Rose on gambling, baseball and the Hall

LAS VEGAS -- How important is the Hall of Fame to Pete Rose? What would Rose do if he were reinstated by Major League Baseball? Has the clock expired on Rose's 15-year period for election to the Hall, or did it ever start ticking? And does Rose feel remorse for gambling on the game he loved?

ESPN.com got the answers to these questions and a lot more when Graham Bensinger sat down with baseball's all-time hits leader for an hourlong interview earlier this month at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

Graham Bensinger: As time continues to dwindle, Pete, let's face it: You're no longer in your early 40s, you're nearing your mid-60s. How much hope do you still have that you'll be reinstated?

Pete Rose: To be honest with you, I really don't worry about it anymore. I would certainly like to, simply because I would like to be a manager of a baseball team. But I have other priorities right now. If it happens, it happens, and I will be the happiest guy in the world. I don't think there's any honor bigger than going to your Hall of Fame for your sport. And, if that happens, I just believe that the American way is to be given a second chance. I've been suspended 16 years now, and I'm having a hard time getting a second chance. Other people get second chances, you know, to do other things. And baseball just looks at gambling in a very different way than drugs or alcohol or spousal beatings, things like that. [Even] steroids, different things like that.

Bensinger: Since the publication of your book, "My Prison Without Bars," and your admission that you bet on baseball, the possibility of baseball lifting your ban seems to have diminished.

Rose: I don't think the book had anything to do with that, if you want to know the truth. Because probably a year before the book came out, I talked to Bud Selig and told him everything I did. So when Bud Selig read my book -- if he did -- it wasn't something that he didn't know. ... But I remember when I had my first discussion with Bud Selig, I thanked him for giving me an opportunity to take this load off my shoulders. And, I said, "If you want to have a press conference tomorrow or next week or next month, I'll tell the world the same thing I told you." He said, "That's not necessary. You told the right guy." ...

I wish I could sit here and tell you tonight that in 1991 or 1992, if I was given the opportunity to admit what I did, I would have admitted it. I don't know. All I know is the first opportunity I got to talk to the commissioner of baseball...

Sure, I could have told Jim Gray. I could have told Bob Costas. I could have told Jim Rome. That's not going to help me. Because my fate is in the hands of the commissioner of baseball, and the first time that I ever met the commissioner of baseball [was when] I made the All-Century Team in Atlanta. And he congratulated me for making the team. And then we had the [30] most memorable moments in San Francisco. I think when I got the biggest ovation of both those events, baseball kind of figured out, well, maybe this guy is popular. And that's when they gave me the meetings that I had. I had a couple of meetings with Bud Selig. And they were good meetings, by the way.

Bensinger: John Dowd recently told me his opinion hadn't changed of you since you made your admission. [Dowd said] you "dishonored the game, lied about it, committed treason against the commissioner by suing him and making a spectacle of it. He's a disgrace to the game of baseball..."

Rose: Well, first of all…

Bensinger: ...that's John Dowd.

Rose: That's John Dowd. John Dowd ought to thank God for Pete Rose, because if I wasn't alive, no one would know who the hell John Dowd is. OK? Now, and to be honest with you, I don't ever remember suing the commissioner of baseball, so I don't know where he got that ... a lot of people have told me I should sue baseball for not having the opportunity to do something that I do for a living, that's baseball. But as most other times, John Dowd's wrong in his evaluations. You must have, you must have interviewed him on one of his bad nights. ...

Bensinger: Do you think you should sue baseball based on the...

Rose: No, I'm not worried about suing baseball. I just told you five minutes ago, I'm not worried about that. I don't go to bed every night worried about getting back into baseball. I said I'd be the happiest guy if I ever did. But John Dowd is like a lot of other people in this country, that I'm the only guy that's not given a second chance. OK, all I heard for 15 years when I was suspended, if I admit that I did wrong, everything would be hunky-dory. Well, all of a sudden, you admit what you did was wrong -- and it was wrong, I made a mistake. Now, we'll keep him out of baseball. Don't let him do this, don't let him do that. So there are too many people with the wrong opinions about the whole case. And I don't ever want to talk about it, but they keep talking about it, they keep bringing it up. You're talking about it right now. It happened in 1989. I was suspended. That's 17 years ago! Let's get over it. It's time to go on to the next step.

Bensinger: The late commissioner, Bart Giamatti, as you said in your book, said you needed to show a redirected, reconfigured or rehabilitated life to...

Rose: What does that mean?

Bensinger: ...to be reinstated.

Rose: What does that mean? ... [To] be very selective of the people you hang around with, which I am. No more illegal gambling, which I do not do. So whatever the commissioner, the late commissioner, told me to do, I've done it. So the terminology was "reconfigure your life." OK, so reconfigure your life based on getting suspended for hanging around with undesirables and making illegal bets with bookmakers. Not betting on baseball? All the years I was suspended, I wasn't betting on baseball. Because the thing the commissioner said [was] that there's no finding that Pete Rose bet on baseball. I admitted I bet on baseball, but I wasn't suspended from baseball for betting on baseball. You know that, right?

Bensinger: Correct.

Rose: OK, as long as you know that.

Bensinger: What do you think would have happened with your case had Bart Giamatti not died?

Rose: I think Bart would have given me a second chance, because Bart was a very fair man. I got along with him very well. You know, I had several conversations about the game of baseball with Bart Giamatti.

Bensinger: You think you would have been given a second chance?

Rose: Sure, absolutely.

Bensinger: Fay Vincent has said that would be bogus. John Dowd...

Rose: Yeah, that's, who would be talking...

Bensinger: Or even Bart Giamatti's widow has said she's opposed to you being reinstated.

Rose: God bless her. You know, I never met her, I never met her. All I know is her son's a hell of an actor. Paul Giamatti is a great actor. And I hope he gets the supporting actor of the year for "Cinderella Man." ... But the other two guys you mentioned: If it wasn't for me, no one in this country would care less about Fay Vincent or John Dowd. They wouldn't even know who in the hell they are. Because every time Pete Rose comes up in the headlines, you people in the press run to those two, because you get the other side of the story. You get the negative part of the story. That's the way it is, and I accept that. I have no respect for either one of those gentlemen. You know, you talk about getting kicked out of baseball -- Fay Vincent got fired as commissioner of baseball. How bad is that? To get fired as commissioner of baseball.

Bensinger: Do you think there are those that simply have personal vendettas against you?

Rose: Well, I don't know about vendettas. You know, there are some people in this world that don't think I could hit. I cheated to get hits. Now, all of a sudden, I used corked bats -- is that why I hit all those damn home runs? Because I used corked bats? Twenty years after the fact, I used a corked bat. I didn't use no cork bat. I had cork in my arms.

Bensinger: Why do you think it took so long to get that initial meeting?

Rose: I don't know, you're asking the wrong guy, man. You got to ask the people that didn't receive my phone calls, didn't accept my letters.

Bensinger: Well, in your mind...

Rose: I don't know. I don't speculate on something I don't know. They didn't need to. There was no reason for it. Now, all of a sudden, the fans show they like you, fans support you. You know, baseball's not stupid. Baseball does what the fans want, usually. So, you know, when you're introduced with Ted Williams and Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, you get the biggest ovation, hey, let's sound the alarm, man. Maybe people do like this guy.

Bensinger: You said you had a very positive meeting with the commissioner. And, in November of 2002, what transpired?

Rose: Just a very cordial meeting. We both love the game of baseball. We're both historians of the game. We both care about the game. I made a mistake. I wish I could look out the window and just change everything that happened in '87-88. But I can't do it. It's part of history. All you can do is be a better person for it. And a lot of people don't want you to do that, they won't give you a second chance. This is America, man, you're given a second chance. You're supposed to be given a second chance. It's sad for me to sit here and tell you that if I had been a drug addict, or if I had been an alcoholic, if I would have beaten my wife, they would have paid for my rehab and I would have been given a second, third, fourth, fifth chance. I don't understand that.

Bensinger: One of the cases people make for your reinstatement, and to be allowed to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, is that you do have the wife-beaters, you do have the drug dealers and others who have committed far worse and more heinous crimes than you. But isn't the difference that baseball's stance on betting on baseball was very clear, and you committed the crime?

Rose: I understand all that, but this is 2006, man. This is not 1919. The guys that got kicked out of baseball in 1919 were found innocent in a court of law. And the commissioner still suspended them. Joe Jackson should be in the Hall of Fame. He was a great player. He was found innocent. I mean, what do you need? If you're found innocent, they are not going to put you in the electric chair.

Bensinger: What do you think of Rule 21 [MLB's rule in regards to proper conduct, including its ban on betting]?

Rose: There's parts, there's a lot of parts. ... I agree with the rule. I just told you five minutes ago, I was wrong [in] what I did. But I did it. I can't take it back. I can't take it back.

Bensinger: Mike Schmidt told me in that meeting with the commissioner, you all were putting together an itinerary to have a national press conference shortly following the Super Bowl of that year to announce your reinstatement.

Rose: That's the reason why the book came out when it did. Because the book was originally supposed to come out in March [2004]. And my people, who are smarter than me, said, "Well, if you're going to get reinstated around Thanksgiving, let's try to come out with the book in December. Because a book is a money deal." But, there again, I'm probably the only guy in this country that got paid for doing a book. No one else ever gets any money for doing books. But I did. If you listen to the press, I'm the only guy that should have done my book for nothing.

We tried to get [the book done] for December, and we couldn't. We couldn't get the deadline, which was Dec. 15, to get on the shelves for Christmas. And then Rodale, which is a multimillion-dollar publisher, decided on the date which they decided on, which was a Thursday. OK, when they decided on that date, they didn't know that two Hall of Famers were going to be introduced on Monday. OK?

Now, I'm criticized for taking the thunder away from Dennis Eckersley and the other Hall of Famer [Paul Molitor]. What do I need to take away any thunder from those guys for? I gave them all day Monday, all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday and all day Thursday. Our announcement was coming [in an interview with] Charles Gibson at 10 o'clock on Thursday night.

Bensinger: What did that itinerary entail?

Rose: Well, just where the press conference was going to be, and things like that. In other words, the vibrations we got [indicated] that reinstatement was real close.

Bensinger: And then...

Rose: Something happened. Something happened to Bud. You have to ask Bud what happened. I don't know what happened. You have to ask Bud.

Bensinger: And you've previously told me you think commissioner Selig's a very honest man...

Rose: Sure, he's got a tough job, man. I wouldn't want his job.

Bensinger: How do you feel that way, though? When he invites you out to meet with him at his office in Milwaukee in November of 2002, you confess. He tells you he has made up his mind, and as you say in your book, "Only a nuclear bomb," he says, "can change it." He just says he needs to go and talk to the other Hall of Famers to inform them of his decision. And nothing [happens].

Rose: You know, there again, you're asking me to answer questions for him. You have to ask him that question. You can't ask me. All I know is I didn't give him a reason to say no after I left the meeting. And, you know, I'm the one that made a mistake. Why should I be mad at Bud? That's the way I am. I'm not mad at Bud. Bud's got a tough job, man. I wouldn't want to be that commissioner of baseball. Or football. Or basketball.

Bensinger: Do you feel betrayed?

Rose: No, I don't feel anything. Disappointed, that's how I feel.

Bensinger: Do you ever wonder what the reason may be?

Rose: No. It's like I don't worry about what people are going to think about me when I'm gone. "What's your epitaph? What do you want them to remember you for?" Because, obviously there's, there's millions of people in this country that are going to remember me for different things. Some people remember me for being the hit king. Some people for fighting with [Mets shortstop Bud] Harrelson. Some people for running over [Indians catcher Ray] Fosse [in the All-Star Game]. Some people for being suspended from baseball. So you can't worry about that. Don't worry about that. Because you can't control it. I never worry about anything I can't control. Does that make any sense?

Bensinger: Perfect sense.

Rose: Just checking. Make sure you're listening to me.

Bensinger: Well, based on what's transpired over the last three years, I know you say you don't worry about it. But what do you think your chances are for reinstatement?

Rose: I don't know. This is America, and I'm one of these guys that believes in America. I love this country, and I just believe eventually you're going to get a second chance. ... I hope it's in my lifetime. But if it isn't, that's the way it is. You know, the Hall of Fame is more for your family anyway. Your kids and your family, anyway. I got young kids. So you'd like to get up in front of all your fans and thank them for your support all these years. I would like to go to the Hall of Fame just to see what kind of crowd they'll have. And I know I've disappointed all the media types, because they'll think I'm going to get up there and start blasting people at the ceremony. You don't do something like that. I'm not Jim Gray. Just like when I made the All-Century Team and got the biggest hand. Five minutes into that, he attacks me. Ruined the night for everybody. Were you too little to understand that, then?

Bensinger: I was aware.

Rose: Do you remember them running across the TV, please, no more phone calls. Going to cause a blackout. You know, you have to be fair, too.

Bensinger: You say...

Rose: I just can't get you to understand it. It's like you're stuck on this thing that you think I pray every night that I'm going to get into the Hall of Fame. You know, it would be the biggest honor any player could even receive. But you can't worry about it. If it happens, I'll be the happiest Hall of Famer they've ever had, because I understand and respect the Hall of Famers. I know what each and every one had put into their game. I know what you had to put into the game to have that kind of success. And I'm no different than Hank Aaron or Willie Mays or Johnny Bench or Joe Morgan or Tony Perez or Mike Schmidt or Willie McCovey, and all the guys I played against. We all did it the same way. And if you're lucky enough to be presented a Hall of Fame plaque, hey, that's the ultimate thing that happened to you as an athlete.

I'm more worried about being in the game of baseball, because I know I can help the game of baseball. Because I bring a good attitude to the game of baseball. And a lot of teams don't have good attitudes today. Because I win. Just like I said, I don't mean to sound cocky right now. But instead of you worrying about me being back in baseball, or this guy worrying about me being back in baseball, let one of 30 owners worry about that. That's who owns the teams. And, economically, if it makes sense to bring me back to a team and fill up the stands and win, they'll do it. Because they are all in it to do one thing, make money. Except George Steinbrenner, he's in it to win. He's in it to win every year. That's why I love that guy. He gets [ticked] if he don't win, and he expects to win. That's the way every franchise should be. There's too many franchises in baseball that have bad attitudes, and that attitude comes from one thing, losing -- or winning.

Bensinger: How much of an effect do you think your problems in baseball and with the government have had on your son Pete Jr.'s status in baseball?

Rose: None at all. Because, well, it was tough on him. It wasn't tough on his status in baseball, and I told that to my son a while ago. There's going to be minuses for being Pete Rose's [son], and there's going to be pluses. And the pluses are going to outweigh the minuses. He must not worry too much because we just had our first grandson about 11 months ago, and he called him Peter Edward Rose III. So if he's worried about it, he's not hiding it.

Bensinger: He pleaded guilty, obviously, in November to distributing GPL, a controlled...

Rose: No, he did not. He never pleaded anything of distributing. OK? There was no distribution in that. So get it right, don't start saying that he pleaded guilty to distribution, because he didn't. All right? He gave a couple teammates a sleeping pill. That's what it was. Because he just had knee surgery. OK? That's what it was. And it's the same drug you could buy over the counter three years before. He was wrong, and he's being penalized for it. So let him alone. We didn't come here to talk about Pete.

Bensinger: Sure. How would you describe the word "addiction"?

Rose: Addiction? I don't know. I had an addiction to play baseball. I had an addiction to hustle my [butt] off to play baseball. Are you asking me if I had an addiction for gambling? Is that what your question is?

Bensinger: I was interested in you describing your love for gambling.

Rose: I don't have a love for gambling. I have a love for going to the races.

Bensinger: Right, but I mean...

Rose: I work 15 days a month in Las Vegas. And the only time you'll see me in the casino is if I walk by to get in the parking lot. I'm not a casino gambler. Yet everybody thinks I'm the biggest gambler in the world. I love to go to the races. And I can't go to the races, because I work from 12 to 6. The races are during the day. The only time I ever go to the races is when Hollywood Park, which is not running right now, is running on a Friday night. I enjoy the Kentucky Derby. I enjoy the Belmont Stakes. I enjoy the Preakness. I used to be a horse owner. Some of my biggest friends are big-time horse owners. ...

Bensinger: Your dad was obviously a very proud man, very well-respected. You loved him dearly. If he had been alive when your betting on baseball surfaced, what do you think he would have said to you?

Rose: He probably would have kicked my [butt], if you want to know the truth. But he wasn't, so we can't worry about that.

Bensinger: Does that hurt, though, when you think about that?

Rose: Does what hurt?

Bensinger: You know, what your dad might have done or said had he been around when you bet on baseball.

Rose: Yeah, but he did, he'd have done what a lot of people don't do. He'd say, "Son, you made a mistake, don't do it again." It was the same way he used to correct me on playing baseball. On mental mistakes. He wouldn't do it in front of my peers. He would do it on the way home. In other words, he would give you a second chance. Hey, a lot of people make mistakes, man, you can't make the same mistake again. Whether you're talking about gambling or you're talking about playing baseball, whatever you're talking about. You can't make the same mistake again. And I won't make the same mistake again.

I just can't change what happened in 1987, 1988. I wish I could. I wish I could look at you there and just take history and just go back to 1986, my last year as a player. But I can't do it. So you either are going to have to hate me for it or get over it. You look like the type of guy to get over it. You just want to talk about it. It's old news, man. It's yesterday's newspapers. Worry about what is going to happen tomorrow. What about those kids we got over in Iraq and Afghanistan? Don't worry about whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame or whether Pete Rose did this. We got too much other stuff going on in this world.

Bensinger: You say you "broke the spirit of the law designed to end corruption." What if you only bet on your team to win? Do you think that should be allowed?

Rose: Not if there's a rule against it, no. No.

Bensinger: What do you think of the rule?

Rose: I think the rule's right. I was wrong. I broke the rule. How many times in this interview do you want me to say I'm sorry and I was wrong for what I did? I know you're not asking me, but you keep talking about the same damn thing. OK? Hey, I broke the rules, I've been suspended. Forget about Rule 21. Forget about this. ...

Bensinger: How about Mark McGwire?

Rose: Mark McGwire was a tremendous home-run hitter, and from what I understand, what he took wasn't illegal. That's why I'm surprised when he was in front of Congress he didn't say, yeah, I took creatine. It was legal. It was in his locker. He didn't do anything illegal.

Bensinger: But he has been implicated with more than that.

Rose: But there again, let me tell you something. It's impossible for Mark McGwire to have broken the rules. Because the [MLB] rules [against steroids] have only been in place the last two years. ... He couldn't have broke the rules of baseball because the rules have only been intact the last two years. So what he did four years ago is immaterial, as far as I'm concerned.

Bensinger: But the anabolic steroids...

Rose: So you're gonna get into something I don't know a damn thing about.

Bensinger: I was going to say the Steroid Act of 1990 criminalized...

Rose: He might have broken a law. He might have broken a law from the government, but he didn't break a baseball law. You understand what I'm saying? So how are we gonna get on his case for hitting home runs?

Bensinger: Don't you see a problem with that?

Rose: You know, I'm not taking up for Mark McGwire. I just think baseball dropped a ball in [not] making the rules sooner. They should have saw this coming. They should have saw something coming in [1998], OK? Let me explain why -- that was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had the home run battle, correct? One hit 70, one hit 66. OK, that was the first year, that was the first year since 1977 that a National League player hit over 50, and George Foster hit 52 for the Reds in '77. So you had a 21-year span where a big-league ballplayer playing in the National League didn't hit 50 home runs. And all of a sudden, one year, two of them break Roger Maris' record? Two of them break Babe Ruth's record? When does the light go off? When does the light go off? When does the light go off, when the players were this big, now all of a sudden they're this big. You know? And I don't care, it doesn't matter to me, but I'm inside, I'm not an outsider looking in.

Bensinger: When the Reds opened up the new park in 2003, were you approached about being the new manager?

Rose: No. Uh-uh. Nope. If I owned the Reds now, I'd be calling the commissioner to try to get him to work a deal to get me back in there, because the Reds are gonna need to be bailed out. The Reds are headed in the wrong direction. They've got new ownership that will do a good job, but they're one of those teams headed in the wrong direction. They've got some good young players, and they've got some hungry fans, and because of what the Bengals did this year, it's going to put more pressure on the Reds. ...

Bensinger: How do you think current Hall of Famers feel about welcoming Pete Rose?

Rose: I think there's a lot more [who] do than don't. But you have a couple guys who are very outspoken. Bob Feller, I don't know what I ever did to Bob Feller. But that's, you know, I understand Bob Feller. He's the oldest living Hall of Famer. I've got a lot of respect for what he accomplished, you know. And he's got an opinion. We've all got an opinion. It's a shame he don't know me. I mean, he don't understand how much I love the game, how much I put into the game.

I think most fans understand that. I think that's why they like me. One thing I never did when I played -- I made a mistake when I gambled -- but I never cheated the fans. I never played in a game or managed a game where I didn't try to win that damn game. Never. Never. That's why I got all the records that I got. Because I was an aggressive, hate-to-lose type guy. I loved my players, I loved my players when I was in Cincinnati. ...

Bensinger: Johnny Bench said the day you get in is the day he wants out. What's your thought on that?

Rose: That's not true. You ask him tomorrow, he wouldn't say that. He wouldn't say that tomorrow. Johnny's not like that. I get along good with Johnny. By the way, he's the greatest catcher you and I will ever see. You know, Johnny was mad originally, at first, because the year he got into the Hall of Fame was the year I got suspended. And it took a little bit of the luster away from him going into the Hall of Fame. He got over that. ...

Bensinger: What do you say to people who believe your eligibility for the Hall is up?

Rose: I don't know the rule. I can't get anybody to read the rule to me. But I got to admit, maybe I'm stupid, but I don't know how my clock was ticking when I wasn't on the ballot. It's like you're out on bail, and you're going to court, and all of a sudden you're sentenced to five years in prison. You're going to go do the five years, you're not going to do the four. Or they're not going to knock the year off [because] you were out on bail before the court appearance, I don't think. Because the clock starts ticking.

I don't think my clock ever started ticking because I had never been on the ballot. Now is that going to be another one of those rules that they changed up in Cooperstown? Because when I first got suspended I was ineligible for the Hall of Fame, but they changed that rule? Fay Vincent changed that rule? He says he didn't, but he did. So I don't know. Is that the new Pete Rose rule? I can't worry about it. I'm not worried about it. I'm not really worried about it.

Bensinger: You're currently on the ineligible list. How much of the blame belongs on Pete Rose?

Rose: All of it, all of it. ... Everybody knows, everybody should know that my problems were because of my mistake. Not Tommy Gioiosa's or this guy, or not John Dowd, or not Fay Vincent, or not Bart Giamatti -- I'm the one that made a mistake, OK? But all I'm saying is you make a mistake, you understand you made a mistake, just give me a second chance. Just let me have a second chance. Let me go prove that I cleaned my act up.

How can anybody else be to blame? Now certain things may have happened that you can blame this guy or that guy, this guy to prolong it or something like that, taking cheap shots or something like that, that's fine. But if I didn't make the mistake that I made, you wouldn't be doing this interview right now. So how can anybody else be to blame? And why would anybody else ever take a poll, who was responsible for Pete Rose being suspended? I was, I was! I'm not proud of it, but I was! I can't blame anybody else. I was an adult, I knew what I was doing. I don't know why I did it, I can't answer that question, but I know I was wrong, and that's all I can do.

Does that make any sense to you? What other persons or situations can you blame...? The guy running my bets? No, I didn't put a gun to his head and make him run the bets. The bookmaker [who] took the bets? No, he's crooked anyway. You understand what I'm saying? I'm the one. I'm the reason I got in trouble. And I'm not whining about it. I'm not whining about it. You never heard me whine about it. I took it like a man, OK? It's just the way it is.