Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY NETWORK

“It’s very easy to think about Pete Rose’s story as a baseball story,” says three-time New York Times best-selling author Keith O’Brien. “It’s far more interesting to think of Pete Rose’s story as a human story.”

O’Brien’s latest, from Penguin Random House, is Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose, and the Last Glory Days of Baseball. It’s the realest, most honest look yet at Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader whose off-field gambling exploits saw him banned from the game for life. The book, reading like the slow dismantling of a Romanesque sculpture, chipping away page by page until there’s nothing left, spares no details.

That includes not only the former Cincinnati Reds great’s gambling, but a feud with a popular teammate. There were his extramarital affairs, sometimes with underage girls. Was it a lack of self-awareness? Could Pete Rose just not help himself?

Or, rather, was this just who Pete Rose was? The rough-and-tumble hard worker, the hustler, from the West Side of Cincinnati. Readers can draw their own conclusions but let’s face it: Our environments mold and shape us, warts and all.

“One thing that’s interesting about the culture where Pete was formed is that gambling was prominent in it,” O’Brien told me as we discussed his book. “Just down the hill from his house on Braddock Street, there was a tavern where men were known to gamble. The kids sometimes gambled outside that tavern playing games in the street.”

And that, of course, included Rose’s own father, a talented local semi-pro football player. Sons naturally look up to their fathers and the younger Rose was no exception. O’Brien mentioned how some of his best memories weren’t on the baseball diamond, but “spending a weekend afternoon with his dad at River Downs, betting on the horses.”

“Big Pete loved going to the race track in Cincinnati,” he says with a smile.

And that’s not even the start of it. Baseball’s modernization and the advent of national television sees Rose go from small market sensation to national superstar. The first modern celebrity athlete on the Big Red Machine, modern baseball’s first celebrity team.

All in all, it’s a must-read for anyone who’s followed or been interested in Pete Rose. It tells the whole story from the good to the bad to the ugliest of ugly. Moreover, it’s a poignant cautionary tale as professional sports now embraces gambling, if not outright encouraging it. Better yet, the book’s release comes right as Major League Baseball is investigating the stunning gambling allegations surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter.

But don’t count Keith O’Brien among the surprised. After his deep dive on Rose, his rise, his fall, and everything in between, he offers his own succinct take.

“Thirty-five years ago,” he says, “This was one of the great scandals of our time. Now, it’s just another Tuesday in America.”

Our conversation ended with an even more poignant observation.

“I’m personally not surprised there is a gambling scandal,” O’Brien commented. “The men who chased Pete Rose in 1989 and investigated him back then predicted this.”

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.