Baseball legend Pete Rose downplayed allegations that he had sex with a then-underage girl in the 1970s, saying:
“‘It was 55 years ago, babe.’”
That’s what baseball’s all-time hit leader, also a former manager, told a female Philadelphia Inquirer reporter over the weekend, while in town for his first appearance on a Phillies home field since the franchise canceled a 2017 plan to honor him because of the woman’s claim that she’d had a sexual relationship with Rose when she was 14 or 15 years old in 1973. Rose’s lawyer had said the woman’s claims were unverified.
Rose was in town as part of a celebration of the 1980 Phillies team that won a World Series title. After initially hearing boos on Sunday, the 81-year-old Rose received a standing ovation from Phillies fans.
Rose has long been a controversial figure. After a playing career that would all but certainly have made him a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, Rose was banned from the game in 1989 for betting on the sport while serving as a manager for the Reds, where he also had been a player-manager.
Rose, a Cincinnati native, acknowledged in 2017 that he did have a relationship with the woman, but he said it started when she was 16. He also said they never had sex outside of Ohio, where the age of consent is 16. At the time, Rose was married with two children and in his mid-30s.
“They made me feel real good today,” Rose said of the cheers. “I don’t want to say I expected it. I guess I did expect it from Philly fans. That’s the way they are. They love their sports heroes.”
Rose later apologized to the reporter who asked the question following Sunday’s ceremony. The writer, Alex Coffey, tweeted that Rose had said “sorry” and asked whether she would “forgive me if I sign 1,000 baseballs for you?”
But then he added, “I’m going to tell you one more time: I’m here for the Phillie fans, I’m here for my teammates, OK?” Rose said. “I’m here for the Phillie organization, and who cares what happened 50 years ago?”
Last month, the Phillies defended the decision to invite Rose to participate in the ceremony. “In planning the 1980 reunion, we consulted with Pete’s teammates about his inclusion,” the organization said in a statement. “Everyone wants Pete to be part of the festivities since there would be no trophy in 1980 without him. In addition, the club received permission from the Commissioner’s Office to invite Pete as a member of the championship team.”
A 17-time All-Star, Rose recorded 826 of his 4,256 career hits during his five seasons playing for the Phillies, 1979–83. He surpassed longtime hits champion Ty Cobb in 1985, while playing for and managing the Reds, in a September 1985 game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. His retirement the following autumn ended a playing career marked by hard-nosed play that won him both fans and detractors around baseball, as well as the nickname Charlie Hustle. He managed the Reds till 1989.
In 1989, Rose agreed to the lifetime ban after an investigation by Major League Baseball found that Rose has put the integrity of the game on the line in placing numerous bets on the Reds between 1985 and 1987.
Rose has repeatedly asked MLB to end his lifetime ban but has been unsuccessful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.