rose’s presence on the field will mean for the city.
“It’s unfortunate the way it’s gone down over the last 25 years or whatever it’s been,” Larkin said. “I think Pete’s role can be very significant. I felt bad that some players didn’t have the opportunity that I had to just pick his brain and access all of the information that he has that he can provide.
“His participation will be well-received by the players, and I know the city will be very excited as well,” Larkin said.
Outside the city, it’s a different story. Former major league pitcher Curt Schilling said this week that he’s disappointed in how Rose’s situation gets so much attention.
“I guess I’m a little tired of his story overselling, overplaying other things like the Hall of Fame weekend,” Schilling said in a conference call about the home run derby. “Every weekend at the Hall of Fame when guys are getting inducted, there’s always Pete Rose stories. I think we’re going to get the same thing at the All-Star Game. He’s going to be the story.”
Fans back home loved his head-first dives, the way he went chin-to-chin against players from the big-market teams and made small-town Cincinnati a back-to-back World Series champion.
They love his Charlie Hustle. Always have.
“I remember 1960 my first year in Geneva, the way Pete played,” Perez said, during a recent visit to Cincinnati with the Marlins. “He wasn’t the player he was later, but he hustled. He only played half a year in Geneva, but he was the most popular player because of the way he played.”
The betting scandal and lifetime ban tarnished his image around the country, but fans in his hometown have stood behind him, forgiving his transgressions.