LAS VEGAS -- If there is one undeniable thing about Peter Edward Rose, it is this: The man cannot tolerate silence. It is a defining trait. He simply cannot endure quiet. He has to fill it. He leans toward noise and cheers and buzz the way a plant leans to the sun. This, in many ways, is what spurred him to his greatest heights, to the All-Star Games, to the million-dollar contract, to the hit record. This, in many ways, is the root of his downfall, too. The tough kid from the West Side of Cincinnati could not bear the thought of a muted life, so he became a baseball superstar. The baseball superstar could not bear a retired life without enough action, so he gambled on the game. Yes, of course, this is all too simple.

But this is Pete Rose.

* * *

"Come see the living legend!" shouts the woman. She is standing in a mall in Las Vegas, a mall between casinos, an extravagant shopping section between Mandalay Bay and the Luxor. She is standing outside a store called The Art of Music. Only a few people wander by The Art of Music today, but the woman is on full alert, sure to catch the eye of each passer-by. "Come on inside!" she shouts. "Come inside and see the greatest baseball player ever! Don't be shy! There's plenty of room inside! Come see the living legend! Come see Pete Rose!"

He is inside, the living legend, now 71 years of age but still the same somehow. He wears sunglasses and a Panama hat. He has a large blank sheet of paper in front of him, a sheet of paper that will soon be covered with names and numbers and little charts -- Rose unconsciously scribbles when he talks. He has a coffee cup from Starbucks. He has an iPad next to him, live-streaming action from a horse track. And, at this moment, while the woman tries to coax a less-than-eager couple from Maryland to come inside ("Photos are free! Come inside! Come see the living legend!"), Pete Rose is folding a jersey that he has just autographed for a customer. 

Rose is a magnificent clothes-folder. He folds in the sleeves quickly, with precision, then double-folds from the bottom; the entire process takes less than two seconds, and when he is done the jersey looks pristine, ready to be put on the shelf, folded in that subtly flawless way that is all but impossible for amateurs to replicate. He comes by this skill honestly. Pete Rose has signed a lot of jerseys. And he hated -- HATED -- watching people fold up those jerseys like they were old T-shirts pulled from the dryer. Didn't they understand how much that signature was worth? Didn't they want to protect their investment? So he took over. He would just fold them himself.

"He's right here, in the store, the living legend!" the woman shouts at a family of four, as they try to glimpse Rose through the glass window. The Art of Music is a memorabilia store. It sells interesting, high-priced and often odd items, such as a framed collage featuring autographs from every main actor in the movie "Scream" and two long panoramas with autographs of every U.S. President. The latter set is selling for $200,000, though the manager of the store mentions something about a half-price sale.

Others have signed autographs here: "Juiced" author Jose Canseco; UFC star Randy Couture; Kiss' Gene Simmons; "The Incredible Hulk's" Lou Ferrigno. But this is Rose's garden now. He will do 21 straight days in The Art of Music through the World Series. He does not mind the grueling schedule. He never did. From 1974 through 1982, he missed just two games, that's total, even though his managers begged him to take a rest. "What else am I going to do?" he asks. He is living in Las Vegas full-time anyway. His not-quite-ex-wife is living in their house in California. His fiancée is out of town. He has lost the taste for golf. Too quiet.

"I might as well make money," he says.

* * *

"The living legend is right here, right in Las Vegas! Come on in!" the woman shouts, and Pete Rose talks about Stan Musial and longtime Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bob Broeg. For some reason, Rose has become convinced that I am from St. Louis, and I do not correct him, because correcting him would break the No. 1 RIP (Rules of Interviewing Pete): Let him talk. Questions and comments only interrupt the flow of the perfect Pete Rose dialogue. He cannot tolerate silence. His most penetrating insights come from letting silence do its thing.

For instance, there's this:

Rose: "I do not badmouth baseball. Why would I badmouth baseball? I love the game. I've loved the game my whole life? I have never badmouthed baseball, and I never would badmouth baseball. Not in a million years. I want it to be the most important game in the world. Why would I badmouth it? No, I would never badmouth baseball."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence. Three beats of silence.

Rose: "I mean, for me? I would rather watch college football or basketball. I can't hardly watch baseball anymore. I see these guys with their sunglasses on, not running the ball out, makes me sick. I can't watch it."

Just three beats of silence separate the promise from the break … and it's not even REAL silence. The woman still shouts, and customers shuffle around, and a horse race is about to begin on the iPad, and it's never really quiet in Vegas anyway. But then, maybe it's always been too quiet for Pete Rose. As a player, he had to run to first on bases on balls -- even though the very term for the action is "walk." He had to smash into Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game (he will be happy to talk with you about that any time!). He had to do every commercial, talk to every reporter, run out every ground ball and take every extra base -- even when his team led by seven runs -- appear at every autograph show, make every bet. For this, all this, they would make him a millionaire when that number was supposed to be beyond the reach of a singles hitter, they would put him on every magazine cover, and boo him in every city, and cheer him in every city, too, and point him out to the children ("That's Pete Rose! Ol' Charlie Hustle!"), and name him to the All-Century team, and single him out as a showboat, and write books about him, and ban him from the game for life.

All the while, he fled from the silence.

"You know when I first started thinking about the hit record?" he asks. "I'll be honest with you. It was in the middle of the 1984 season. I signed with Montreal because, to be honest with you, they were the only team that would give me a chance. And I wasn't hitting with them. Then in August, they traded me back to Cincinnati, and the last six weeks of the season I hit .365. I got two hits the first day, three hits the second day, three hits the third day, and that's when I started thinking they would give me the chance to get the hit record."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"You understand what I'm saying? I don't think they would have given me the chance to do it otherwise. If I'd gone to Cincinnati and hit like I had been hitting, it would have been over. They would have shut me down. I would not have had a chance for the record. But I hit .365. You can't say no to .365, you understand what I'm saying?"

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"I guess somewhere inside me I knew that I'd better hit or it would all be over."

* * *

There is no need to double-check Pete Rose's statistics, by the way. He usually hits them on the number. He's not perfect, of course, he'll miss a year or be off by a couple hundredths of a point every now and again. But, among any athlete I've ever dealt with, he comes closest to remembering statistics precisely, particularly (though not exclusively) his own. He did indeed hit .365 over the last six weeks of the 1984 season, and he did get two hits in his first game back, then three and then three more. Put it this way, the conversation happened one day after the 2012 regular season ended. And when Derek Jeter's name came up -- there are those who think that Jeter might have a shot at breaking Rose's hit record -- Rose pauses.

"What does he have now?" he asks. "What, 3,303 hits?"

Derek Jeter had 3,304 hits. He had gone 1-for-4 a few hours earlier. Rose had not checked the box score yet.

* * *

"He's the living legend! You know him, you love him, come on inside and see Pete Rose!" the woman shouts, and two older men walking through the mall slow their stride, but only slightly. Rose is now breaking down Derek Jeter's chances of breaking his all-time hits record of 4,256. "I like Jeter," Rose says. "I admire him. What's not to like? He comes to the ballpark and busts his hump every day. He gets his uniform dirty. Do you ever see Derek Jeter not run out a ground ball?"

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"For that matter, do you ever see A-Rod not run out a ground ball? Every time I see A-Rod play, I see a guy who runs it out. I see a guy who plays hard every game. People say all these things about the guy, but from where I'm sitting he plays the game hard. I don't know what it is that some people want from a guy. Do you play the game hard? That's what I'm asking."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence. Three …

"You know who I like? Bryce Harper. That guy plays with enthusiasm. He's from here, you know. Here in Vegas. His dad says he was a fan of mine and raised Bryce to play like me. That's smart. No, really. When you watched me play, how could you not want your kid to play like me? I wish I was playing today. There are a lot of guys in the game I could take advantage of. They're talking of making Adam Dunn comeback player of the year. Do you know what he hit this year?"

(Rose writes .204 down on the piece of paper in front of him. Already on the paper is the number 3,303, the batting average .365, and the names "Dave" and "Mike," two people who bought autographs from him.)

"This is the game now? Guys who hit .200 are comeback player of the year because they hit some home runs. You see guys jogging after a ball in the outfield. I'm just saying I'd love to play against some of these guys today. I don't think a lot of guys play to win, you know?"

One beat of silence. Two beats …

"It's like me in the All-Star Game when I scored the winning run when I ran over Fosse. Everybody's telling me I ruined his career. I still have people tell me that. They'll come in here and tell me, 'You ruined Fosse's career.' You know what happened after? He played in the next game. I had to miss three games. I'm the one who got hurt. He played in the next game, and he played for another eight years. Eight years. But I ruined his career. If I ruined his career, someone forgot to tell him."

One beat of silence. Two …

"You play to win. That's why they have those million-dollar scoreboards. What's on the scoreboard matters. I played to win. I didn't care if it was an All-Star Game or a World Series game. I played to win. If I was ever fortunate enough to get back into baseball, I would tell owners not to hire me unless they wanted two things. OK? Two things. Don't hire me unless you want to win, and don't hire me unless you want to put asses in the seats. That's it. If you're not interested in winning and getting people to the games, then I'm not the right guy for you."

This time the silence lasts a bit longer, perhaps enough time to ponder who in baseball would not want to win or have more people come out to the games. The woman keeps shouting about the living legend, and more people walk by, and a few tentatively come in, and Pete Rose signs a baseball and poses for a photograph.

"So what was I talking about?" he asks. "Jeter? He's got, what, 3,303 hits right? Or did he get one last night?"

* * *

Rose is telling another Stan Musial story. He remains convinced that I'm from St. Louis. When Rose was still playing, he had a knack for giving reporters local angles. He worked on it, too. He would sit on the bench during games and try to come up with quotes for those Chicago writers or stories for the guys in Pittsburgh or comparisons that would move the New York or Los Angeles guys. He had a genius for it; there are not many 1970s game stories involving the Cincinnati Reds (or, later, the Philadelphia Phillies) that do not quote Pete Rose. He uses the same skillset as an autograph signer. He asks people where they are from. He usually has a story.

"I've been in a lot of places," he says by way of explanation.

"I've been around, man."

This Stan Musial story is of Rose being in the ballpark on Sept. 29, 1963, the last day of Musial's career. It was "Stan Musial Day" in St. Louis, but really every day was, and during the pregame celebration Rose ended up standing next to Musial. At one point, Musial signed a ball for Pete Rose. It said: "To a great career."

"Who would have thought then," Rose says, "that I would end up passing Stan in hits?"

I decide to bend the "Rules of Interviewing Pete" and try to get him back on the subject of Jeter. I do this merely by saying, "Jeter."

"I don't think he will break the record," Rose says. "First of all, I don't think he wants to leave the Yankees. And the Yankees, they're about winning. Jeter had a great year this year, but he's what? Thirty-eight years old? And he's a shortstop? How many 40-year-old shortstops you see walking around? Not too many, right? And they can't put him at third because A-Rod's there. They can't put him at second 'cause Cano's there. He don't help them in left field -- he's got to be in the center of things, you know what I mean? What are they going to do? Put him at first base?

"He still needs 950 hits, right? He had a great year this year, but you think he can do that again? At 39? A shortstop? Let's say he does it again. Let's say he gets 200 more hits next year. And let's say he gets 200 more hits when he's 40, though I don't think he can. OK, can he get 200 more hits when he's 41? You think he can?"

One beat of silence. Rose is signing another autograph. He's posing for another photo. It is occurring to me that Pete Rose asks a lot of questions, but he's not really asking any questions at all. The autograph is signed. The photo is taken. Rose picks up precisely.

"I don't think he can get 200 more hits at 41, but let's say he does. OK, now he's 42. He's gonna get 200 more hits then? At 42? Let me tell you, I've been there, the body locks up. Jeter's a great hitter. I'd say he hits like I did. But he's gonna get 200 hits when he's 42? I don't think he will. And even if he does all that, he's STILL 150 hits short."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"I'd say Jeter will probably end up in batting average about where I was. We're about the same -- me, Derek, Hank, Willie. We were all hitting about .311 or .312 or .313 when we got into our late 30s, maybe Willie was a little lower, and we all ended up around .303 or .305. Jeter will probably end up where I did, right around there. So if his average is around the same as mine, he has to get about as many at-bats as I did. I got 14,053 at-bats. What's he got? Ten thousand? Eleven thousand? He's a great hitter. How's he going to get 3,500 more at-bats? I think time's running out."

A couple of things to notice here. First, is how Pete Rose can talk about the hit record like he's a talk radio host (which he was). That last paragraph in particular is as clinical an analysis of the challenges that Jeter faces as you will ever read, and it is coming from the record-holder himself.

The second? Well, again, Rose's recall on the numbers is pretty remarkable:

Batting averages through age 38:

Derek Jeter: .313
Pete Rose: .312
Hank Aaron: .311
Willie Mays: .307

Lifetime batting averages

Hank Aaron: .305
Pete Rose: .303
Willie Mays: .302

The other thing to notice is that Pete Rose must spend an awful lot of time thinking about this.

* * *

"He's right here!" the woman shouts. "Right here! Pete Rose! The living legend himself! The greatest baseball player of them all! The living legend! He's right here!" And at this same moment, Pete Rose is saying: "I don't think about it anymore."

He is talking about his banishment from baseball for gambling on the game when he was manager of the Reds.

"I really don't think about it. The thing that's sad about it is that I did it to myself. I know that. I did it. I don't blame anyone else. I don't blame Bart Giamatti or Bud Selig. I did it. I wish I could wake up tomorrow and have it so this never happened. But I can't."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"If they would ever feel it in their heart to give me a second chance, I can tell you I would never make the same mistake. I would never do anything to embarrass or hurt the game. I love this game. I've loved it all my life."

One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.

"Maybe some people didn't like the way I played the game. Maybe they didn't like that I ran to first on walks or that I ran over Fosse in '70. Some didn't like the way I looked at the game, and maybe there's some payback. Maybe that's what it's about."

One beat of silence.

"The best thing that has happened to my kind of baseball is all the problems baseball has had the last few years, with drugs and all that. I played the game hard. It seems to me baseball could use a little bit more of how I played the game, you know, running out every ball, sliding hard on the double play, going all out every day. You don't think baseball could use a few more guys who played like me? I hurt. I had a lot of pain. You're going to have that when you play every day. But are you going to play through that?"

One beat …

"How's it going to help baseball to keep me out? Wouldn't you want me in there talking about the game?"

* * *

As the woman continues to shout about the living legend, Pete Rose asks if a letter has arrived for him. The answer is yes, and after he finishes talking, he tears open the letter. These are car papers for a new BMW that he seems to be buying. He does not hide this. "Car stuff," he says. Well, Rose doesn't seem to hide much of anything. This is a guy who, on demand (and for the right price), will sign a baseball with the inscription: "I'm sorry I bet on baseball." Once, not so long ago, at an autograph show I saw someone ask Pete Rose to sign a copy of the Dowd Report, the report by John Dowd that led to Rose's banishment. The autograph seeker was obviously a pro, but even he was sheepish about this request. Rose was not. He signed it without hesitation.

"What do I care?" Rose said. "He paid me to sign. If he can sell it for more, good for him. This is America. I'm not greedy. I want everyone to make money."

A couple of minutes after that, someone asked him to sign his police mug shot from the time he was arrested -- and later pled guilty -- for tax evasion. He signed that with the same vigor and neatness.

He does not speak now. The interview is not over, exactly, but it is not active. Rose is more than willing to answer questions, if there are any -- he still has to be here for a while. You want to talk Hall of Fame? (He doesn't think about it.) You want to talk MVP awards (he thinks Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey should win this year). You want to talk playoffs? (He likes the Yankees.) But mostly, he's done. He does not have anything left to say. The car papers need signatures, and the autograph line has slowed, and another horse race is starting on the iPad, and it's time for him once again to fight off the silence in his own way. I thank him for the time, he asks me about a restaurant in St. Louis, and I start to walk out into Las Vegas and into the echoing shouts of the woman: "Come see the living legend! Pete Rose! The greatest of them all! Come on inside!" Then, though, she pauses.

"Isn't he nice?" the woman says to me. I nod and say that he is nice.

"He's so nice," she says. "You know, before he came here, I had never even heard of him."