Hustle up: Making of a Hit King

The collar of his dress shirt is embroidered with the words ‘Hit King.’
It is a not-so-subtle reminder of Pete Rose’s on-field accomplishments. It
is also how he wants to be remembered. The new baseball documentary, “4192:
The Crowning of the Hit King,” paints that portrait well.

The movie never delves into Rose’s gambling controversy or subsequent suspension and banishment from the game. Instead, it serves more as a
love letter to Charlie Hustle. And that’s not a bad thing.

With a “Field of Dreams” feel, it tells the story of a boy, his father
and their love affair with baseball. The journey begins with Rose, as a
young boy growing up in a small river town in Ohio, just hoping to catch a
foul ball at a Reds game. It ends with him breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record on Sept. 11, 1985.

Rose spent five days working on set in Cincinnati – about five hours
each day – until they got it right. “You know, we had 24 years to go over,”
Rose said. On Wednesday, he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to
Metro about the movie, the Phillies, and his past:

METRO: In 1989, you were banned for betting on the game you love. Did
you get a raw deal from Major League Baseball?

ROSE: No, I didn’t get a raw deal. If you say, “The penalty didn’t fit
the crime,” I would say, “You’re right about that.” I¹ve been suspended 21 years. [Commissioner] Bartlett Giamatti offered me seven years. Now, I’m over 14 years. I wish he would’ve continued to live because I believe he
was a very fair man and would’ve given me a second shot.

What is your favorite part of the film?

I don’t really have a favorite part of the movie. The most sentimental
part was when the guy somehow got the interview from my dad. He died in 1970,
the winter of 1970, and he’s on there saying if I stay away from injuries
and do things right, then I might have a chance to make the Hall of Fame. I had almost forgotten what my dad’s voice sounded like. I didn’t even know
they had that until I sat down to watch the movie.

What’s the message you want people to take away?

I didn’t do it with any special message to anybody – if I could give a message, I would hope dads today and their sons could get along like my father and I did. I think, as a society, we’re getting away from that somewhat. I wish everybody had a relationship with their dad, like I
had. It’s just the way it should be. I wouldn’t have been anything without my dad. He made me understand the difference in winning and losing, which
is very important.

What was your first reaction when you sat down and watched the movie?

It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s a tear-jerker in spots – They did a great job with it. Any kid that sees it should tell himself, ‘I can do it – I have
to work, go out and dedicate myself.’

In the movie, you say you went to the Vietnam War to just meet Joe
DiMaggio. Is that true?

Everything in the movie is true – in 1967, I spent 22 days with him. If
it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. That was a fun experience – you know, to eat three meals a day with him for 22 days, it
was fun just to be able to meet Joe DiMaggio. I didn¹t get to see him play
much because I was sort of a National League guy.

Did DiMaggio teach you anything about baseball?

We were too busy entertaining the soldiers, trying to make them feel
good because they were in a no-win type of war. He understood that and was so humble. It was unbelievable.

Your dad talks about you having a chance to make the Hall of Fame. How
much would that mean to you?

Being the type of player I was and being around the type of players I
was around during my career, I think I’d probably appreciate it more than anybody, because I understand the work that is needed to put in to go to
the Hall of Fame. You gotta remember, I started playing in 1963, so I’ve
been seeing a lot of Hall of Fame inductions. Most of the guys in there are
guys I either played with or played against, and I understand the dedication
and the hard work. Every athlete in his or her sport, the ultimate goal
would be to reach their Hall of Fame, and I’m no different than anybody else.
That would be icing on the cake. But if it doesn’t happen, I understand it. I made mistakes, I screwed up and I can’t blame anybody but myself. But
I’d be the happiest guy in the world if I ever had that honor bestowed on me.

Do you feel you belong in the Hall of Fame?

I’m not that type of guy who’s going to say that, but a lot of people
will tell you that the Hall of Fame is a distinction of what you did on the field, and I got pretty good statistics. Based on stats, I probably have Hall of Fame stats – I’m not the one voting, or I’m not the one that’s giving me the opportunity to go in there. Every one has an opinion and
some guys are on your side and some guys are on the other side, and I’m not
here to try and change them.

What would you change, or do differently?

What I did, I did. There are certain things I wish I could erase in my
past but, unfortunately, I can’t. If I had to play the game of baseball over again, I don¹t think I’d change anything. The way I approached the game
and the way I played the game.

Are you still actively pursuing or petitioning to try and get your suspension revoked?

I just work hard and associate with good people and talk baseball. Sure,
I’d like to be in baseball. Someday, if they find in their hearts a way to
let me be a part of baseball again, I’d be the happiest guy in the world.
But, I never worry about things I’m not in control of. Why should I go home and pray every night that I go to the Hall of Fame? If you’re going to pray every night, you pray that you get up in the morning. You can’t live
your life worrying about getting in the Hall of Fame.

You played five seasons in Philadelphia, with the Phillies. Describe
that whole experience.

It was very similar to The Big Red Machine because we had eight guys
that could go out there everyday. It was a fun experience. I played there
five years and we went to two World Series and three playoffs, which is
pretty good and we had a fun team.

How about the Philly fans?

The people in Philadelphia are great to play in front of because they
expect you to play hard and they expect you to win, and I never criticize
anyone who expects those two things. Look, I knew where I was going when I went
to Philadelphia because I picked it. I picked it over Pittsburgh, over
Atlanta, over St. Louis, over Kansas City. I went over there for a reason,
because I knew they had a good ballclub and I knew what was missing. And I ended
up being right.

What about Mike Schmidt?

Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman in the history of the game,
and I had the honor of playing with him for five years.

Any funny stories?

No. When you’re a good team like that, you don’t have pranksters or guys that are screwing around. We were too busy winning games and we didn¹t
have too many team clowns – team clowns and things like that are for bad
teams. We didn¹t have a bunch of bullshit. We were all business. That¹s the way
it should be.

Do you still talk to any of the guys from that 1980s Phillies team?

Yeah, I talk to Schmitty all the time. I talk to [Larry] Bowa when the Dodgers are in Cincinnati. I haven’t seen [Greg] Luzinski in a while. We were all together a few years ago at a card show in Atlantic City.

Do you guys still talk about baseball?

Most baseball players that played in the past try to keep up with the
game today. You have to. Because if you go around the country and you’re a baseball player, people are going to ask you questions about the World Series or the playoffs, and you don¹t want to look like a jerk.

How much do you keep up with the current Phillies team?

I was at Game 6 of the NLCS, sat right next to [Phillies co-owner] John Middleton. There aren’t too many owners as passionate as John Middleton.
He lived and died with every pitch. He told me, after they won the World
Series [in 2008], “I don’t care about making money, I just want to winchampionships.” That’s the kind of words you want to hear coming out of
your owner’s mouth.

Did you get a chance to interact with any players?

No. I wanted to go in the clubhouse, but because I’m suspended I wasn’t
able to. I would like to meet a Chase Utley, a Ryan Howard, the Flyin’
Hawaiian – they are the good players of baseball today and you¹d like to meet them because when you meet them, you end up watching them more.

What I do, as a baseball fan today, is I watch most games of the guys
that I know are playing. I know most of the Reds. They want to get your advice,
get them to pat you on the back – it makes me feel like I’m still a part of
the game. Anything I can do to help a young player become better, I’ll do
it. If you do that, you help the game – and if you help the game, you make it better.

How did you enjoy Citizens Bank Park?

Beautiful. Even more beautiful was the reaction of the fans. I think
what we have going on in Philadelphia now is more than a game, it¹s a happening. Like going to a Laker game or a Yankee game. Fans on every seat, every night. That’s the way it should be. It just goes to show you that some organizations do it right.

There is no mention of your gambling or any controversy in this film.

We didn’t want that. That’s old news. We weren’t interested in talking
about gambling, or suspensions, or Hall of Fame, or relationship with the commissioner – that’s not important. This is a life story in baseball,
not a life story. I think everybody knows the rest of the story, and I think people are tired of hearing about it. It¹s been 21 years. There are
certain things, as time goes by, people forget about it.

Are there any players in the game today that compare to yourself? Or
that can carry the ‘Charlie Hustle’ torch?

We get away from that. I think there’s a lot of players that bust their
ass out there. The press has a tendency to want to talk about the guys who
have problems or show up late or miss planes – there’s a lot of guys that I
think play hard.

It’s tough to try and compare players. If you’re a good player, you
could play at any time – the conditions are better today, the balls are
better, the umpires are better, the lights are better, the stadiums are more conducive for offensive players. Can you imagine Babe Ruth playing at
the ballpark in Philadelphia? How about Mike Schmidt or Greg Luzinski
playing there for a year?

Editor’s note: The film, directed by longtime Rose fan Terry Lukemire
and produced by Aymie Majerski, in association with Barking Fish
Entertainment, is on a limited engagement at the Ritz on the Bourse in Old City. Metro gives it four stars: It’s a definite must-see for baseball fans.