ADHD Adults

My Prison Without Bars

Baseball great Pete Rose speaks out about having ADHD.

Many people with ADHD struggle with controlling the outcome of their actions and then facing the consequences. This has been painfully true for baseball great Pete Rose. In Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars, co-authored with Rick Hill, Rose candidly reveals his lifelong battles with ADHD and gambling.

He attributes his work ethic and knowledge of how to run the bases to his father, but it was also his father who took him to his first horse race, as a pre-teen. The thrill he got at that first day at the track kept Rose coming back for more. And his betting habit grew until he got caught betting on baseball. Then his world fell apart.

“In all honesty, I no longer recognized the difference between one sport and another,” Rose says in his book. “I just looked down at the games and thought, ‘I’ll take a dime on the Lakers, a dime on the Sixers, a dime on the Buckeyes, and a dime on the Reds.’ I didn’t even consider the consequences.”

Rose didn’t know until two years ago that he had ADHD, says co-author and close friend Hill in an interview with ADDitude. Had more been known about ADHD when he was young, perhaps things would have turned out differently for the rambunctious youngster who couldn’t sit still in class. As it was, says Hill, “most people wrote him off as a troublemaker. Teachers made an example out of him. That’s when he lost interest in school.”

Even since being diagnosed, he digs in his heels and refuses to take medication. “I’m 62 years old,” he told Hill. “Why would I want to get started with that now?”

According to David E. Comings, M.D., Rose’s ADHD played significant roles in both his gambling and his ability to become one of the greatest ballplayers of all time. Rose describes the hard work and doggedness that took him to the top of his game, and he recounts what left him high and dry, with seven-figure attorney fees and a five-month prison sentence for tax evasion. “If I had been an alcoholic or drug user, baseball would have suspended me for six weeks and paid for my rehabilitation,” he says. It’s apparent that Rose’s team doctors came up short when it came to ADHD. With treatment, he could possibly have controlled his urge to gamble.

In his book, Rose explains his excruciating summer of 1989, when he went before several committees in an attempt to “keep his head of the chopping block.” Ultimately, his tactics failed and the late baseball commissioner Bartlett Giamatti slapped a one-year suspension on him.

As fate would have it, Giamatti passed away nine days later, and the succeeding commissioner, Fay Vincent, took steps to oust Rose from professional baseball for life. On February 4, 1991, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Board of Directors agreed to bar anyone from election to the Hall of Fame who was on the “suspension list.” The “Pete Rose Rule” took effect.

Rose also writes of the bookies who encouraged his habit, and his stint in a federal penitentiary for tax evasion. He struggled with the community service he was forced to do in a Cincinnati ghetto after his release from prison – Rose’s first attempt at volunteer work of any kind.

After all his misadventures, Rose still gambles — legally, he says — and he has purchased several racehorses. He insists that his book was not written to get him off the hook. Says Hill, “ADHD is an explanation, not an excuse.”