Pete Rose sat among a throng of photographers and fans, a white-on-white Cincinnati Reds cap pulled down over his brow.
He has been banned from baseball since Aug. 24, 1989, for betting on the sport, but the man with 4,256 hits has never really left the game. So there he was Saturday at a table outside Peter's Clam Bar and Restaurant in Island Park, talking about America's national pastime.
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"I don't think you'll interview anybody that watches more baseball games than me," said Rose, who hosted the kickoff reception for Sunday's annual Long Island Clam Eating Contest to raise money for local firehouses and equipment damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
Rose, 74, would not speak about his request for reinstatement to MLB or the Aug. 6 statutory rape accusation by John Dowd, the investigator who found that Rose had bet on baseball games as a manager. But the former member of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine had plenty to say about the local teams.
Rose said neither the Yankees nor the Mets remind him of his Reds teams that won the World Series in 1975 (5.2 runs per game) and 1976 (5.3).
"The teams I was on, if we had the Mets' pitching, we would have never lost," Rose said, referring to a starting rotation that ranks fourth in the majors with a 3.26 ERA. "We would have won 130 games."
Even though the Yankees are back in first place in the AL East, Rose said he does not expect them to win the division title.
"I'm worried about Toronto if I'm the Yankees," the 1973 NL MVP said. "Toronto, they added [David] Price and they got [Troy] Tulowitzki. They had won 11 in a row."
The Mets, on the other hand, will avoid the NL wild-card playoff game, he said. "I expect them to beat Washington," he said.
Rose took note of the Mets' deadline deals in which they acquired Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard. If the team can keep hitting as it has since the deadline (5.3 runs per game), he said, they could be a playoff force.
"When you get in a short series," he said, "and you've got [Jacob] deGrom and [Matt] Harvey and [Noah] Syndergaard, they could be tough."
How tough? You know Rose will be glued to the TV to find out.