NBC Sports reporter Jim Gray said yesterday that he was surprised at the torrent of criticism he's received in reaction to his Sunday night interview with Pete Rose before the start of the World Series, but "I'm not sorry for it, and I don't apologize for it."
NBC Sports and locally owned or affiliated stations around the country received hundreds of calls after Gray's interview. He pressed baseball's all-time hits leader about being banned from the game and his not admitting to gambling on baseball, as a special report prepared by Washington attorney John Dowd commissioned by Major League Baseball has found.
In a telephone interview, Gray said: "I thought I was doing my job. I am surprised [by the reaction]. Pete has heard these same questions for 10 years, and he's been avoiding them for 10 years. I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about it and address the issues that have kept him out of the game."
Rose was at Turner Field in Atlanta Sunday night to be honored as a member of baseball's All-Century Team. He was given dispensation by Commissioner Bud Selig to attend, even though he has been banned from appearing at major league ballparks and denied induction into the Hall of Fame. He was given a prolonged ovation, arguably the loudest of the night, by the sellout crowd. Gray interviewed him a few minutes later.
"I wasn't trying to be belligerent and I wasn't trying to antagonize Pete," Gray said, also indicating that Rose knew exactly what his line of questioning was going to be beforehand. "Before I did it, he said, 'Jim, I know it's going to be about gambling.' He still went on with me. He wasn't angry or swearing at me when it was over.
"If anything, he was prolonging the interview by asking me questions, things like, 'What evidence was there?' in the Dowd report, or 'How do I change my approach?' in getting the ban lifted. To me, this was an opportunity to find out if he'd had a change of heart because public approval doesn't seem to be helping him.
"The issues raised are the issues he's raised. My only point was that he's gone this route for 10 years, so what will you do now because this hasn't been effective. I fail to see how it's unfair in any way, shape or form."
But many viewers called NBC stations throughout the country to complain about the interview. In Washington, WRC-TV got "a lot of calls," according to a station spokeswoman.
In Cincinnati, Rose's home town and where he was a longtime member of the Reds, WLWT-TV got hundreds of calls and e-mails after the interview. When the game ended, portions of the interview were rebroadcast, prompting more angry calls.
"A lot of people were flooding the newsroom with calls," said Rabun Matthews, the station's president and general manager. "They're saying that [Rose] was mistreated in the interview process. Most of them agree it may be difficult to make Pete Rose look like a sympathetic character, but Jim Gray managed to do it."
Gray said he had already received "total support" from NBC executives. He will return to the air tonight for Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.
Matthews said some callers thought the initial inquiry by Gray "was fair game." He also indicated callers said they were upset by "the manner in which [Gray] pressed it when it was clear that Pete wasn't going to answer it, that maybe that wasn't the right time or the right place . . . and he should have moved on to talk about the event of the evening which was the reason Rose was there."
Mastercard International, the sponsor of the All-Century Team, issued a statement asking Gray to apologize after the company said it received thousands of calls and e-mails. Chris O'Neill, vice president for global public relations for Mastercard, said fans had complained about "the style and tone of the interview and the timing."
Dowd, on the other hand, said: "I thought it was first rate. He asked the right questions and he wasn't going to sit there and applaud when he knew it was a very embarrassing night for baseball. He went right to the heart of it. He does what a reporter should do and that was confront Pete about his very serious problem."
Staff writer Athelia Knight contributed to this report.