30 Years Later, I Can't Forget My Role In The Pete Rose Saga

Aug 23, 2019

Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Pete Rose's banishment from baseball.

It's a sad, pathetic and often annoying saga that seems like it has been going on for 300 years and, unfortunately, will never end.

And, despite the wishes of the fans you often see at Great American Ball Park wearing Free Pete T-shirts, the only way the now 78-year-old who amassed more hits than anyone in the history of the game (4,256) is going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is posthumously.

Get over it. It's just the way it is. And the man has no one to blame but himself.

The only sign of remorse I can recall is him scribbling Pete Rose – I'm sorry I bet on baseball – on the baseballs of people lined up (mostly at casinos) to get one of these souvenirs at a couple hundred dollars a pop.

But that's a Shakespearean tragedy someone else will have to write.

I have my own recollection of that period in 1989 when Pete, then the manager of the Reds, became the target of an investigation ordered by the commissioner of baseball into allegations that he, even as player-manager for the Reds, was betting on baseball.

It was a battle that cast a shadow over the entire season for the team Rose managed and even spilled over into the courts, when Rose's lawyers went to then-Judge Norbert Nadel, who, in a weird Sunday morning hearing that was carried live on ESPN, ruled to delay Commissioner Bart Giamatti's investigation for two weeks.

It delayed it, but it did not stop it. And, on Aug. 24, 1989, it didn't stop Rose and Major League Baseball from coming to an agreement: Rose voluntarily accepted the ban from baseball in a document where he said there was "a factual basis" for the ban but no confession, while MLB agreed to make no formal finding on the gambling allegations.

But everybody knew why he was thrown out of baseball.

I was reporting for the Enquirer in those days, and once the Rose case landed in the courts, I was called in to join the team of sports writers covering the story – mainly because I had more experience dealing with the courts and legal issues.

And that led to one of the most bizarre road trips in my career as a journalist.

In 1990, in a separate action, the IRS went after Rose for tax evasion, and the case ended up in the courtroom of the late Judge S. Arthur Spiegel, who was quite frank about being a big fan of the Reds and Rose. But Spiegel was a no-nonsense judge who played it by the book. There would be no homerism in Art Spiegel's courtroom.

The IRS, of course, loves convicting high-profile celebrities of tax evasion (See: Stewart, Martha) because of the message it sends to lowly taxpayers like the rest of us – Don't mess with the IRS.

On April 20, 1990, Rose entered guilty pleas to two counts of filing false income tax returns for not reporting income from baseball card shows and his horse race winnings.

Spiegel, rather sadly, sentenced Rose to five months in a medium security prison camp at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

I covered all of this for the Enquirer and I decided to take a Friday off for a long weekend. I'd been working long hours ever since being dragged into the Rose story.

In those days, I was still playing golf – very badly. My old pal and predecessor as the Enquirer's politics reporter, Bob Weston, who passed away recently, asked if I wanted to go play a round of golf at a course in Mason.

I had nothing better to do, so I went with Bob and spent a few hours hooking balls into the trees and drowning others in the water hazards. Every once in a while, I would sink one in the hole.

This was in the days before cell phones, but we did have little pagers we clipped on to our belts. I had mine with me just in case there was more news in the Rose case.

Sure enough, the pager started vibrating somewhere on the back nine. It was the metro desk number at the Enquirer.

When we got back to the clubhouse, I called the desk and had a breathless assistant metro editor barking out instructions: We want you and a photographer to go to Marion tomorrow. We need a story for Sunday on how this little town feels about having a famous prisoner like Pete Rose in their town!

I told him I didn't see the story; Marion has had plenty of high-profile prisoners – including John Gotti – and the people in town never lay eyes on them.

Don't argue! This comes from the top!

So, at 4 a.m. the next morning, photographer Gary Landers and I left the Enquirer building on Vine Street for the six-hour drive to Marion.

I was sweating bullets. I had no idea what we would do there. Yes, I was certain people there knew Pete Rose was coming to the federal prison but I was not at all certain that they cared.

I knew I was being sent on a wild goose chase in search of a story that didn't exist.

Landers and I talked about it the entire way to Marion, trying to come up with an idea. Talk to Little League kids and coaches. Find a baseball card shop and see what kind of Rose stuff they have. And, the old stand-by, when a news crew parachutes into a town they know nothing about, stop by a barber shop or a diner.

We had no clue.

But we had to come up with something and do it fast. They would want a story and photos by 8 or 9 p.m.

Finally, we got off the interstate highway at the Marion exit and drove several miles on a two-lane highway that turned out to be the main street of Marion.

I was looking out the window on the passenger's side, deep in thought. I noticed a city park – a very idyllic, small-town kind of place, with picnic groves; ball fields where kids were playing; little ones rocking back and forth on the swing sets.

It looked lovely.

And then we came upon the large sign outside the entrance to the park. I nearly choked when I saw the name of the park:

Ray Fosse Municipal Park, City of Marion.

"Landers, I can't believe it,'' I shouted. "I think we are in Ray Fosse's hometown! How could we get so lucky?"

We high-fived and kept driving to the town square.

Now, if baseball is not your passion, you may not know who Ray Fosse is.

Ray Fosse was a fine catcher for the Cleveland Indians when he was named to the American League All Star team for an All Star game that was played in Cincinnati's brand new Riverfront Stadium.

Rose was one of four Reds on that year's National League All Star squad, representing a team that would go on to the World Series that year and lose to the Baltimore Orioles.

It was a game memorable for one thing – the home plate collision in the 12th inning between Rose and Fosse that scored the winning run for the National League.

Rose was on second with the game tied 4-4. Jim Hickman of the Cubs stroked a single to center field. Amos Otis from the Kansas City Royals scooped the ball and fired a bullet to home plate with Rose rounding third.

Fosse blocked the plate, but Rose tucked in his head and slammed into Fosse, sending him flying.

Pete Rose slams into catcher Ray Fosse as he scores the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning on Tuesday, July 14, 1970 in Cincinnati.
Credit AP

Fosse was hurt on the play, and his baseball career was never the same after that. Many blamed Rose for the vicious hit in a meaningless exhibition game, but Fosse himself said Rose had done nothing wrong – it was his job to block the plate and Rose's job to take him out.

Soon, Landers and I were roaming downtown, talking to people, including some who went to high school with Fosse and had known him all their lives.

When I told one such friend of Fosse that Rose was coming to the prison, the man said, "I hope he rots in there." I said his sentence was only five months. The man snorted.

"Not enough."

We even tracked down Ray's mother, Pauline Fosse, who was well known in town for her baking business, Pauline's Pies.

She clearly was not a Pete Rose fan, but whatever animosity she had, she kept it in check.

"Do I blame Pete Rose for ruining my boy's career?," she said. "Well, I guess I could. But Ray is not angry at him, and if Ray can forgive him, I suppose I can, too."

We spent the afternoon talking to as many people as we could and then got a motel room, where Landers hooked up his photo transmission equipment (a much more complicated task in those days) and I banged out a story on my laptop.

After we had filed with the Enquirer, we went out to a local steak house and bought hunks of cow as big as our heads, with all the fixings, as a reward for our success.

Then, we got in the car and drove home, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.

We had pulled off a minor miracle. The Journalism Gods were smiling at us that day.

And I owed Judge Spiegel a debt of thanks for sending Pete Rose to Ray Fosse's hometown.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.