Charlie Hustle: the definitive Pete Rose book that deconstructs a disgraced legend

OIn the field, Pete Rose scored hit after hit. Off the field he racked up gambling debts. Although perseverance would reward him with the all-time baseball hits record, his gambling resulted in a severe punishment: a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball and ultimately from the Hall of Fame. A new book revisits this dramatic story – Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose, and the Last Glory Days of Baseball, by veteran journalist Keith O’Brien.

“I feel like in the last 35 years since Pete Rose was banned from baseball and made one mistake after another off the field, we’ve forgotten why we ever cared about him,” O’Brien says. “The first thing I wanted to do was go back to that whole story, the whole arc.”

The book takes its title from Rose’s nickname and takes on added resonance in the wake of the latest gambling scandal to hit the major leagues: Ippei Mizuhara, the ex-interpreter of MLB CEO Shohei Ohtani, is accused of stealing $16 million have stolen from the star to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts. Ohtani insists he did not gamble on sports himself and was unaware of paying Mizuhara’s debts incurred through gambling.

It remains illegal for Major League Baseball players to bet on their own sport or team. The latter would give rise to the same lifetime ban imposed on Rose in 1989 by then Commissioner A Bartlett Giamatti. An investigation led by Marine Corps veteran and Department of Justice alumnus John Dowd indicated that Rose, as Reds player-manager, bet on his own. games. Rose denied it, but accepted Giamatti’s punishment. According to the book, the commissioner’s sudden death from the fall turned public opinion even more against Rose.

Today, attitudes toward gambling have changed in the six years since the Supreme Court opened the door to sports betting in the US, the author said.

“There has been a huge shift in the cultural acceptance of gambling,” says O’Brien. “It fundamentally changes the way we approach sports, how we talk about sports. I think it’s fundamentally changing American culture right now.”

Pete Rose of the Reds dives into home plate past Giants catcher Dave Rader’s glove in July 1972. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

If Rose were playing today, the author points out, he could have found legal ways to engage in gambling, such as taking on a sponsorship by FanDuel or DraftKings.

“If you think of famous or infamous gamblers in American history,” O’Brien says, “Pete Rose will be in that conversation.”

The author, who grew up in Cincinnati, had many conversations with Rose for the book, resulting in 27 hours of interviews before the calls ultimately went unanswered.

“When you hang out with Pete, you kind of see it all,” O’Brien says. “He’s rude, he’s brash, he’s arrogant, he’s entertaining, he’s a good storyteller… The only thing that’s really palpable is that Pete has a charisma about him,” which “our most talented politicians have, that our most popular actors and rock stars.”

“Whether you support him or not,” the author says, “objectively speaking, he was one of the most iconic athletes of the 20th century, often finding himself in the middle of some of baseball’s greatest moments.”

The book vividly describes two such moments: Rose’s twelfth-inning collision at home plate with Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse, who won the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, and the first of his three World Series championships, in the epic seven-game tilt against the Boston Red Sox in 1975. Both moments were shown on national television to tens of millions of viewers.

Of the clash with Fosse, O’Brien says: ‘I would say this is the moment when Pete Rose becomes Pete Rose… It gilds the mythology of Charlie Hustle. This was a man who would do anything to win, including running into a man at home plate in a meaningless game. It will also forever define Ray Fosse, who was never the same, never the same player.”

Five years later, Rose was part of the Big Red Machine, which included co-stars Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr. belonged. That team took on the Red Sox in an instant-classic World Series. Although the series is widely known for its pulsating Game 6 – a Sox victory in overtime, punctuated by Carlton Fisk’s home run – there was a seventh match, and it went to Rose and the Reds. Rose took home Most Valuable Player honors.

Pete Rose’s infamous collision with Indians catcher Ray Fosse during the 1970 All-Star Game gilded his Charlie Hustle mythos. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

In Game 7, he proved that his contributions sometimes went beyond the box score. With Cincinnati trailing, he broke up a double play with a hard slide to second base. The next batter, Perez, hit a home run out of Fenway Park to cut the deficit to one.

“After the game, his own manager, future Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, tells the press that if Pete Rose doesn’t break the double play, the Reds probably won’t win the game,” O’Brien says.

The Reds repeated as champions with a sweep of the New York Yankees in 1976. Two years later, Rose put together a 44-game hitting streak, the best in the National League and second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak in 1941 After leaving Cincinnati in the offseason via free agency, Rose won his third Fall Classic as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. Even before leaving for Philadelphia, his gambling had become a problem.

“By the mid-1970s, at least one player on his team was concerned about his relationships off the field,” O’Brien says. “According to my reporting, Major League Baseball was concerned about its gambling in 1978. It seems to be getting worse.”

In Rose’s first season as Phillie, his marriage to his wife of 15 years, Karolyn, ended in divorce. The book alleges that he had affairs during their marriage, including an affair in the early 1970s with a high school student who later said she was underage when it began. The book addresses claims of a baby born out of wedlock with another woman, Terry Rubio. A second marriage to Carol Woliung also ended in divorce.

“I put all of that in the book – not for any salacious reasons, but because I think it helps paint a picture of how much Pete was unraveling as a man, at the same time he was having his greatest success as a player,” says O’Brien, whose long list of interviewees includes both Karolyn Rose and Terry Rubio (now Terry Rubio Fernandez).

Pete Rose, then manager of the Cincinnati Reds, responds to a reporter’s question while being investigated by the baseball commissioner’s office for gambling during spring training in March 1989. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Rose returned to the Reds as a player-manager and made history in 1985 by breaking Ty Cobb’s career hits record of 4,191. (He would finish with 4,256 hits.) Yet the following year marked a very different turning point – the book claims that Rose then began betting on baseball, among other sports.

“I think my reporting makes it clear that Pete Rose was addicted to gambling,” O’Brien said. “A gambling addict will make choices that are destructive. I believe that’s why Pete Rose ended up betting on baseball.”

The book attempts to bust what the author sees as myths about Giamatti’s subsequent investigation into Rose’s gambling in 1989. O’Brien argues that the new commissioner was not out to get Rose, nor did he have a vendetta against him, while Rose’s side: he loved Giamatti and appreciated his love of baseball.

However, O’Brien explains: “Bart was also a purist, he was an idealist. When he heard – first – rumors and then evidence that Pete had bet on baseball, he knew he had to take action. What Pete had done was against the rules of baseball. Probably the most famous rule of baseball is against betting. Piet had violated that. Now he would have to pay the price for that.”

When O’Brien and Rose were still speaking, the author accompanied Rose to book signings, where people paid to line up for an autograph from the man who remains their idol. Today, Rose adds, upon request, an apology for betting on baseball – an admission that would have been welcome 35 years earlier.

“That belief that he could do anything really helped him as a player,” O’Brien reflects. “He was filled with confidence as a player and always believed, as a hitter, that he would prevail, get a hit, get on base… The same quality, the belief that he could do anything, the belief that he would ultimately triumph, was in many ways his downfall off the field.