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Charlie Hustles

Pete Rose's signature line

charlie

ILLUSTRATIONS BY GRAHAM ROUMIEU

PETE ROSE, the baseball legend who was banned for betting on games in 1989, likes his job these days. It consists of sitting in the Field of Dreams memorabilia store in Caesar’s Palace 180 days out of the year and signing his name to things. In 2007, he signed 5,000 jerseys at $400 a pop and autographed 18,000 baseballs. With a bit of prodding, he reveals he made close to seven figures that year.

“See, I’m not one of those guys who’s worried about watering down the market,” says Rose, 69, wearing a black Philadelphia Phillies hat, blue jeans and white leather cowboy boots. As he churns out signatures, Rose keeps one eye on the Breeder’s Cup, playing on a portable television nearby. “There’s a thirty-seven-to-one shot,” he says, referring to the horse Goldikova, who goes on to win the race.

But ask him about the odds on a baseball game, by way of bringing up his banishment from the majors, and Rose bridles. “It’s old news, man. It’s time to move on. I think everybody understands now that I understand that I screwed up.”

Rose would go on about those dwelling on the black mark he put on the face of baseball if he wasn’t continually interrupted by autograph hounds rooting for him to get into the Hall of Fame on the sole basis of his all-time-record 4,256 hits. “This is like gettin’ an autograph from Ty Cobb,” Rose says.

Whether or not he admits it, Rose’s sins loom as large as his achievement as baseball’s Hit King. But just when you’re willing to forgive his crimes, he’ll happily remind you of them. For a mere $299, he says, he’ll sign a ball with the words, “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.”

“Not a truer statement that I can make,” says Rose. Then he snaps back into salesman mode. “Now, the jersey over there is the only item I sign ‘Charlie Hustle,’” he says. “I won’t even sign a baseball ‘Charlie Hustle’ for my kid.”—JORDAN HELLER

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