Pete Rose was dismissive Sunday when asked about an accusation that he had sex with a girl under 16 in the 1970s.
Rose, who was attending a celebration in Philadelphia for the 1980 World-Series-winning Phillies team, told a female reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer: “No, I’m not here to talk about that. Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, babe.”
Asked later by another reporter, he said: “I’m going to tell you one more time. I’m here for the Philly fans. I’m here for my teammates. I’m here for the Phillies organization. And who cares what happened 50 years ago? You weren’t even born. So you shouldn’t be talking about it, because you weren’t born.”
Rose was given a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 for betting on games, but was given special permission by the commissioner’s office to appear at the Phillies event. He has been barred from consideration for the Hall of Fame because he is on baseball’s ineligible list.
Major League Baseball and the Phillies did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday about Rose’s remarks.
The accusation of underage sex against Rose, 81, came out in a 2017 defamation lawsuit he filed against John Dowd, who had led the investigation into Rose’s gambling. It stemmed from remarks Dowd made on a radio program claiming that Rose had sex with “12- to 14-year-old girls.”
In testimony from that case in 2017, an unidentified woman said she had sex with Rose when she was under 16. Rose responded that he believed she was 16, the age of consent in Ohio. Rose has not faced any charges of underage sex; the statute of limitations has expired.
Those revelations led the Phillies to cancel a scheduled appearance by Rose at the park in 2017.
This time around, Rose was met by mostly cheers at the ceremony at Citizens Bank Park.
Over a long career, Rose had more hits than any other player in major league history, although he benefited greatly from amassing more at-bats than any other player as well. His career batting average ranks 179th. He had his share of doubles and walks, but slap-hit singles were his specialty.
He gained fame, and acclaim, during his career for his over-the-top hustle, including racing to first base after a walk and sprinting, rather than trotting, on and off the field after every half-inning.
There is a consensus that had Rose not been involved in betting on baseball, resulting in his ban from the game, he would have comfortably been elected to the Hall of Fame.
After a great career with the Cincinnati Reds, he went to the Phillies as a free agent in 1979 and is given a great deal of credit for their 1980 World Series win, the first in their history. That team also included third baseman Mike Schmidt, who won the N.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award that season, and Steve Carlton, who won that year’s N.L. Cy Young Award.
“Pete Rose is right about one thing he said today,” the Association for Women in Sports Media said in a statement. “It’s been 55 years since the reported inappropriate relationships, and times have changed. It’s no longer acceptable to call a reporter ‘babe.’”
After the initial inquiry, Alex Coffey, the reporter whom Rose had referred to as “babe,” tweeted that Rose “asked if he’d offended me, and said, ‘will you forgive me if I sign 1,000 baseballs for you’ before saying “sorry.”