Every year, for the past 11 years, Pete Rose has sat in a store in Las Vegas and signed autographs.
He doesn't do it for only a couple days a year -- or even a couple weeks. For more than a decade, the banished "Hit King" has been signing autographs for more than 200 days a year. He's not a sad soul with nowhere else to go.
Despite the fact that Rose says he has signed more autographs for pay than anyone in history, he still commands enough for his John Hancock that he has averaged $1 million a year in income for the only autograph-in-residence deal in all of sports. He does so well that he left Fox after serving as a commentator for the first three games of this year's World Series to go back to Vegas and sign merchandise.
On Monday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred rejected Rose's plea for reinstatement to the game and the chance to be admitted into the Hall of Fame. But there's a good argument to be made that Rose has actually benefited more from being on the outside of baseball looking in.
"I think like anyone who gets into Cooperstown, he'd make more in the first five years by writing 'HOF' on everything he signs," said Ken Goldin, now the president of Goldin Auctions and whose former company, Scoreboard, had a deal with Rose some 25 years ago. "But if you add it up over the years, I think it has benefited him more financially not to be in the Hall."
Goldin is the guy who would know. He was with Rose in Minneapolis at the Cable Value Network on Aug. 23, 1989. Hours after Rose signed the agreement to be banished from the game, he appeared on the shopping network and set what is still a record for the largest amount of signed memorabilia sold by a single player in a 48-hour period. Goldin said Rose signed and sold about 50,000 items, including signed baseballs for $39.94 each.
Since then, Goldin Auctions has sold hundreds of items with Rose's autographs, including those on the checks that Rose signed to pay off the gambling debt referenced in the Dowd Report, as well as Rose-signed baseballs with his signature "I'm Sorry I Bet On Baseball" line. Goldin tried to sell an authentic copy of Rose's banishment document, but it fell short of its reserve.
"On the high-end, game-used items, he would see more of a surge if he was a Hall of Famer," Goldin said. "But he doesn't own a lot of those items, so he doesn't benefit from the sale directly. He definitely makes more on the lower-end items, like an autographed ball or picture, and he does make money from that."
Goldin reasons that when someone buys something of Rose's, the conversation piece really does spark a Hall of Fame debate.
Joie Casey brought Pete Rose to his Field of Dreams store at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where Rose signed items from 2005 through 2010. When Casey sold the shop, he became a partner in Hit King Inc. and rented space in the Art of Music store at Mandalay Bay, where Rose has been signing for the past five years.
Casey said he doesn't want to take a side as to whether Rose is a more sellable product inside or outside of the Hall of Fame, but he is willing to acknowledge that the debate does lead to curiosity among the consumers who see Rose inside the store.
"Pete signs roughly 80 signatures a day for people who come in," Casey said. "Most of those people, 10 minutes before they meet Pete, had no idea that they were going to get to meet him."
It costs $75 to watch Rose sign your 8-by-10 picture, $99 for a signed baseball and the same price to have a photo printed out on the spot. The conversation with Rose is, of course, part of the deal.
There's a reason Rose has made Vegas his home. It's a place where people are ready to let wacky things happen. Meeting and getting something signed by Pete Rose, a man who is banned from baseball, has more appeal in that space than being part of a club that involves the 60-some other living Hall of Famers.
When it comes to prestige, it would of course have been better for Pete Rose to become a Hall of Famer. But if it's money he's looking for, staying out of the Hall has been a good thing for him.