I wanted him to show up for my trial," said a teary-eyed Tommy Gioiosa last Friday night as he sat in the Boone County Jail in Burlington, Ky. "I wanted him to show up for my sentencing. He never called me. Not once. If he had, I wouldn't have told anybody. I stuck up for him as long as I could."
Gioiosa was talking about Pete Rose, his fallen hero. Rose was given a lifetime ban from baseball last Aug. 24 for gambling—including allegedly on baseball games, some of them involving the team he managed, the Cincinnati Reds—and for his associations with unsavory people. Gioiosa, 31, was one of those people. Until last week, when he gave ESPN a short interview and then sat down with SI, Gioiosa had not addressed Rose's gambling activities or described in full detail his relationship with Rose. Even last week, Gioiosa refused to answer some questions regarding Rose, saying he wanted to save the juiciest material for a book that he hopes to write.
Gioiosa did discuss the central allegation in the Rose case—and provided baseball commissioner Fay Vincent with more damning information to take into consideration if Rose applies for reinstatement, as he could do in August. In explaining why he had refused to talk to baseball's investigators looking into Rose's activities last year, Gioiosa said, "I knew if I [talked to them J, that it would be over for Pete Rose, because I would have to tell them that he bet on baseball and bet on the Reds." Rose, who says he is undergoing treatment for a gambling addiction, denies that he bet on baseball.
Last Thursday, Gioiosa was handed a five-year sentence in U.S. district court in Cincinnati for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to hide from the Internal Revenue Service part of Rose's $47,646 in winnings from a 1987 Pik Six ticket at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. As Gioiosa sat in jail waiting to be transferred to an undetermined federal prison, Rose was in Florida telling reporters that Gioiosa was lying and trying to make a name for himself at Rose's expense. "I hear some of the stuff he has said about me the last couple of days," said Gioiosa. "I have a lot of things I want to get off my chest."
Gioiosa, who grew up in New Bedford, Mass., lived with Rose as a sort of unadopted son for a few years after meeting him during a 1977 visit to spring training in Florida. For more than a decade Gioiosa tried in every way possible to emulate Rose. As a scrappy infielder on the University of Cincinnati baseball team, Gioiosa wore Rose's number 14, slid headfirst and wore a Prince Valiant haircut. "Anything Pete Rose said or did, I thought was right," said Gioiosa. "If he had told me to jump off the Empire State Building, I might have jumped."
Rose even got Gioiosa a tryout with the Orioles in 1982, but Gioiosa was cut. Gioiosa says that at the time he felt he had let Rose down. He says some of his bodybuilder buddies at Gold's Gym in suburban Cincinnati persuaded him to start taking steroids. "They told me [the drugs! would make me bigger and stronger and that would make Pete proud of me," Gioiosa said. Gioiosa's defense at his trial last summer was that huge doses of steroids rendered him almost irrational and led to both his involvement in the cocaine conspiracy with Don Stenger and Mike Fry, the onetime owners of Gold's, and his attempt to hide Rose's racetrack winnings from the IRS.
Gioiosa said last week that when he first moved in with Rose in 1978. Rose was betting only on basketball and football. "In the beginning, it was bookies who took small bets; nickels [a nickel being $5001 were the limit," Gioiosa said. "Then we found one [bookie] in Kentucky who would take dime [$1,000] bets. Then [Ron] Peters [of Franklin, Ohio] took dimes. And the [bookies] in New York took multiple dime bets." Last year Peters, who is in federal prison for cocaine trafficking, told both SI and baseball's investigators that he was Rose's principal bookie in Ohio and that Gioiosa had regularly placed basketball, football and baseball bets with him on Rose's behalf between 1984 and'86.
Gioiosa told SI that Rose was betting on baseball at least as far back as the 1984 World Series and that Rose had bookies in several cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Gioiosa described watching Rose place bets in his clubhouse office: "There would be a sheet with numbers on it. It was a sheet Pete would have, the same sheet that the person he was talking to on the other end of the phone would have. Each number would designate a team. For example, number one might be the Reds, number two the Phillies. And Pete would call the bookie and say, 'Give me one, four, eight and 10.' Those were the teams he wanted."
When Gioiosa was asked his reaction to Rose's betting on baseball, he said, "I can remember telling Pete, 'Are you sure about this?' And he said, 'Nobody knows the game like I do.' And he's right. Betting on baseball was a challenge for Pete Rose. Maybe being a player-manager wasn't enough for him. I was with him a long time. I was with him before he met Ron Peters. Pete liked to bet. He liked the action."
Even though Gioiosa corroborated most of the details that Peters and Paul Janszen, Rose's other two chief accusers, gave about Rose's alleged baseball betting, he took shots at both of them. He said that Janszen and Janszen's girlfriend, Danita Marcum, bad-mouthed him to Rose in an effort to push him out of Rose's inner circle. And Gioiosa claimed that both Janszen, who says he placed many of Rose's bets in 1987, and Peters lied to baseball's investigators when they said that in 1986 Gioiosa had run off with a $34,000 check from Rose that was intended to pay off gambling debts to Peters. "I cashed it, and I gave the money to Peters," said Gioiosa.
Gioiosa said that Rose never bet against the Reds. He also said that Rose gambled "phenomenal" sums and "had to sell his memorabilia and go to card shows to get cash for gambling." Gioiosa said that as of last weekend he had not been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Cincinnati that is looking into whether Rose failed to report income from gambling, memorabilia sales and appearances at card shows.
Gioiosa refused to discuss New York memorabilia dealer and card-show promoter Mike Bertolini, who, according to baseball's investigative report, allegedly placed bets on Rose's behalf with New York bookies. The U.S. Postal Service has told ST that it is investigating Bertolini—Rose's partner in Hit King Marketing, a company that organized baseball-card and memorabilia shows—for possible mail fraud. Postal investigators told SI correspondent Kristina Rebelo that in a raid on Bertolini's mother's Staten Island, N.Y., home last October, they confiscated various materials. They said they found a spiral notebook containing what looked to be detailed betting information, including a number of apparent basketball and baseball wagers—among them bets on Reds games—listed next to the name "Pete." Bertolini has denied any involvement in bookmaking and he denies that the notebook was his. He says it belonged to one of his friends.
"What would that mean?" Bertolini said when he was asked by SI recently about the notation "Pete" in the notebook and whether it referred to Pete Rose. "Is he [Rose] the only one named Pete in the whole world?"
Gioiosa tried to explain why he remained loyal to Rose even when he saw him gambling illegally. Gioiosa said that being a pal of Rose's always gave him "goose bumps. By being Pete Rose's friend I got to meet actors and top sports figures." Gioiosa also cited material benefits. "When I was with Pete, he took care of me," he said. "I never had to pay rent. I had a nice automobile, a nice place to live, always had money in my pocket."