Pete Rose and the media have always been an "odd couple" but the former Reds' slugger and hawker of his own merchandise and collectibles can thank one reporter in particular for reviving interest in his memorabilia.
Jim Gray's recent controversial interview of Rose at the World Series this fall, triggered a firestorm of protest from Rose fans, collectors and the media itself. Gray quizzed Rose about his alleged gambling activities that led to his ban from baseball. It wasn't so much Gray's questions, Rose has handled those before in card shows and public appearances (as well as occasionally handling it on his own radio show), it was the timing of the interrogation.
Rose had just been selected to the all-century team, a promotion that Major League baseball came up with more as a commercial tie-in with Mastercard, than to represent the definitive team of top players over the past 100 years. Had it been a real all-century team, most experts agree, Rose would not have been included as one of the top 10 outfielders of all time.
Rose has campaigned for more notoriety, both directly and indirectly, and he's never given up on being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. So, it was no surprise that the fans who voted on the all-century team, elected Rose as one of the 10 best.
After an emotional standing ovation from Atlanta fans, Rose walked off the field where he was confronted by Gray. While Rose had anticipated some "soft" questions about his election to the team, Gray grilled him about gambling, offering him a chance to repent. Rose has never apologized during the last decade since his ban. As it turned out, he certainly wasn't going to do so on national television on this occasion either.
The interview, and the subsequent follow-up, including the launch of a pro-Rose website, devoted to getting the blacklisted player back into baseball, may have significant impact on the value of his collectibles, a world he has nurtured and exploited during his 10-year ban from baseball.
"The ban is costing me money," Rose says, not specifically referring to whether it has an impact on his collectible items or his ability to make more money in some type of association with baseball, "The website is just a tool to see what fans have to say about all of this."
Sportcut.com is actually a site its sponsors claim will continue to provide sports information (the assumption is that it will also focus on sports collectibles as well), and that the Rose tie-in was just the initial focus of the new site. However, collectors and fans alike know that the Rose impact will be a make-or-break proposition in the overly crowded field of sports related web sites.
As Rose himself would tell you, the more publicity he gets, good or bad, the more his name is in the public, the more valuable his autograph, picture or whatever else he might be selling on QVC, trade shows or his new website, will be worth.
"Pete Rose items are always in demand, but because of all that has happened since the Gray interview, it would be my guess they would be even hotter now," says Toni Ginetti, feature writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. "When people aren't thinking or talking about Rose, Pete has to get them thinking about him and his career. That isn't a problem now."
The Sun-Times 18th annual Sports Collectible and Toy Convention at the Rosemont Convention Center was held last month, and as expected, interest in Rose and his items was the highlight of the show. Initially, however, the focus of the publicity for the show centered on the appearance of the two new entries into the 3,000 hit club, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn.
With the Rose controversy, his appearance on the second to last day of the show for a scant two hours drew the biggest crowds -- and the media. Rose refused to be interviewed by any publications, including those writers who regularly cover the world of sports collecting in the area, because Rose said he had nothing new to say. Three weeks later, he was on every conceivable sports and news network, talking about his new aggressive campaign to get reinstated by baseball.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, doing an about-face, has agreed to listen to the Rose case. A change in the blacklisting originally ordered by the late Bart Giamatti, who banned Rose when proof of his baseball betting came to light, would have had a definitive impact on Rose items. First and foremost, clearing his entry into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, would likely inflate Rose items. Secondly, it would allow Rose to become a coach, manager or to be affiliated with a Major League baseball team, thus creating the potential for additional Rose memorabilia and League-connected autographs.
Stay tuned as the Pete Rose saga continues...