LOS ANGELES — Pete Rose recently went to Cooperstown to film an episode of his upcoming reality television show. His fiancée got choked up when baseball's career hits leader had to watch the Parade of Legends and other Hall of Fame festivities as just another face in the crowd.
Rose doesn't share Kiana Kim's disappointment in his continued banishment from baseball, but he hopes he can provide a few lessons in patience to the rest of his sport's tarnished superstars.
"It doesn't matter how long it takes," Rose said Thursday over lunch in Sherman Oaks. "I'm in no hurry, unless you know something I don't know. You just have to try to be a productive citizen and live your life, and hopefully someday somebody calls you and says, 'Hey, we want to give you a second chance.' I won't need a third, and believe me, nobody is going to find me betting on baseball. What's that old cliché? I don't bet on baseball because I know too much about it."
The 71-year-old Rose, nattily attired in a tan hat and a colorful striped shirt with "Hit King" embroidered on the collar, says he's "a little sad" nobody was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Yet Rose sees both sides of the Hall debate: Although he's a friend of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and every star of baseball's Steroids Era, Rose also says anything that artificially alters the game's statistics shouldn't be praised or honored.
And if a player linked to steroid use ever broke Rose's record of 4,256 hits, Charlie Hustle would object vehemently.
"I don't know who did what, and I really don't care," Rose said. "All I can tell you is if there's drugs involved, the most sacred thing in baseball is the stats. We've been taking stats since 1869 ... and whenever you do something that can alter the statistics of the game, it's not good for the game."
Rose wonders what Babe Ruth or Roger Maris would have to say about Bonds, Sosa and Mark McGwire being kept out of the Hall.
"Because those were the records that were assaulted, not mine," Rose said. "Not my record. If someone came up with 4,257 hits and was linked to steroids, I'd have a lot to say. If I'd have took steroids, I'd have got 5,000 hits, so it wouldn't have been fair."
Rose reserved his greatest praise for Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, saying both players should have easily gained first-ballot Hall admission from their offensive statistics. Rose also stumped for Dave Parker and Jim Kaat.
"I think everybody got caught up in the steroid situation and forgot" about Biggio and Piazza, Rose said.
Rose treads more lightly around first-time nominees Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, warmly praising all three while still reserving full endorsement of their Hall worthiness.
"The only person I'm going to defend (from) yesterday ... I've got to give Roger Clemens some slack," Rose said. "Here's a guy that says to this day that he didn't take steroids. He's never flunked a drug test, and he went to two courts and they both ruled in his favor. So I don't know. And I know there's suspicion, but you don't not vote for a guy because of suspicion."
Rose agreed to a permanent ban from baseball in 1989 after the former Cincinnati Reds player and manager was accused of betting on baseball. He is also banned from inclusion on the Hall of Fame ballot, although four voters gave him write-in votes this week.
Rose said he recently reached out to Commissioner Bud Selig for more dialogue about his possible return to the game, but has no progress to report. Rose thinks Selig is probably tired of hearing his name, which he would understand.
"For me and for all of his fans, it's unjust," Kim said. "We want to see him in the Hall of Fame more than he does. He doesn't want people feeling sorry for him. He knows what he's done."
Rose claims he doesn't think much about his own ineligibility for the Hall during his everyday life with Kim, a onetime Playboy model, and her two children. Their reality show, premiering Monday on TLC, is a survey of their unusual life titled "Pete Rose: Hits and Mrs."
The episode featuring their trip to Cooperstown clearly affected Rose and Kim, who don't live together full-time. While Kim and her two children live in the Los Angeles area in her own home, Rose's primary residence is in Las Vegas, where he eats Subway salads every night of the year and watches sports every night of the year, including three baseball games a day during the season — but not waiting for the phone to ring.
"You have to understand, I'm not in that Parade (of Legends) because it's my fault," Rose said. "It's not Bart Giamatti's fault. It's not Bud Selig's fault. I'm the one that (messed) up. Why am I going to get mad at anybody else? All you can do is keep your nose clean, be a good citizen, and maybe someday you'll get a second chance. But when you (mess) up, you can't blame other people. You just hope they understand you committed yourself, and that's one thing this (reality) show will do. It will show a different perspective of me."