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JANUARY 17, 2004
My Prison Without Bars
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

Right out of the box, let it be shared that I enjoyed reading Pete Rose’s “My Prison Without Bars.”  For this reader, it was the type of book that you did not want to put down and one that you made the time to read – as opposed to the type of book where you do not rush to pick it up again, if you did put it down.

However, to be fair, the book has some obvious flaws. 

First, Rose and co-author Rick Hill go overboard with the usage of exclamation points as punctuation in the book.  We know that Pete is an excitable guy.  Still, there was no need to have a “!” at the end of what seemed like every 20th sentence.  Also, there is an obvious superfluity in the usage of the terms (such as) “sumbitch” and “reckon” in the book.  Even if Rose uses those terms freely in real life, they could have been reduced a bit in the book.  Overkill with these terms somewhat defeats the attempt to transport the sense that you are “speaking with Pete” in reading this book - by flooding the terms, the “voice of Rose” in “My Prison Without Bars,” to an extent, is a tad forced.  (But, then again, this is often the case in a “sports – as told to” type book.)

There were other editing issues with the book.  On page 2 of the book, it refers to the 2002 World Series when the correct series in mention was 1999.  On page 68 of the book, it refers to “Rico Cardi” instead of “Rico Carty.”  On page 269 of the book, it states that Nolan Ryan and George Brett were inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 1995 – but, they were actually inducted in 1999.  Also, on page 282 of the book, it refers to Shane Spencer incorrectly – where it should refer to Chad Curtis instead.  To many the diehard baseball fan, these types of errors are incommodious.  (The publisher, Rodale, should think twice on their choice of editor for the next baseball book.)

Also, missing from the book was any significant mention of Rose’s time as a Montreal Expos player in 1984.  The reader who was not aware of Rose’s full history, in reading the book, may make the assumption that Rose only played for the Reds and Phillies during his career.  But, since Rose only played in Montreal for part of the 1984 season, this is, in reality, just a small amount of time not included, in detail, in the book.

These were the minor negatives from this reader’s experience.  On the positive side, “My Prison Without Bars” was not just the story of Rose’s banishment from baseball and the subsequent events to follow.  It is the entire story of his life – from childhood, to being a professional player, to being the Reds manager, to his life after baseball (and his attempts to get back into baseball).  But, the book is not exclusively about baseball – it details Rose’s other relationships (friends, spouses, girlfriends, children, business partners, other family) as well, and, in candor (where Rose is upfront and shares the details of his mistakes, transgressions and failures in many of these relationships).  This full scope exposé is unique for a sports related book – even for those that claim to be all inclusive (as they rarely turn out to be “all telling”).

Quickly, the book reveals Rose’s battle with “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD) and “Oppositional-Defiant Behavior” (ODB).  This is a superior disclosure – as it helps provide the foundation needed to understand why Rose was “the way he was” in many past situations – including, and perhaps most important, his flunking out of High School at an early age. Unlike the line from Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” Pete Rose’s lack of education sure did hurt him some – as even Rose laments (on page 300) with “But if I had everything to do over again, I’d further my education. If I had gone to college, I don’t think everything would have turned out the way it did, with gambling and such.”

Indeed, in reading the book, it is clear that Rose’s behavior is the product of both his genetic background and his environment (as they are chronicled in the book).  Perhaps if one of the two had been different, it would have offset the other.  But, with the two being what they were, it is no surprise that Rose behaved the way that he did and found himself in the situation in which he fell.  As a result of the great specificity in this book, deductions such as this are clearly the low resting fruit ripe and ready for the reader to harvest.  (And, in case one was to miss these “quick-grab” findings, there are sufficient opinions shared in the book, offered by trained professionals, on the cause of Rose’s behavior.  For example, there are repeated diagnostic mentions of “craving risk” and “sensation seeking” as causes of Rose’s actions, etc.)

The deeper you get into “My Prison Without Bars,” the more and more evident it becomes that Pete Rose was a “gambling” train wreck just waiting to happen.

“My Prison Without Bars” is packed with in-depth and revealing passages on the hot issues currently surrounding Rose.  Rose’s relationships with the infamous parties such as Mike Bertolini, Tommy Gioiosa, Paul Janszen and Ron Peters are all comprehensively divulged – start to finish – in this book.  This includes the “ins and outs” of how Rose placed his bets with bookmakers (including the use of “runners.”) The chapters on Rose’s time in prison for his troubles with the IRS, and the time spent thereafter in a halfway house were also very explicit and illuminating.

“My Prison Without Bars” also contains first-rate chapters not related to the “today” news on Rose (ranging from both baseball star stories to old gambling probe related).  For example, the chapter on Rose’s 1967 goodwill tour to the troops in Vietnam, shared with Joe DiMaggio, was very moving and educational on many levels.  Also, the disclosure by Rose (in another chapter) that baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in the early 1970’s, had hired Henry Fitzgibbon to investigate and provide counseling to Pete on his “problem gambling” was interesting – especially as the findings then were that there was no evidence (again, then) that he was a problem gambler.  (Talk about a swing and a miss!)

Another effortless conclusion, in reading this book, is the probability (albeit good or bad for Rose in the future) that Pete will forever be drawn to betting on horse racing.  There is a chapter where Rose describes his first time to the track (at around age 6) – with his father (Pete Sr.), Dud Zimmer (yes, Don’s father), and Eddie Brinkman Sr. (yes, the old Tiger shortstop’s father). Other chapters have more focus on Rose at the horse track and his love of being there.  These sections markedly convey the passion that Pete Rose has for horse racing.  This obsession straightforwardly is seen as second only to his zeal for baseball.  And, just as “My Prison Without Bars” is overt testament to Rose’s despondency as a result of being banned from baseball, to this reader, it is also a suppressed verification that giving up horse racing, voluntarily, would be very nearly impossible for Rose. 

This conclusion on Rose and horse racing should not be confused with a condemnation.  If you read the book and fully absorb the passages on horse racing, the “why” on Rose could never give up “the ponies” becomes more of an understanding item and much less of a disapproval point.

In fact, gaining an “understanding” is perhaps the main reason why baseball fans should read this book.  Everyone has heard the “Pete Rose story” – from the angles of the newspaper, radio and TV/cable reporters, from the angles of Major League Baseball and their agents, and from numerous other angles - - with the exception of the full story from Pete Rose (with his angle).  Truth be told, anyone who has an opinion on Rose and his situation owes it to themselves to read “My Prison Without Bars” in order to ascertain whether or not their opinion is correct.  Does it not make sense to hear the whole case – from all sides – before passing judgment?

Lastly, many who have not read “My Prison Without Bars” have questioned whether or not Pete Rose was contrite (in the book) for having bet on baseball.  They should read the book.  There are passages which carry Rose’s remorse (or regret or shame).  

However, there is also a feeling here that “My Prison Without Bars” does not aim to serve as the good ship repentance.  More so, to this reader, it appears that the book is an attempt by Rose to share his side of the story with the hope that it allows everyone, including him, (as he states on page 320) to “just move on.”   Whether you forgive him or not after reading the book – that’s fine to Rose.  It genuinely seems that all Pete Rose wants is a chance to tell his story and move on in his life. 

Therefore, if you are only looking for Pete Rose to spectacularly throw himself on his sword with the release of “My Prison Without Bars,” and beg for clemency, maybe you should pass on the book.  On the contrary, if you are looking for a good read on the life story of a baseball star who had it all and threw it all away – with an account on his entire life, on and off the field; and, for the background on one of the biggest stories in the history of baseball from a personal perspective, then you owe it to yourself to read “My Prison Without Bars” (according to the scrawling on this scorecard).


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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