Pete Rose was one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the sport. Now that Pete is entering his twilight years he wants to leave us with some final thoughts about how he became such a great player and the things that have been important to him. If you read "Play Hungry - the Making of a Baseball Player" you'll learn what matters to Pete Rose.
First of all there was his dad, the man who instilled a system of beliefs into an eager youngster who worshiped and emulated a guy who was a great athlete in his own right. Pete's dad demonstrated to him that there was nothing better than winning and that was the one thing that really mattered.
I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would ever get an interview with Pete Rose. The second I saw that Pete was publishing this book and that he would be coming through Cincinnati I contacted his publicist and literally begged for an interview. When she arranged it and gave me Pete's phone number I knew I was getting close to actually talking to him but I wasn't going to believe it until it really happened.
She gave me his phone number as a precaution. Pete was supposed to call me and I had his number so that in the event he didn't call I could still have a way to possibly track him down. One of the things I learned from reading his book is that Pete's dad stressed the importance of punctuality and how Pete takes great pride in being punctual. I had a sense that he would call when he was supposed to call. In fact I thought he might call me early. That's exactly what he did. He called me ten minutes early.
How did I prepare for an interview with one of the most famous living baseball players? Well, first of all, I read his book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, too. The book is engaging and it really gives us a chance to see the world through his eyes. As I got ready to talk to Pete I realized another thing, that he has done literally thousands of interviews. He has probably been interviewed more times that anybody I have ever interviewed.
Pete played thousands of games. He was often the star of those games. Every time a game ended Pete would have been interviewed by numerous sportswriters. I'll bet he has been questioned by reporters over ten thousand times! So how was I going to get him out of what I call the "sound bite mode?" That's when a person has been interviewed so many times that they are exhausted by the process. They just want to get through it so they will often give rote responses and canned answers. I needed to break this interview out of that mode. How was I going to do it? Well, I knew it might be tough but I was confident I could. Reading Pete's book actually helped in that regard because Pete's enthusiasm for success is contagious. I had to break through somehow and get under the surface to hear from the real Pete Rose.
When Pete called in he said "hi, this is Pete Rose." We started the interview and he was giving rote responses. He sounded bored. I kept throwing questions at him. I was establishing that not only had I read the book but I was willing to pitch inside. He noticed and that started to wake him up as he began giving more in-depth answers. He was becoming engaged in the conversation!
One of my favorite sections of the book deals with a trip Pete took to Viet Nam when he was a young player. The war was underway and he had been sent there to entertain the troops. His traveling companion was the New York Yankee legend Joe Dimaggio. One of Pete's most amusing anecdotes was in that section. It wasn't something that I could mention in detail on the radio. I alluded to it and Pete responded with a low, throaty, very genuine laugh.
I made Pete Rose laugh. That was my favorite moment in the interview.
About a month ago I started writing a book about some of the people I have met over the past 25 years. On the day I interviewed Pete Rose I was writing about the experience in real time. I felt like it was the bottom of the ninth inning, we were down a run, Pete Rose was on third base. The count was full and the pitcher threw me a low fast ball which I golfed into the upper deck. Pete sprinted in to score the tying run and when I followed him in with the winning run he was waiting for me at home plate with that big Pete Rose grin. We had done interview together. It was a team effort. Together, we won.
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, Wright Memorial Public Library, and Microsun Lamps.