Set to hit bookshelves on June 4th of this year, Pete Rose has returned to the spotlight, penning a love letter to the game he has given his life to. In Play Hungry, Rose takes the reader back to his childhood, watching his father, a well respected athlete in his own right, on the football fields and baseball diamonds in his home town of Cincinnati. His anecdotes drip with admiration for his Dad, and Rose muses on the lessons that his father taught him about being a student of whatever game he played, to hustle every day, and work harder than anyone else.
Unlike his previous book My Prison Without Bars (where he had help from Rick Hill), Rose takes the writing helm himself, reminiscing about his time as a High School football star on in to his early Minor League career with the Reds organization. He recalls (in colorful detail) times where he had to scratch and claw his way up the ladder, riding in station wagons to games where he wasn’t noticed or even welcomed by anyone, in uniform or not. As he ascended the Reds organization to the Major Leagues, Rose talks about the players he came up with, and the managers he had along the way. He describes Sparky Anderson, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan with great reverence, as well as encounters with legendary players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.
He writes about his baseball life that included the legendary 1975 World Series, his batting titles, and breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record. He also talks about his personal life; his son, Pete Jr. making it to the big leagues, his children, and the death of his Father, which Rose discusses with a tangible sense of loss and mourning.
The book is a fairly transparent attempt by Pete Rose to drum up a type of sympathy from readers that were fortunate enough to have seen him play. Instead, the book is frustratingly repetitive as Rose drones on about his hustle and grit, without the linguistic skills to convey it with any sort of variety or urgency other than relentlessly reminding the reader that he ran to first base whenever he drew a walk. He beats the hustle horse to death, reminding the reader at every turn that he worked harder than everyone else.
For the readers that didn’t see him play (aka, the “younger generation” of baseball fans), he seems to approach them with a sense of contempt that takes the reader by surprise, in the last chapter called “Baseball Needs to Make a Few Changes”. In that section, he laments about new players, not playing the game “the right way”, and young analytically driven front offices with their “fancy degrees”. It has a strong “get off my lawn” vibe that catches the reader off guard when reading a book that’s supposed to be a “love letter” to the game. To have this chapter immediately following one where he claims that his son was denied a shot in the big leagues due to a conspiracy against him leaves the reader on consecutive low notes, and then the book ends.
Those looking for a bombshell, or some sort of new revelations from one of the most controversial figures in baseball will be disappointed in Play Hungry. He spends all of 4 pages discussing it, and ending with an apology that anyone who has followed his career has heard before (and unfortunately for Rose, are the very people he’s trying to appeal to).
Overall, Play Hungry: The Making of a Ballplayer is a love letter that maybe should have been returned to sender. It has the bones of an interesting memoir, and has glimpses of potential, however those glimpses are buried under repetitive cliches about hustle and grit that never seem to leave the reader alone, like a guest at an otherwise interesting party that takes every opportunity to remind you they went to Yale or something. Those who remembered Rose during his playing days will probably get some joy out of the book, but most will probably just end up like a pitcher after a Pete Rose at bat: Tired out by Charlie Hustle.