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Published: Sunday, 1/18/2004

An unremorseful Rose

BY THOMAS WALTON

MY PRISON WITHOUT BARS. By Pete Rose, with Rick Hill. Rodale Press. 322 pages. $24.95.

As an admirer of the grand game of baseball, I'm embarrassed for Pete Rose.

As an admirer of good biographical writing, I'm embarrassed for Rick Hill.

Unless you'd otherwise just take the money and blow it on a carton of cigarettes, do not part with $25 for Pete's newest money-making scheme, his second in what may become a series of autobiographies, a book called My Prison Without Bars, ghost written - though not very well - by Mr. Hill.

This is 300-plus pages of Pete Rose at his "poor me" best, whined into the tape recorder of his "co-author" and whipped, after a fashion, into a rambling narrative that eventually includes the now famous - and infamous - confession that Pete did indeed bet on baseball and on his own team, the Cincinnati Reds, while he was their manager.

But we knew that all along. Why pay good money to have it confirmed?

Complicating any review of Rose's latest enterprise is the understandable confusion concerning how to categorize it. Non-fiction? Fiction? After 14 years of stout denials that he betrayed his game by betting on it, and then acknowledging he lied all along, the man's credibility is shot.

When he claims that he never bet against the Reds, do we believe him? And even if he didn't, what message was he sending to bookies and other gamblers when he chose not to bet at all on a Reds game? Were they encouraged to bet against the Reds because the manager wouldn't bet on them?

Oh, what a tangled web Rose weaves. He blames complex personality disorders for his problems, and insists that an elaborate apology for his conduct is not part of his makeup. Yet such a display of sincerity, canning all the alibis - even in a book intended to make him some money - might have hastened the reinstatement to baseball that he craves so much.

Here and there ghost writer Hill lapses a bit into third person, evidently forgetting that these are supposed to be Pete's words. Even if intentional, the technique is distracting. At the same time, Hill's task was a daunting one. He was working with a man whose previous autobiography, Pete Rose, My Story, published in 1989, now carries all the believability of "the check is in the mail."

Throughout Rose's new book, it is impossible to escape an almost overwhelming sense of sadness.

Here is a man whose achievements on the playing field made him one of the greatest players of all time. Watching him play was a reminder to us all of an essential lesson of sport: guts and hard work can overcome a lot. Nobody ever got more hits, nobody ever played harder, nobody ever got more from his talent than Pete Rose.

But away from the game, he was lost, having failed to gain another of sport's great benefits - character.

Though Rose could have helped his cause by renouncing his demons, the book makes clear he still embraces them. Gambling, he explains, is never foolproof. "If it were a sure thing, it wouldn't be any fun."

People sometimes forget that Pete Rose is a convicted felon who did time in prison for income tax evasion. In other words, if his gambling were not an issue, he'd still have a character issue hanging over his pursuit of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

How sad that his inability to separate his off-the-field hustles may continue to deny him the plaque in Cooperstown that his hustle between the lines earned him.

If My Prison Without Bars was Pete Rose's biggest gamble of them all, he may very well have lost it. I heard a long-ago speaker joke that "once you learn to fake sincerity, you've got it made."

Rose has mastered the technique, but it's increasingly unlikely he'll ever have it made.

Thomas Walton is editor of The Blade.



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