When TLC wanted to promote the channel’s latest reality series Pete Rose: Hits and Mrs., it was mostly sports writers at the lunch with baseball’s all-time hits leader. About a dozen gathered around a table at Sisley Italian Kitchen in Sherman Oaks mostly to talk to about Pete’s feelings about being banned from Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. A lot was said about the Baseball Writers Association’s decision not to select any players to be honored at Cooperstown this year. That was to make a point about the game’s steroid scandals, but the spiteful snub did more to hurt very deserving players who have waited their turn, plus the Cooperstown merchants who depend on the Hall of Fame, according to Pete.
Putting the pettiness of baseball politics aside, my mother, Mary Lou Platt, and I were on hand as both writers and baseball fans. We were happy to be there to share some incredible pasta with Pete and his lovely fiancée Kiana Kim. We chatted with them about their six-part show and got to know the softer side of “Charlie Hustle.”
At first glance, Pete and Kiana appear to be an odd couple, but who isn’t? Actually the 70-something sports superstar and his 30-something fiancée were glowing like school kids on a date as they talked about their relationship. Pete wanted everyone to know that Kiana, a former Playboy model, is “a bombshell with brains and personality.” Pete splits his time with her family at her Valencia, Calif. home, and his job in Las Vegas.
Kiana revealed that last year Pete took her and her pre-teen son and teenage daughter on a visit to Cooperstown, “but when we got to the front door of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said, ‘You take the kids in, I’ll wait out here.’ It was too emotional for Pete. He is a sensitive guy. Not a lot of people see that.”
Pete said the TLC series also showed that he’s very fan-friendly. “I’m not going around knocking people over. I only knocked people over if they were blocking second-base or trying to make a double play.”
The former major leaguer had “Hit King” embroidered on the lapel of his shirt and he explained what that meant to him. “You’ve got to hit to win,” he said.
His greatest professional accomplishment has been “accumulating my records, and I have a lot of them. The greatest record I think is that I have 1,972 winning games. I tell kids all the time — you play to have fun. And the way to have fun is to win. I have 1,972 wins, and no one will ever beat that,” assured the biggest winner in professional sports.
As for a monumental personal accomplishment, Pete said it was the nine-minute ovation he received in Cincinnati, when he broke the all-time hit record, which caused him to break down and cry. “I started to think about all the people responsible for me being there, who weren’t there, like my dad, my uncle, my Little League and high school coaches, they were all deceased, and that’s what brings tears to your eyes.” He humorously pictured his dad watching “right up there next to Ty Cobb, and they were ready to get into a fight.”
Pete called his gambling “a big mistake. It took me a long time to come clean, but I have,” and he honestly doesn’t blame anyone but himself for his ban from baseball. He doesn’t think his series will help with his MLB reinstatement. “I doubt (Commissioner) Bud Selig is at home watching reality shows. That’s not why I did the show. But it’s the American way to give someone a second chance, and I’d be the happiest guy in the world if I got one. Hey, even the guy who shot the pope got a second chance. So it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’m in no hurry. I’ll just live my life in a positive way and hope someday someone calls and says, ‘You’ve got a second chance.’”
Rose’s legacy on the field will get him to the Hall of Fame eventually. As fans of the game, my mom and I are just hoping it’s sooner rather than later, for Pete’s sake.