Former Major League Baseball great Pete Rose speaks during a gala at the… (David Kohl / Associated…)
Few characters in baseball are as intriguing as Pete Rose.
The major leagues' all-time hits leader with 4,256, Rose is not in the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban from the sport for betting on baseball games.
There are no restrictions, however, on his expressing opinions about current issues in the game. This week, Rose, 70, is teaching fundamentals to youngsters attending the Pete Rose Baseball Camp at Valencia High, which is where Times staff writer Douglas Farmer caught up with him.
Rose wouldn't talk about his own Hall of Fame prospects, but he did comment on the Hall and the steroid era, home-plate collisions, Derek Jeter's pursuit of 3,000 hits and even the state of affairs with the Dodgers.
On the collision last month between Florida's Scott Cousins and San Francisco catcher Buster Posey, and how it compared with Rose's famous collision with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game:
"Buster Posey got hurt because his leg was underneath his other one. If he had gotten hurt from the collision, he would have been knocked out. Buster had a big disadvantage, just like Ray Fosse had a big disadvantage against me in the 1970 All-Star game. The disadvantage is this: When the catcher does not have the ball, he is at the mercy of the runner. If the catcher has the ball, the runner is at the mercy of the catcher, because if [the catcher] is going to plant himself and get ready for the collision with the ball in his hand, you're in trouble as a runner. Buster didn't have the ball. Ray Fosse was reaching out for the ball. If Buster had the ball waiting for the guy, nothing would have happened except [Cousins] would have been out."
On a possible rule change to prevent similar collisions and injuries:
"I'm not going to change any rule, because Cousins is a good, hard-nosed baseball player. . . . Buster is a great, young player, and you hate to see anybody get hurt, but the guy slid within the rules of the game, and you can't take that away from him.
"Your obligation as a baserunner is to try and be safe within the rules. OK? A lot of these catchers don't understand that they are blocking the plate and they don't have the ball. You're not allowed to block the plate without the ball.
"My advice to anybody while I was playing was if you don't have the ball, don't block the base when I'm coming, because there's going to be a collision."
On steroid users and their place in baseball history:
"I'm not the one who is going to sit here and judge [Barry] Bonds, or judge Rafael [Palmeiro]. All I know is they put up numbers. I'm going to tell you right now, though, Barry Bonds is one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. [Alex Rodriguez] is one of the better hitters in the history of baseball."
On steroid users and the Hall of Fame:
"I'm not sure Mark McGwire was a Hall of Famer to begin with. I was a little surprised Raffy [Palmeiro] didn't get more votes than he did. I'm going to hold my judgment on that until I get a real legitimate Hall of Famer like a Bonds or a [Roger] Clemens, and see what kind of response they get on the ballot. You know A-Rod [Rodriguez] has it made because he won't be on the ballot until [possibly] 2023. People will forget by then."
On his opinion of steroid users:
"I just don't think it's the right thing to do to cheat the game of baseball. I'm not saying anybody did, but baseball is all about stats.
"I'm the wrong guy to ask what we're talking about. Wouldn't it be nice if you could ask Babe Ruth or Roger Maris? Hank Aaron won't talk about it. Those are the guys who lost records.
"Now I'd be the guy to talk to if you had a guy who was linked to steroids and got 4,257 hits. . . . But my record is pretty safe, because guys today, they don't play to pursue my record. They pursue home runs."
On Jeter, 36, and his 2,994 hits, which is slightly ahead of the pace Rose set, though Rose played until he was 45:
"It's like this. In order to get 3,000 hits, you have to be consistent, which Jeter is. If Jeter beat my record, I'd be a happy guy. He's the type of player you'd want to break my record. He's a winner, plays all the time, plays hurt, can hit a baseball, world champion many, many times over. . . . You take your hat off to him.
"If he ever broke my record, I'd be the first one to congratulate him. It'd be tough. I pretty much dominated until I was 37 years old, and it's tough to do that."
On the drama at Dodger Stadium with the team's losing record, the McCourts' divorce, and Major League Baseball's involvement:
"I don't know about the ownership. . . . The game of baseball is better when the Dodgers are playing well, just like when the Yankees are playing well, or the Cubs, the Phillies, the big-name teams.
"Any time you've got big teams winning, you've got big stars. You just hope for them [points to campers] that they are guys who play the game right."