Thorn in Rose's side

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

The question was as straightforward as the man himself: Do you have a gambling problem?

"People will say that but I've got a good bank account," said Pete Rose, looking up from the pile of baseballs he signed before last night's Italian Sportsman's Dinner.

"I didn't take my gas money. I bet on my team to win. Is that a gambling problem?"

Armed with timing that made him baseball's all-time hit king, he pauses before delivering a punchline: "I used to think Monday Night Football was just to get even on Sunday -- that's why they invented it."

Kicked out of baseball 17 years ago for gambling on the game he played harder than any of his peers, the man who ran to first base when walked still lives up to the name Charlie Hustle.

Whether he's pimping his book, any of the 69 autographed products on his website or his rationale behind being reinstated, baseball's greatest hustler still tells anybody who asks he's a victim.

"I'm the only guy in the United States who can't get a second chance," said the refreshingly candid 18-time all-star.

"About three months ago, the guy who shot the Pope got out of jail. He's getting his second chance. If I was an alcoholic, a drug addict or spouse abuser, I'd get a second chance. I had the wrong vice and that was gambling because of (the) 1919 (Black Sox scandal). This is 2006.

"What drives me crazy about the situation is that about 16 ballparks have casino signs hanging in them. They're paying these clubs money yet they frown on gambling. If baseball thinks I'm the only guy in the history of baseball who ever bet, they're p---ing up a rope."

Indeed, the world has changed a lot since he broke Ty Cobb's hit record and the baseball world stood for a nine-minute salute. The attitude towards sports betting is to the point billions are wagered by average sports fans every night with the touch of a keystroke. Gambling website logos adorn playing surfaces. The Canadian government has long been a big-league bookie.

Thing is, every clubhouse in the majors and minors has a sign on the door warning players not to gamble.

Yet he did. And to make matters worse, he lied about it for 15 years before coming clean two years ago in an effort to appease Bud Selig and earn a shot at Hall of Fame induction.

"Listen, I made a mistake and I was wrong for what I did," said Rose, 65, an all-star at five positions who won three World Series, two Gold Gloves, one MVP and still leads the majors in singles, games played, at-bats, 200-hit seasons and games won.

"But if you're talking about stats, nobody's got more stats than me. That's what the Hall of Fame is -- stats. It's not a bunch of altar boys up there. If you're a baseball player and you're going to gamble, you should bet on baseball. That's what you know most about.

"I don't go to bed every night worrying about going to the Hall of Fame," added the first time Calgary visitor. "If I go, I'll be the happiest man in the world because that's every athlete's ultimate goal. I'm done lobbying -- I lobbied for 24 years when I swung the bat and played the game ... I always looked at myself as an entertainer and never wanted anyone to go home and feel gypped."

Too bad he gypped himself.


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