You’re looking at an X-ray of a Mizuno PR4192 bat, commissioned by Pete Rose specifically for his 1985 chase of baseball’s all-time hits record. Inside, clear as day, is a piece of foreign material, about 6 inches long, and the diameter of a nickel. This is the story of that bat.
In 1985, over the July Fourth long weekend, Rose and the Cincinnati Reds headed to Veterans Stadium for a four-game series with the Phillies. Rose was on the last legs of his career and had been traded from the Expos back to the Reds the previous season. Permanently playing first base now, and serving as the last player-manager in baseball, Rose was in hot pursuit of Ty Cobb’s iconic record of 4,191 hits. It was the only reason he was still playing baseball.
Before the season, Rose had a box of about 30 black Mizuno bats specially made for him. His trademark quick swing not nearly as quick as it used to be, Rose ordered his bats a little lighter than usual to shorten up his motion. The bats were 34 inches long, and weighed 31.6 ounces. In honor of his quest for 4,192 hits, they were dubbed the PR4192.
He used one of those bats — the bat you see in the X-ray — in the Philadelphia series. It was captured forever by a photographer’s camera: Rose, waiting in the on-deck circle, bat resting on his left shoulder.
Pete Rose went 1-for-8 that weekend. He was 37 hits away from breaking the record.
Steve Wolter was a huge Pete Rose fan.
“He idolized Pete, his hard work, the effort he put forward,” his son Adam says.
Wolter was in insurance in those days, and it just so happened that his company handled the Reds. He got to know Pete, came to consider him a friend. So, on Sept. 11, the very day Rose broke baseball’s all-time hit record, Wolter made him an offer.
Though the Hall Of Fame requested it, Pete Rose sold the record-breaking bat to Steve Wolter. The Wolter family won’t discuss the actual price, but they claim it was the highest amount ever paid for a single piece of sports memorabilia at that time.
While Wolter may have considered Rose a friend, Pete considered him a buyer. In the late ‘80s, as Rose’s gambling debts were mounting, he sold off a large collection of his memorabilia, much of which ended up with the Wolter family.
“Maybe he needed the money, and that was the most he could get,” says Adam Wolter. Included among the items in that transaction was the PR4192 Rose had used in Philadelphia.
Bill Schubert considers himself an amateur collector, though the analyst from Stockton, Calif., did own one big-time piece of memorabilia: a Babe Ruth-signed baseball. But he always wanted one of Pete Rose’s bats.
“Everything about Pete is so unique, and that goes for his bats,” Schubert says. “The way he tapes it up; the way he sands down the hitting face; the way the barrel is scuffed on both sides, depending on which side of the plate he was hitting from.
“Pete’s a divisive guy. But he’s a big part of baseball history, and I’m a fan of baseball history.”
In 2008, Schubert got in touch with Sports Investments, a Cincinnati-based collectibles store that is home to the largest collection of Pete Rose memorabilia in the country. It’s owned by the Wolter family.
Steve Wolter had gotten out of the insurance business in the early ‘90s and opened the store and shrine to Cincinnati baseball. When Schubert called they didn’t have any PR4192s left; they had sold the Philadelphia bat to a collector in Wisconsin. They promised to let Schubert know if they heard of one for sale.
As it happened, in August of last year, the Wisconsin collector moved to Hawaii and couldn’t take his vast stockpile of memorabilia with him. So he called Sports Investments. Would they be interested in buying back the bat they had sold him? They were and they did, and then they called Bill Schubert.
Schubert balked at parting with the cash necessary to get his hands on the PR4192, despite its great condition, and despite his long-held desire for a Pete Rose bat. But he did have something to trade. He sent his Babe Ruth-signed ball (along with a cash difference that we won’t mention in deference to his fear that his wife will find out) and in return received his game-used Black Mizuno PR4192. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was the one Rose had used on that July Fourth weekend in Philadelphia.
Rumors of Rose corking his bat date back nearly a decade, to an ex-confidant’s tell-all. In a 2001 Vanity Fair interview, Tommy Gioiosa said that Rose regularly corked his bats in 1985.
Rule 6.06(d) prohibits the use of corked and otherwise tampered-with bats, but the practice goes back long before an official MLB rulebook. It’s simple physics: a bat that’s been hollowed out with a drill, its innards replaced with cork, will be lighter without sacrificing power. Lighter bat, quicker swing, better contact on the pitch. That’s how the thinking goes, anyway; MythBusters looked into it and found that the ball comes off a corked bat markedly slower, and concluded that the cheaters have only been cheating themselves.
Graig Nettles used superballs; Norm Cash used glue and sawdust; Sammy Sosa used cork. The material doesn’t matter. All that matters is that players believe it gives them an edge, and it’s nearly impossible to get caught. Only six players in major league history have ever been punished.
In 2005, Internet casino Goldenpalace.com purchased a purportedly corked Rose bat at auction for a jawdropping sum. Known for publicity stunts and sponsored streakers, Goldenpalace.com announced that it would saw apart the bat see what was inside.
It’s unclear if they followed through, but no corked bat was ever presented to the world, and Goldenpalace.com later sold the bat for less than a tenth of what it had paid.
Rose has vehemently denied corking his bat. But then again, Rose vehemently denied betting on baseball for a long, long time, and now he’s autographing balls, “Sorry I Bet On Baseball.”
Bill Schubert’s bat was authenticated by Sports Investments, the premier source for Pete Rose memorabilia, so the chain of custody was as pristine as it gets. Still, there was no way to prove it had actually been used in a regular-season game, rather than, say, in batting practice or spring training. Today, all milestone-breaking equipment is immediately stamped, and tagged, and logged, and hologram-stickered for the collectibles market. But nothing of the sort was being done in Rose’s day.
Last month, Schubert was cruising eBay when he stumbled across the September 1985 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. Now a bible of the card collecting market, the magazine then was just a few months old. And for that month’s issue, to commemorate Rose’s pursuit of 4,192, Beckett used a photo from the collection of a Camden, N.J., freelancer named Bob Bartosz. Bartosz had snapped the shot over the July Fourth weekend in Philadelphia. It shows Rose, waiting in the on-deck circle, bat resting on his left shoulder.
Schubert immediately noticed the browned tape and some telltale scuffs: one right above the “1" on the knob of the bat and three along the same grain above the tape. There was little doubt in his mind that the bat he held in his hands was the same one Rose held in the 1985 photo.
Schubert got in touch with John Taube of PSA/DNA authentication services, the closest thing the game-used bat industry has to a King Solomon. He showed him the photomatching, and Taube agreed that Schubert’s bat and the one in the photo were one and the same.
Schubert knew he had a unique bat from the beginning. The tape job was uncharacteristically heavy, and Rose had painted a white “14" on both the knob and the head of the bat. Most of Rose’s bats had his number on the knob, whether due to superstition or the practicality of finding it in the rack. But on the head? Well, that was a different story. Only a handful of known Rose bats have the “14" on the head.
A fellow collector urged Schubert to inspect the bat head, and he discovered a circular patch of rough wood under the white paint, about eight-tenths of an inch across. Could it be a drill hole?
Schubert had to know. He took the bat to an X-ray technician, who laid the bat on a table and punched a few buttons. Within minutes an image appeared on the monitor.
Many players use (or claim to use, after they’ve been caught) corked bats only in batting practice. If this bat turned out to be altered, there would be concrete proof that Pete Rose had used a corked bat in a game. Which wouldn’t come as a surprise to many.
“There was no question he wanted the record,” Taube says. “At that point in his career, he was going to do whatever he had to do.” A game-used corked bat would add to the mountain of evidence that ballplayers only take the rulebook as a suggestion, especially when baseball’s supposedly sacrosanct records are at stake.
Bill Schubert wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Sure, he had heard the rumors about Pete corking. He didn’t necessarily believe them; he didn’t disbelieve them either. But he certainly didn’t expect to see what he saw.
“I thought that I’d have to send the X-rays off to an expert to tell me if they saw anything funny,” Schubert says. “But as soon as we saw it, there it was, right in front of our eyes. I said, ‘That’s cork in there.’ I was blown away.”
It is, indisputably, cork. And with an unbroken chain of ownership, no one but Rose could have put the cork there.
The bat’s previous owners were flummoxed.
“We never thought to look,” says Adam Wolter. “Usually you cork it for power. Pete didn’t need that or want that. But I guarantee a lot of people are going to be checking their own Pete Rose bats now.”
They have been. John Taube has a PR4192 with white paint on the head, concealing what appears to be a drill hole. Same goes for Chuck Long, an Ohio collector. And Steve Mears, a Southern California collector, also went and got his X-rayed. There was something in his too:
Adam Wolter, the scion of the first family of Pete Rose memorabilia, acknowledges that the evidence is intriguing. The photomatching puts the bat in Rose’s hands, preparing to step up to the plate in July 1985. What was already a highly sought-after collector’s item now becomes a one-of-a-kind piece of history.
“I don’t think it ruins his legacy,” says Wolter. “There’s already so much controversy surrounding Pete, this just falls into the same category. That’s what drives his demand: the controversy. It only enhances the items even more.”
Don’t think Bill Schubert doesn’t know that. A game-used PR4192 bat could go for $5,000 or more. But a proven corked bat is unique; no one has any idea how high the bidding could go. Certainly six figures.
Schubert’s in no hurry to sell. He sent it off to John Taube for further authentication, and upon its return he will put it back in its case. He thinks he might display it in his den, next to a baseball signed by Bart Giamatti.
* * *
A few years back, Pete Rose addressed the corking rumors.
“Go up to Steve Wolter and get that 4192 bat,” Rose said in 2004. “Take it to an examiner and see if there’s any cork in it. I guarantee you there won’t be.
“If somebody has a corked bat that has my name on it, bring it on down.”
Rose has yet to respond to requests for comment.