Give Jane Pauley credit for throwing some high hard ones at Pete Rose in his first lengthy interview since being imprisoned for tax evasion and banished from major league baseball for sports gambling.
"Is the man once known as Charlie Hustle hustling us to get back in baseball? Judge for yourself," Pauley tells viewers up front in her "Real Life" show, airing at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on Channel 2. And she soon puts the question directly to Rose, asking, "Is this a hustle?"
He says no, but she follows with more smoke.
"You've got a PR problem . . . [and] I assume I'm part of your strategy," she says. She also notes later that Rose has surrounded himself with a team of image advisers whose apparent campaign for rehabilitating his public persona is, "to go slow."
Only a couple times does Pauley throw soft stuff.
"Pete, what was the rough autumn day?" she asks. The query elicits the desired emotional response that, "it was a tie" between the day when Rose was sentenced and the day he had to report to the Marion Prison in Illinois. He also talks with regret about how his fall has affected his children, including minor leaguer Pete Rose Jr. and 9-year-old Tyler.
Later, Pauley says, "people like me so want you to be innocent, [we] need it."
Rose does not profess full innocence, at one point saying, "I did it and I'm not proud of it." But he makes clear the "it" is gambling on sports events other than baseball. He repeatedly denies betting on his game and asserts his gambling habit never affected his performance as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
The show includes a clip of the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti offering his opinion that Rose did bet on baseball. Rose says the statment, "broke the faith of the agreement" with the commissioner, in which he admitted only gambling on other sports.
In a rare moment of levity, he says, "I used to think that Monday Night Football was to get even for Sunday."
But Rose also says his gambling disorder "is under control" and that he found his five-month prison experience and current court-ordered community service in Cincinnati, "helped me grow more as a man."
As for his tax problems, Rose insists they were not deliberate. People who cheat intentionally on their taxes, he asserts, would do so for more than the six percent payment shortage for which he was convicted.
Yet healthy skepticism is the lingering tone of the Pauley show. And viewers may find it hard to believe him when Rose says reinstatement or eligibility to baseball's Hall of Fame are "not my top priority" of the moment.
For moments later, when Pauley observes that someone will no doubt make a movie of his life, he agrees and adds, "It will be a lot better movie if it ends in Cooperstown" (home of baseball's Hall of Fame).