'Hustle' examines the roots of Rose's flaws

November 18, 1990|By MARK HYMAN

Hustle: the Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose.

Michael Y. Sokolove.

Simon & Schuster.

304 pages. $19.95. We all know Pete Rose has a few character flaws. He gambled obsessively. He cheated on his wife. He pooh-poohed suggestions that he hadn't been a devoted father with the memorable quote, "I'm a great father. I just bought my daughter a Mercedes-Benz."

Now along comes "Hustle" with yet more reasons to wonder how this man ever got his picture on a Wheaties box.

Here are my new favorite things to dislike about Rose, all gleaned from Michael Sokolove's exhaustively reported, unauthorized biography, "Hustle: the Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose."

*He not only carried on affairs during his first marriage, but showed an astounding lack of discretion in doing so. For instance, he bought identical diamond pendant necklaces for Mrs. Rose I (Karolyn) and Mrs. Rose II (Carol) while still in his first marriage. When the women showed up for a Cincinnati Reds game on the same night, Karolyn noticed the competition, punched Carol, and tried to forcibly remove the jewelry.

*Rose referred to his first minor-league roommate, Art Shamsky, as "Jewman." Affectionately, of course.

*As player-manager of the Reds, he actively rooted against the team's young first baseman, Nick Esasky. Rose wanted an excuse to pencil himself into the lineup. Each time Mr. Esasky failed, he had one. "What it came down to was, any time I was playing first base, Pete wanted to be there instead," Mr. Esasky recalled.

Mr. Sokolove skillfully tells these and other unflattering stories on Rose. But the book is not a total rip job. Mr. Sokolove starts at the beginning, with portraits of Rose's working-class parents and even grandparents. He gives us the requisite chapters detailing how hard work was at the root of Rose's baseball success.

However, the book's most impressive work is in demonstrating that Rose's compulsive behavior simply carried over from those early days. A former high school classmate says that as early as 1963, Rose's rookie season with the Reds, Manager Fred Hutchinson urged him to stay away from the racetracks. In one of the book's more interesting revelations, Mr. Sokolove writes that major league baseball knew of and was investigating reports of Rose's dealing with sports bookies in 1970. It would be nearly 20 years before Rose was banished from baseball for allegedly having wagered on baseball.

Rose, who refused to be interviewed for this book, isn't the only baseball figure whose judgment Mr. Sokolove's work calls into question. Bill Giles, Philadelphia Phillies president, admits he had heard reports of Rose's gambling in the early '80s, but that he essentially ignored them. Hal Bodley, baseball writer for USA Today, invites Rose to live rent-free in his Florida condo, baby-sits for Rose's son, Petey, then allows that he might have crossed an ethical line.

It's a sad story. And, as usual, Pete Rose is squarely in the middle.

Mr. Hyman is a sportswriter for The Sun.

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