As the momentous moment drew near, as Ohioans came to the game in shirts and caps inscribed “4,192,” as civic leaders prepared to rechristen downtown Second Street “Pete Rose Way,” as Steve Garvey of the visiting team threatened to tackle Rose if he tried to turn a record-breaking single into a double, it became more and more difficult for Rose to lead his normal life.
Already, during the previous week, he had spoken of how he pretty much had to cloister himself in his roomy Indian Hill house outside Cincinnati, or in his hotel suites on the road. “Sure, I can go out and eat in a restaurant,” he said, “if I want to eat it cold.” He knows he will be mobbed at his table. He knows he is Rose.
“I lead the league in room service,” he said. “I’m on a first-name basis with most of the room-service ladies. ‘Helen, Ruth, Joan, this is Pete. Send me up some dinner.’ ”
Yet it is hardly a lonely life that Rose leads, and he is not complaining. He has chosen to be a public figure, and a very public one at that. “I believe strongly in public relations,” he said. As player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Rose believes it is in the best interests of everyone that he put his best foot forward at all times--give the people what they want.
Sometimes, though, a man can give too much. When Rose decided to put himself into Sunday’s game in Chicago, rather than sit tight the way he had been expected to do, he threw certain Cincinnatians for a loop. Owner Marge Schott of the Reds described herself as hysterical. Pete’s wife, Carol, and infant son, Tyler, had left Chicago before the game and gone home. So had Pete’s attorney, Reuven Katz, a man who had spent most of the last year working on projects related to his client’s pursuit of Ty Cobb.
Rose said he owed it to his sense of duty to play the game. The only reason he hadn’t intended to play was because the Cubs were using a left-handed pitcher, and once they switched to a righty, Rose felt an obligation to play. And as he went about tying Cobb’s record with two hits, the people back home were squirming.
Mayor Charles Luken of Cincinnati had organized a gala celebration for Rose, one that would get under way the day after the Ty-breaking hit. He was forced to spend most of Sunday frantically preparing for the possibility of a party Monday, as was a city councilman who had spearheaded the movement to turn Second Street into “Pete Rose Way,” a decision that had passed on a very close vote.
It took a two-hour rain delay to darken the skies and interfere with Rose’s chances of breaking the record, although he did have a couple of cracks at it. By Sunday night, when he returned to his hometown tied for the record, the local folks were relieved.
Rose, though, seemed worn to a frazzle. At the airport, mobbed by fans, he made his way through without the slightest trace of a smile.
Next afternoon, Rose said he was reluctant to take part in any civic celebrations, because the Reds had a game to play every night of the week, including two Friday with the Dodgers. The mayor and city councilman sounded a little distressed by the news, but felt better Tuesday after Rose agreed to take part in their parade.
Marge Schott, meanwhile, felt better after the exasperating experience she had gone through Sunday, when nobody notified her that her most valued employee had decided to go to work.
She tried to reach Rose in Chicago by phone, failed, and got so upset that she left the football game she was attending and went to St. Margaret’s Hall, a rest home where her mother resides. “The nuns told me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s the Blessed Virgin’s birthday and God made it rain,’ ” Schott said.
The boss finally had a word with Rose on Monday. “I told him another day like yesterday and I’d kill him,” she said. “My heart can’t take this.”
Near the batting cage before the game, Rose had looked around, spotted a familiar figure and said, “Oh, oh. Here comes Marge.”
“Here, stand over here,” said Dave Van Gorder, a 6-2, 205-pound catcher. And Rose hid behind him while Schott tried to find him.
As for the other women in Pete Rose’s life, they, too, have been bearing up under all this fuss. Helen, Ruth, Joan and the other room-service ladies are not the only women important to him.
It is true that Rose is a self-described papa’s boy, one who used to pass a hat around the grandstand for money while his father--until the age of 42--played semipro football. Father-son relationships are of obvious importance to Rose, whose 15-year-old son, Petey, sits in the Reds’ dugout in a “Rose 14" uniform, and whose 10-month-old son, Ty, bears the name of the man who held the all-time hit record of 4,191.
In the meantime, there is Fawn, Pete’s oldest child, a college student of 20, who not only attended the recent games but talked her mother, Karolyn, Pete’s former wife, into coming along. “She still loves him,” Fawn said.
Fawn is the one whose favorite player growing up was the guy who vowed here Monday that he would tackle Pete Rose at first base when he got the big hit, even if the ball went to the wall. “I’d have to go home every night and look in my kid’s room and see a poster of Steve Garvey,” Rose said, pretending to mind.
Karolyn, well known in Cincinnati during her marriage to Pete, was a colorful character who endured a lot of strain during a much publicized paternity suit involving her husband and later through the divorce. “My wife did a great job raising our two kids,” Pete said the other day, referring to Karolyn.
Then there is Carol, Pete’s current wife, a former Philadelphia Eagle cheerleader who is not much older than his daughter. She is blond and vivacious and the mother of Tyler, who rides around in his stroller through the tunnels of Riverfront Stadium, unaware of his indirect relationship to the late Tyrus Cobb.
As for LaVerne Noeth, she also came to the ballpark Monday and Tuesday to see Pete Rose. It was only natural for her to do so, seeing as how he is her son.
Now 70 and a resident of Thonotosassa, Fla., near Tampa, she does not see Pete much anymore. She watched him play Sunday on a TV in the Cincinnati home of her daughter, Jackie, and son-in-law, Albert Schwier--the same home where Pete lived as a boy--and said she was “sitting here crying like a baby, goose bumps all over me.”
Pete’s father, Harry Francis Rose, died in 1970. “His daddy really pushed him all the time,” Mrs. Noeth told the Cincinnati Post. “If he got four hits, his father thought he could have gotten five.”
All Pete needed was one hit when he went to the park Tuesday night. His loved ones were there, eager to celebrate. “I’ll probably go down and jump over the fence--jump over Marge Schott,” Pete’s mother said beforehand.
Pete himself did not intend to hide behind any catchers. He expected to be tackled and kissed and hugged. It was all right for one night, he said. He believed in public relations. This was the Pete Rose way.