Pete Rose watches "Inside the NBA," the postgame show for NBA on TNT broadcasts. The banter between analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal, Rose says, "is very entertaining to me."
Could Rose be baseball’s Barkley?
FOX Sports is about to find out.
FOX officials say they are hiring Rose for his on-air presence and that he will make for compelling television regardless of how one views his controversial past.
The network’s move comes at a time when Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256, has officially requested that new Commissioner Rob Manfred lift his lifetime ban from the sport.
Rose, who turned 74 on April 14, was banished in 1989 for violating Rule 21(d) while managing the Cincinnati Reds. The rule states that any player, umpire or club or league official or employee who bets on baseball shall be declared permanently ineligible.
Manfred recently told CNBC that he plans to give Rose’s case a "full and fresh look." The new commissioner’s predecessors, Bud Selig and Fay Vincent, had denied Rose’s requests for reinstatement.
FOX, a broadcast partner of Major League Baseball, did not require the sport’s permission to hire Rose. But network officials said they made baseball fully aware of their decision to audition Rose and then sign him to a contract.
"As a courtesy, FOX informed us that they were interviewing Pete Rose for an on-air studio position," said Pat Courtney, baseball’s chief communications officer. "The decision to hire on-air talent for its telecasts rests solely with FOX."
Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.
"I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that," Rose said. "I’m just trying to give back to baseball. Hopefully people will watch and I’ll make some good points that will help them understand the game more.
"I’m not concentrating or worrying about reinstatement. I’m worried about working, having fun. This will be fun for me. It won’t be like work. That’s the way I look at it."
Rose joked, "I always felt that I had a face for radio," but he does not lack broadcast experience. He recalled that he hosted a nationally syndicated radio show for about eight years and said that talking sports and conducting interviews are not new to him.
John Entz, executive producer of FOX Sports, said that Rose impressed network officials in an initial meeting, not only with his knowledge of the sport’s history but also of today’s game.
"He told great stories, about both the past and present, so we decided to test him on-camera, and he did a really good job for somebody who hasn’t done it a lot," Entz said. "We all said to each other, as we were watching him, that he was a really compelling, interesting guy to watch on TV.
"He covers a lot of different areas, being a (former) player and manager, he can talk old school and new school, which is what surprised us the most — how current he was, not only talking about the game he knew in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but that he follows and knows today’s players. That was the most pleasant surprise."
Rose, who lives in Las Vegas, said his schedule leaves him plenty of time to watch games. He signs autographs every day from noon to 4:30 PT in the Art of Music store at The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay. He then goes home, often with a salad from Subway, and watches a full slate of games, starting in the East and ending in the West.
In addition, Rose said he remains current by regularly exchanging texts with about a half-dozen players who seek out his critiques. He said he communicated with Alex Rodriguez in spring training and that he maintains dialogue with players on the Reds, Padres and Cardinals.
As an analyst, Rose said that he would be honest but fair.
"If you make a mistake, a mental mistake — we all make errors, we all strike out," Rose said. "But you can tell when a guy has got the right approach vs. a guy who is not hustling. I’ll bring that out. I’m not going to be vicious to the person, but if you’re commentating you have to tell it like it is.
"Not to the standpoint where you’re picking on the individual. But if a guy hits a groundball and he takes two steps out of the box and doesn’t run, you have to mention that. Or if a guy continues to throw to the wrong base from the outfield, you’ve got to mention that."
"Charles knows the game. Charles played the game. Charles is a Hall of Famer," Rose said. "So, Charles knows the right way to play the game. He might criticize a player in one sentence and pat him on the back in the next sentence.
"With Charles, that’s just his personality. He doesn’t do it for ratings. He does it because that’s the way his personality is. I respect that. Shaq sits there, and sometimes he disagrees with Charles, which makes a good show.
"It’s like when I was in the radio business. We called it, ‘Radio Rasslin’.’ If you could get this caller to agree with you and the next caller to disagree with you, you’ve got a show."