He last played in a major league game 35 years ago and when he left, Peter Edward Rose, Sr. had left his mark as one of the greatest players in the history of professional baseball. Rose still stands as baseball’s all-time hits leader, with 4,256 to his credit. He was a 17 time All Star, a three time World Series champion, won three batting titles, one MVP award, two time Gold Gloves winner and was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1963.
He is a member of the MLB All-Century Team and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
He’s also one of the most embattled superstars in the sport’s history. Betting on baseball while managing the Reds in the 1980s means Rose does not have a bust among the legends in Cooperstown.
The indelible mark he left on the diamond cannot be denied though, not only in his massive, measurable, statistical accomplishments but as much in the intangibles and immeasurable imprint he left on the game. He played with a passion and ferocity that was unparalleled.
No matter what you think of him, “Charlie Hustle” is also baseball’s biggest winner, statistically speaking. He has been on the winning side of baseball games than any player in history.
He’s made a nice living signing autographs at shows and during regular gigs in Las Vegas. There’s definitely no shortage of Pete Rose autographs in the hobby.
I caught up to him to talk about the value of his iconic 1963 Topps rookie card, the pride he still takes in signing his name, memorabilia from his career–and more.
Tony Reid–Your 1963 Topps rookie card is well known to collectors. You share the card with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen and Al Weis, who were also prospects at the time. Do you remember seeing it for the first time?
Pete Rose– We are talking about the days when Topps was really, really valuable. All the players couldn’t wait to get on a Topps card. What I do for a living is sign autographs five hours a day for fifteen days a month at the MGM Grand at a store called The Art of Music. A guy brought in one of my rookie cards last year and he said it was worth $19,000. It was graded a 9. I never understood the difference between a 6 or an 8 or a 9 grade. I don’t know who grades those cards but I guess they know what they are doing. With this 9 grade, you would have thought they guy brought a safe in with the card.
I’ve seen guys that are crazy about collecting cards. Every one of them seems to have a Pete Rose rookie card. They will start talking to me about the value of the cards and you almost have to kick them out so the next person can come in. They are really experts on these cards. It’s amazing. The cards look the same to me but they don’t look the same to card collectors. They really have an eye for the details.
Here is an interesting fact- I’ve never signed my rookie card that had the other three guys on the card.
I’ll tell you this, Topps created a monster. When we went to Shea to play the Mets, that’s when the guys from Topps came down to get the pictures before the games. Sy (Berger) never came down to the ball park when I was there. Hank Feester was always there. The photographer would get you in your batting stance or in the on deck circle and things like that. That would always end up being your card the next year.
TR–Did you collect baseball cards as a kid?
PR- When I was a kid we didn’t have many cards. We put them on our goddamn bicycle spokes. I can’t honestly tell you that I was a card collector. When I was a kid I didn’t have the money to buy the packs. A lot of the kids that bought the packs bought them to get the chewing gum. Most of those guys that collected for them, it was a passion. I had a passion for playing the game. If I had a passion for collecting cards I would have had the best collection around. I would have worked at it just like I worked at playing the game of baseball.
TR– What are your thoughts on the hobby today?
PR-Here’s something I don’t quite understand about card collecting. If you were to ask me if I want a thousand Babe Ruth cards autographed, the answer is hell yeah. People in the business don’t want the autograph on the cards. They say that it ruins the card. I never understood that. I would love to have a thousand Babe Ruth cards signed. How am I going to ruin it? It’s my picture. I’m just signing on my little space. When I sign my rookie card I use a Statler, that or I have a Sharpie with a point on it so you can make a small autograph.
TR–Did you have a favorite card?
PR-I always liked the Re Pete card. It was me and my son. Every player loves their son. He was a ball player. Anyone would want to see a nice card of them and their son and I am no exception. I have about three hundred pictures on cards but the Re-Pete is my favorite. I think they did it because eventually he made the big leagues, so he was a big league ball player, too. It was a picture in the on deck circle, I think in Philadelphia. He was our bat boy in Philadelphia. He was a little boy at that time. Hopefully someday he will get a picture on a card with his son.
TR–You have such a nice, classic signature. Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
PR-I used to sign autographs when I played for Tampa in the Florida State League. It was my first full year. I hit 30 triples, I hit .330 I was MVP and we won a championship.
I used to sign, believe it or not, Pete “Scooter” Rose. I think they named me after Phil Rizzuto. I haven’t seen one of those lately. That was back in 1961.
A 1961 Tampa newspaper story refers to him as “Pete (Scooter) Rose.
We won the championship in Tampa. We were all a bunch of 19 and 20 year old kids. The owner of the team gave us all a Zippo lighter for winning the championship. None of us smoked but we all got Zippo lighters. I wish I had that Zippo lighter today. The higher up you got, the more autographs you sign.
TR–What is the most memorable fan interaction you’ve had over the years?
PR-I used to be very cognizant of the fans, especially the kids. If the kids had something they wanted to get autographed I would sign it, especially in the minors, when I was a 20 or 21 year old kid myself. You appreciate the fact that they are asking you for an autograph.
I can’t pinpoint when autographs became important to kids. I think I was among the first to do card shows. They didn’t do card shows in the 60s or 70s. Anything that was signed was going to the ball park or leaving the ballpark. I would do that for an hour a day because I would be making $35 million a year. What else do you have to do?
TR–You sign tons of autographs but still have such a nice, appealing signature. How much pride do you still take in signing after all these years?
PR-I don’t understand guys that take money from people for autographs and just scribble it. If I sit down to do a thousand autographs for a private signing, my first autograph will be the same as the last one. I do take pride in it but that’s just the way I write. I just try to give everyone a good autograph. Joe DiMaggio had a good autograph. Mickey Mantle had a good autograph. Willie Mays has a good autograph. The guys you think wouldn’t have a nice autograph are the ones that take the most pride in signing.
TR–With all that you have accomplished over the course of your career-the all-time hit king, the numerous records and accolades, do you have an office or a mancave or area where you display memorabilia?
PR-I have some at my son’s house. I live in a condo in downtown Las Vegas. I have all 17 All Star game used bats. I have my World Series trophies and a lot of stuff at home. I try to keep everything that is the ‘first of”. Every year when you made the All Star team the bat companies would give you a few bats in the locker when you got to the ballpark. My first one was 1965 and my last one was 1985. They always put the year of the game on the end of the bat. That is all game used stuff.
TR–If you could go back in time and jersey swap with any player in history, who would you choose?
PR-When I played, believe it or not, we were never allowed to take our jerseys home. When I won Rookie of the Year I couldn’t take my jersey home. For example, when I played with the Reds in 1973 after the season they took the uniforms and passed them down in 1974 to the Triple A team. Then we got new ones. The Triple A team passed their uniforms down to Double A. It was expensive buying new ones every year and the uniforms didn’t have names on them, so they could do that.
As far as a jersey swap, it’s the Babe. Babe Ruth. He’s the greatest player to ever play the game. I could tell you his jersey would be too big for me and mine would be way too small for him! I think he did something that Wayne Gretzky couldn’t do. He did something that Michael Jordan couldn’t do. If you think Tom Brady is the greatest, it’s something he couldn’t do. Those three guys couldn’t save their sport the way Babe Ruth saved baseball. If Babe Ruth went in the Philadelphia or Kansas City or anywhere, for a three game series, the sold out all three games and it allowed the franchises to grow. He gets all my credit for saving baseball. I don’t know if any other athlete in any other sport could do that. I respect the hell out of the three guys I mentioned but I don’t think they could do that like Babe Ruth did. Babe Ruth is synonymous with sport and the game of baseball like none ever. If you have a Babe Ruth autograph you want him to be the only one on the ball.
TR–If you could add any single baseball card to your collection which one would you add?
PR-Like everyone else I would want the Honus Wagner card tobacco card. That’s worth over a million dollars.
TR–If we flipped over a Pete Rose card, what one fact would you want printed on the back?
PR-That’s simple for me. It’s the best record I have. Here is what you put on the back-world’s greatest winner of all time. I played in 1,972 wins. That’s 250 more than the guy in second place. That’s almost two full seasons. You play for one reason, to win. I can look a guy in the eye and say I am the biggest winner in the history of sports. No one will ever take that away from me because nobody will ever duplicate that just like no one will ever duplicate my hit record.