LOS ANGELES – "I don't dream about being in the Hall Of Fame. It's not a dream. When I go to bed at night, all I pray for is that I get up the next morning."
Three days a week, Charlie Hustle holds court at Sisley's, an inviting Italian bistro filled with sports memorabilia in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. It's lunchtime, and Pete Rose -- baseball's all-time "hit king" -- is hanging with a group of old pals, pontificating about life.
He's the guy who had more hits than any other player in the history of the game. And yeah, he's the guy who bet on games. And yeah, he was betting on his own team -- the Cincinnati Reds -- while he was manager (and not a player, as he's quick to point out.)
And yeah, he's the superstar who is banned from baseball and from being elected to the Hall Of Fame.
But Pete Rose is still a living phenom who holds nearly 25 Major League Baseball records --including most careers hits, most games played and most at-bats.
FOXNews.com sat down with Rose last week, just as the World Series faceoff between the Colorado Rockies and the Boston Red Sox was getting underway, four quick games away from an early end to a very long season.
How about those Playoffs?
The fact that the Red Sox so much as got into the World Series -- let alone won it by sweeping the Rockies -- really rankled this native Buckeye. Rose was annoyed that the Cleveland Indians had let the Red Sox off the ropes in the American League playoffs. "What disturbed me more than the fact that Cleveland blew a 3-to-1 lead, was how bad the games were played," he said. "Guys dropping pop-ups, guys calling pop-ups, misplayed balls, baserunning errors. When you're in the playoffs playing for the championship of the National or American leagues, you're suppose to play like elite teams, and they didn't. "
And what was behind it? Here's Rose's take:
"I just don't think they take time to learn how to play the game nowadays. There are so many teams, guys don't spend much time in the minor leagues. Usually in the minor leagues you have to learn how to play the game of baseball if you weren't fortunate to have a great high school or college coach to teach you the fundamentals.
"Back when I was in the minor leagues, we had minor league roving instructors who worked on every phase of the game. In other words, what I'm saying is you can't have on-the-job training in the big leagues. People wont tolerate it because they're paying too much money for tickets to watch you play."
How about Joe Torre?
Rose wasn't shedding too many tears for the former Yankee manager. After being blown out in the playoffs this season ... and not winning a championship since 2000, Torre turned down a one-year deal of $5 million with incentives if he got to the playoffs and the World Series.
"If he had taken what they offered, his base salary would have been $1.3 million more than the highest paid manager in baseball," Rose says. "The last time the Yankees won was 2000, so it's been seven years and I think the Steinbrenners just got tired of it. You're not gonna fire the players; the guy in charge is responsible.
"If you love to manage, which I think he does, and I think he made the statement that he's not through managing, believe me when I tell you he's not gonna make $5 million anywhere else. I don't know of any other team that's sitting on a playoff opportunity that has great players that needs a manager. Baseball is this kind of deal. You get paid for what you did the year before, unless you have a long-term contract."
How about those salaries?
It's hard to imagine that back in 1963, Rose signed his first contract for just $7000. "I thought I was Jesse James," he says. "I thought I was stealing. I kept thinking these guys were crazy for paying me to play baseball. It was a license to steal."
As for the stratospheric salaries players get today, Rose is a great defender.
"It amazes me that people will continuously knock baseball salaries but they wont say a damn thing about football or basketball salaries. Baseball players work harder than anyone else.... It's a six-month season with a month of spring training and all the traveling.
"People are gonna knock Alex Rodriguez for making $25 million, but not David Letterman for making $31 million or Tom Hanks for making $25 million a picture or Oprah for earning $90 million. They don't work any harder than A-Rod."
How about those steroids?
"Listen, a lot of people on radio and TV say steroids don't help," says Rose, whose era preceded the current scandal that is plaguing all sports.
"Well, if they don't help, than why in the hell do they take 'em? If you take growth hormones or steroids.... I don't know anything about them.... But if you're gonna get stronger, than you're gonna hit the ball further. If you hit the ball further you're gonna get more home runs. Nowadays, the way people are paid, you see that if you take growth hormones and you're gonna have a couple of really productive years, your salary is going to go from $2 to $10 million. That's why they do it."
How about Barry Bonds?
We asked Rose if the all-time home run king should be denied a place in the Hall of Fame if it's proven he took steroids, and Rose simply did not have an answer. Nor did he have a response when asked what actions or behavior should disqualify a player from their rightful place in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But the questions clearly reminded Rose of the sting he personally feels for being cut out.
"The Hall of Fame is mostly statistics. In my case, I had 4,256 hits and 25 major league records and I'm banned from the Hall of Fame because of something I did when I was a manager," he says.
"It had nothing to do with my playing career, which is asinine. If people out there think there's a bunch of alter boys in the Hall Of Fame, they're mistaken. Go all the way back to Ty Cobb. If the movie was right, he was the biggest racist in the world. He couldn't even play today."
In Rose's 2004 autobiography, "My Prison Without Bars," the disgraced baseball legend admitted for the first time that he bet on the Reds to win while he was the team's manager.
Critics accused him of making the confession after 15 years of denial, simply to sell books. But Rose told FOXNews.com: "I admitted everything I did 14 months before the book came out to Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball. It's strange that it took so long. It was like taking this 800-pound gorilla off my shoulder. In all those years, I had no idea who to tell. I decided I had to tell the one person who was running baseball."
Rose insists the admission was not a ploy to "sorry" his way into the Hall of Fame. He swears he's a "happy-go-lucky" guy who isn't pining away for the day he might be inducted. By his own calculations, he estimates the gambling scandal cost him $54 million dollars -- 18 years times $3 million a year as a manager. But he'll tell you he hasn't lost his soul.
"Hey, I made mistakes. I was wrong. But that's something I can't change. It's part of history. I wish I could change it but I can't.
"If I ever become a Hall Of Famer, I'll be the happiest guy in the world because I have an idea of what that means, unlike a lot of guys who have gotten there. But it's not a dream for me."
Rose's buddies at the table chime in to make a point. If Pete isn't allowed in the Hall of Fame, why is there an exhibit there touting Rose's spectacular accomplishments and contributions to the game? Seems a bit hypocritical, they muse.
Rose won't admit it, but his pals say a number of baseball's highest paid players fly in on their private jets just to meet with him and get his advice on how to improve their hitting.
If you savor the "Hit King's" opinion, perhaps you want to know who tops his own list of favorites.
Best player? Alex Rodriguez, hands down. "A-Rod is the best player in the world. He's one of the best students of the game. He loves the game. He loves the history. That's why he will beat Barry Bonds' home run record. That's a prediction from me."
Best sports announcer? Al Michaels.
Best TV personality? Bill O'Reilly. "No spin, baby," Rose heartily announces to the room.
There is just one more question. What was the real story behind the "Charlie Hustle" moniker?
You'll get a million stories from a million people, and we got the right one from Charlie Hustle himself.
"It was 1963, spring training in Ft. Lauderdale. The spring training coach said to me, 'Sit around, sonny, you might get in the game, you never know.' Next thing I know we needed a pinch-runner in the 11th inning, so they put me in. Guy hit a one-hopper to leftfield and I kept running, going to third and I slid head-first into third.
"The next guy hit a short sacrifice fly that the shortstop went back and caught, and I scored from third on a sacrifice fly. We won the game 3 to 2. After the game, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were sitting there talking to reporters. I don't know which one said it, but one of them said, 'Did you see that Charlie Hustle beat us today?' Next day in the New York papers it said, 'Charlie Hustle beats Yanks!' That's exactly how that name came."
And the rest, as they say, is history. A lot of history that, for now, is not hanging on a wall in Cooperstown
Some say there will never be another Pete Rose, but Charlie Hustle begs to differ.
"Yes there are," he says proudly. "There's two more. My son -- and he's got a little boy, Pete Rose the third. Don't get tired of hearing that name. You're gonna be hearing that for a long time."