BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Pete Rose stood behind the batting cage Monday, joking as former major leaguer Joe Mather hit ball after ball to center field during batting practice for the Bridgeport Bluefish.
“I asked him, ‘What are you working on, a sacrifice fly?’ ” Rose said.
Charlie Hustle’s jersey was too big and he was wearing slacks as he exchanged lineup cards with opposing manager Butch Hobson at home plate. But Rose was back in his element, managing a baseball team, if just for one day.
The 73-year-old whose 4,256 hits are the most in major league history served as guest skipper for the Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League during their 2-0 win over the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Barnstormers. He also coached first base for the team for the first five innings.
The game at the 5,300-seat stadium was his first managing job since 1989, when as the skipper of the Cincinnati Reds he agreed to a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for betting on baseball. He later admitted that he bet on Reds games while running the team.
Rose could take this one-game job because the Bluefish are not affiliated with any major league team. He said the appearance wasn’t about bringing attention to the ban or getting reinstated.
He said he was trying to show he could be a good ambassador for the game.
“If I’m ever reinstated, I won’t need a third chance,” he said. “Believe me.”
The Bluefish players asked for autographs took pictures and listened to Rose’s stories of his glory days. Many, like Rose, also are hoping for one more shot at the big time.
“He’s here, so I’m definitely going to ask him about stuff,” said 40-year-old Luis Lopez, who has spent 20 years playing baseball, but just two at the major league level. “I’m going to pick his brain about everything, especially hitting, because eventually I want to coach.”
Rose said he would never consider managing an independent league team full-time. It just doesn’t pay enough. He makes a lot more money these days making personal appearances around the country and signing autographs for cash on the Las Vegas strip.
About 50 fans paid $250 each to get into a “meet and greet” with Rose before this game and others paid $150 to have lunch with him. He did sign some free autographs as he took the field.
About 4,500 fans paid to see the game. George Libretti, 46 of Beacon Falls, brought his 10-year-old nephew, Robert Rosko, so the boy could one day say that he saw the greatest hitter who ever lived. Libretti said he supported Rose’s ban 25 years ago, but believes the time has come to put him in the Hall of Fame.
“He’s done his time,” he said. “It’s time.”
Rose said he’s learned to live with his ban. He was asked during his pregame news conference if he had any advice for Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling on how to deal with his.
“All I can say about Donald Sterling is, my fiancee is a lot better looking than his girlfriend,” Rose joked before getting serious for just a moment.
“A lifetime ban,” he said, “is a long time.”