Of all of us, of course it had to be Pete who winds up on reality TV," Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench says. Yes, and (sigh) Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs. debuts on TLC on Monday. Bench's sense of inevitability comes from the fact that ever since Rose barreled headfirst into the majors 50 years ago, through his spectacular self-driven rise, his spectacular self-inflicted fall and the long, often lampoonable trajectory of his public life, he has been a spectacle worth watching.
Rose's made-for-TV adventure isn't all baseball. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame forms a natural plotline, but the show focuses on Pete's May-December romance with Kiana Kim, a self-described "model [she has appeared in Playboy], businesswoman and Pete Rose's fiancée." She delivers this last résumé line with a laugh, acknowledging its implausibility. Kim—Korean-born, leggy and not one for modest attire—is in her 30s. Rose is 71 and wears a fedora. If he goes through with the wedding ("The date? Don't know. Sometime in 2013," he says), it will be his third. In episode one, Pete and Kiana throw an engagement dinner near her home in Valencia, Calif.; none of Rose's four children show up.
At the beginning of the relationship, five years ago, Kim and her two kids "did not have a clue who this guy was," as now 14-year-old Cassie says on camera. Hits & Mrs. recaps Rose's CV—the hits, the hustle and the gambling that led to his ban from baseball and the Hall. During an episode in Cooperstown, N.Y., Pete takes Kiana and the kids to the steps of the Hall of Fame, then says he'll wait outside. He watches them go in with a look that, thanks to editing, approximates wistfulness. Inside, Kiana sees memorabilia from Rose's career and, noting his absence from the plaque gallery, tears up.
Rose's life is split between signing autographs at a Las Vegas mall and visiting Kim, who entrusts him with such fatherly tasks as warning Cassie about libidinous boys and trying to get her son, Ashton, 11, to stop playing kill-'em-all video games.
Hits & Mrs. is surprisingly watchable. Rose is engaging, frank and never grim, and for all his crudeness, there remains in him something genuine and to admire. "Everything I have and will receive is because of baseball," he says in the show. And that, along with everything else viewers will see, will lead them to say what so many have said in appreciation, disapproval or amusement over so many years: "That's Pete."
THEY SAID IT
"Because we're old as s---."
KOBE BRYANT, Lakers guard, when asked why his team has struggled this season.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BRYANT)
COURTESY OF TLC (ROSE AND FAMILY)
FAMILY GUY The Hit King's new lineup (from left): Cassie, Kiana and Ashton.