SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. – In the hours after the most controversial Hall of Fame vote in history and at the far end of the darkest era the sport has ever seen, Pete Rose is here to say he is absolutely in favor of artificial enhancement.
The bigger the better says the Hit King, who, incidentally, wears that moniker – "HIT KING" – not on his sleeve, but embroidered into the right collar of his dress shirt. He's dining in a private room at Sisley Italian Kitchen on the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards. Reporters – some sports, some entertainment, his fiancée, his fiancée's 14-year-old daughter and his agent Dan Goossen, the fight promoter, surround him.
Pete looks good at 71, even beside his future wife, who goes about four decades younger, has posed for Playboy, and on Thursday arrived in a snug tan dress that spoke to the Playboy interest.
Anyway, Pete and Kiana (along with her daughter Cassie and son Ashton) star in a new reality show, "Pete Rose: Hits and Mrs." that premieres Monday night on TLC. That's why we're all here, and that's how Pete got to talking about artificial enhancement.
He leans toward Kiana and asks, "What do we call those things, 'His and Hers'?"
"Huh?" she says.
He drops his eyes.
"Oh, 'The Sisters?' " Uppercase, proper noun-like.
Pete nods. Seems Kiana had breast reduction surgery five months ago and it didn't sit well with the new old man.
"I was used to them for 4 ½ years," Pete pleads, "and all of a sudden we aren't going to have them no more."
"It's no problem," he continues sadly. "She's still bigger than most girls."
She rolls her eyes playfully. Cassie stares into her iPhone. The elderly lady across the table tries desperately to hold her smile.
"Like I was taking candy from him," Kiana says. "He was really upset. Now he's used to it. He maybe forgets."
Yes, sure seems he has.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Pete Rose on hopes of HOF entry]
This is Pete's new world. He still lives primarily in Las Vegas, where he signs autographs and goes about the business of being Pete Rose. He still goes to Cooperstown, where he signs autographs, resists the temptation to cross the threshold of the Hall of Fame, and every year from the sidewalk watches the big parade go by. Now he's on a reality TV show.
Goossen said they'd "recently" telephoned the commissioner's office in the hopes of setting up a face-to-face with Bud Selig. (Rose, of course, is banned from the game, the Hall, pretty much anything to do with Major League Baseball.) Selig, Goossen said, hasn't gotten back to them yet.
A legend without a sport, Pete is going on a quarter-century in the commissioner's doghouse. We think of Pete when the ballots arrive, when the results are announced, when the winners are inducted. He attends a dozen or so Cincinnati Reds games each season, and it's still a story when he does. He'll be there on April 1 when Reds open at home against the Los Angeles Angels. He watches three games a night on television when he's home, unless Kiana is home too, and then sometimes they watch reality shows instead. He gets his dinner from Subway every night, unless Kiana is home too, because she hates Subway. Sometimes, when the Kardashians aren't on, they watch Animal Planet.
"I love when the tigers eat the wildebeests," he says. "Poor wildebeests. But there's a million of them."
Waiters deliver long oval plates loaded with pasta, meatballs and chicken Parmesan. Pete eats a sensible salad. Between bites – sometimes during bites – he says he can't believe no one was elected Wednesday, Roger Clemens especially. He says Craig Biggio should be in, and Mike Piazza. By the end, it was hard to tell if he was in or out on Barry Bonds, but he did say he liked Bonds a lot and that, as a man and ballplayer, he was misunderstood.
So, he points out, induction day will be for three men who are dead; umpire Hank O'Day, former New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th Century player Deacon White. And that someone else will have to read their speeches for them, which gets him to thinking.
"I might have to practice that," he says. "I might have to write that sumbitch for somebody to read."
Pete laughs at the joke, that he'll beat his own speech to the grave. He's coming up on 72 after all, and it doesn't look like the commissioner is in any mood to budge. They talk about timing, he says, always about timing, and how Pete's got this unfortunate habit of pissing people off at the worst possible moment.
But, he says, he's been good, kept his nose clean, been a solid citizen. He feels like he deserves a second chance.
As he notes, "The guy who shot the pope got a second chance."
Pete spent some time this summer in Cooperstown explaining to Kiana's children how he could be this man, The Pete Rose, The Hit King, and not have a permanent place in that building.
He told them it was his fault, no one else's. He told them he screwed up and screwed up bad. He told them maybe he'd be there one day, that he'd just have to wait, that he couldn't change what he couldn't change. What he needed, he told them, was a second chance.
"I won't need a third," he says. "And, believe me, nobody's going to find me betting on baseball."
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He's a different man, he says. And maybe nobody gets that.
"When I take my uniform off, I'm a nice guy," he says.
He hoists a thumb at Kiana.
"She thinks I'm a nice guy when I take my clothes off."
And the elderly lady across the table holds her smile.
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