Recently I was in Las Vegas, someplace I never thought I’d find myself (more fun than I expected, however). I was walking through the shopping area of one of the casino/hotels when I saw him: sitting at a table, quaffing a Starbucks coffee, at least fifty pounds overweight (I’m being kind) and looking very defeated, like he’d rather be in a dentist’s chair.
I hate to admit this, but I’m old enough to remember back to the late ’70s, when Pete Rose (“Charlie Hustle”) was the hottest thing in baseball. It seemed there were no limits to the heights he could reach. How quickly he collapsed, fell to earth, like Icarus in a microwave. The man who seemed the ideal baseball player had in the eyes of many sullied the game. A quick history lesson for those who don’t know: Pete Rose was one of the most intense players the game ever had, but it turned out he had engaged in all sorts of illegal better on games, including his own, while he was both player and manager (of the Cincinnati Reds). He may even have bet against his own team. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Although he denied the charges at first, he eventually settled with Major League Baseball without a court hearing, accepting a permanent banishment from Major League Baseball. Baseball’s Hall of Fame also voted to exclude anyone with such a banished status, meaning the man with a .303 lifetime batting average, 4,256 hits and a slew of awards is now basically named Mudd.
And on that day in Vegas, Mr. Rose was sitting alone at a table, with huge signs outside announcing his presence, while a manager of the store was trying desperately to shoo people in and no one was coming. A Rose by any other name apparently didn’t smell too good. And he knew it.
Celebrity is a mysterious thing. It can last forever or disappear in a minute. And often what sinks one celebrity bounces off the Teflon skin of another.
Looking just briefly at him sitting there, with body language that seemed defensive, I was struck that there were two Pete Roses: the one on the poster outside, triumphant, catching a ball, in uniform, fierce expression on his face, and one inside, overweight, run down and depressed, shamefaced. I imaged the line for his autograph would have extended across the mall for the old Pete Rose. But the Pete Rose I saw that day was just a broken man, Mr. Charlie Hustle now hustling for a buck like the common hucksters outside selling tickets to stripclubs.
When we look at a celebrity, what do we see, the dream, the manufactured icon, or a human being, a person, very flawed and very vulnerable? Very rarely in a career do we see only the former. No matter how much one soars, eventually they fall back to earth to become the latter. That’s what I saw when I peered at Mr. Rose, sitting there that day, a celebrity with no fans, looking very flawed and vulnerable indeed.