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Pete Rose Talks 'Babe Ruth' Movie On 1991 Johnny Carson 'Tonight Show' Thursday

Courtesy NBC
NBC promoted its 1991 "Babe Ruth" movie with a special set of Topps baseball cards which included Pete Rose as Ty Cobb.

This old Johnny Carson Tonight Show is "Must See TV" for me at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, on the Antenna TV channel. Let me explain.

After Pete Rose served five months in federal prison for tax evasion, baseball's banished Hit King sought to rehabilitate his image and earn some money in 1991 by appearing on TV shows, including Carson's Tonight Show on Sept. 13, 1991.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Pete Rose (back right) attended a Big Red Machine reunion in 2015 at Great American Ball Park with (from left) Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

One of Pete's first acting jobs was filming two scenes for NBC's Babe Ruth movie July 2, 1991, at Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium. Rose, a 12-time All-Star for the Reds and 1973 National League MVP,  portrayed Ty Cobb, the Tigers star whose all-time hit record was broken by Rose in 1985.

I drove to Cleveland for NBC's press conference in Municipal Stadium with Rose and Stephen Lang, who played the Babe. (Lang is best known today for Avatar or Tombstone; back then he was identified as the star of NBC's short-lived Crime Story.)

The Cleveland press conference offered insights into what Pete was thinking in 1991, which likely will come up when Rose chatted with Carson promoting the Babe Ruth movie to air Oct. 6, before the 1991 World Series.  Here are some samples of Pete's comments, wit and charm:

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME: "Our people get calls all the time about a Pete Rose story, and about a movie and about a book, all that kind of stuff. But that’s down the road. In order to have something like that – and I think you'll all agree – that you have to have a happy ending. And I'm working on the happy ending right now. But obviously, the happy ending would be going to the Hall of Fame."

PLAYING TY COBB:  Because Rose was banned from baseball in 1989, the commissioner's office prohibited Pete from wearing Cobb's Detroit Tigers uniform while playing outfield against the New York Yankees.

"They said no uniform; that's fine," Rose said. "The show went on without the Ty Cobb uniform and playing outfield against the Yankees. I signed with the production company, they give me this (1920's business attire) to put on and that's what I put on. If they would have given me a robe, I'd put that on. If they told me to come out nude, I might have thought about it, and for the money I got, I probably would have come out anyway. So I don't know what went on with the (producers) negotiations with Major League Baseball. ... All I know is that I was at USP Marion (the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Ill.) and asked to come here and do this, and I said, heck, it would be a great opportunity for me."

Credit Courtesy Middletown Historical Society
Former Yankees pitcher Waite Hoyt was the Reds radio announcer from 1942 to 1965.

WAITE HOYT'S INFLUENCE: Rose said he learned a lot about Cobb from Waite Hoyt, the 1960s Reds radio announcer and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher who played against Cobb in the 1920s.

"Not only did I chase all his (Cobb's) records, but I was very fortunate when I was a kid back with Cincinnati, we had an announcer by the name of Waite Hoyt - who's in the Hall of Fame, I might add - and he was our announcer. And he played against Ty Cobb, and he told me story after story after story… Ty Cobb was very arrogant. He was tough. He was mean. I mean fighting mean. Waite Hoyt told me that he's the toughest son of a bitch he'd ever seen in his life."

BABE RUTH: "Babe Ruth, in my eyes, he's the greatest player in the history of baseball. He saved the game of baseball (after the 1919 World Series betting scandal). And if Babe Ruth would have been a hockey player, our nation's No. 1 past-time would be hockey. That's my own personal opinion."

Carson's other guests on the 1991 show were actor James Garner, star of NBC's new Man of the People sitcom, and comedian Ron Shock. Antenna TV can be foundon WSTR-TV's Channel 64.2; Spectrum cable Channel 996; Cincinnati Bell Fioptics Channel 257; Comcast Channel 253; Limestone/Bracken Cablevision Channel 131 and 18 (Mount Olivet) and Dayton's WKEF-TV's Channel 22.3.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Pete Rose signing autographs in Las Vegas in 2014.

Rose, 78, has never been re-instated into baseball, but he was inducted in 2016 into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

In the 1990s, Rose hosted national sports talk shows on cable and radio. He also appeared in two sitcoms, CBS' Good Sports and HBO's Arli$$. In 2013, he starred in a TLC  reality TV series, Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs. with fiancée Kiana Kim. In other words, he became a TV/radio personality, and I found myself on the Pete beat instead of sports writers.

Fox Sports hired Rose in 2015 as a baseball studio analyst, and he appeared on 2016 World Series pregame/postgame shows. He was dropped by Fox in 2017. Most of his income today comes from signing autographs.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.