Coy Browning had the personality in mind, just not the man.
Finding the guest speaker for the All Sports Association’s annual banquet, an honor bestowed upon the organization’s president, is a daunting task.
Yet not for Browning, who tackled it by crafting a personalized list of requirements.
He wanted someone to carry the cachet of a “Bear” Bryant or Nick Saban, both former speakers.
He wanted a charismatic individual, someone able to command a room like Steve Spurrier or Deion Sanders, again former speakers.
He wanted a guy’s guy, someone relatable that “could put butts in the seats with the ability to bring in sponsorships.” Think Bobby Bowden or Mike Ditka, again — you guessed it — former speakers.
Enter Pete Rose, a.k.a. “Charlie Hustle,” a.k.a. the all-time hits leader, a.k.a. baseball’s most controversial figure of the last half-century, banned permanently from baseball and Cooperstown’s hallowed halls after betting on America’s pastime.
“Whoever we got, we wanted them to be accessible,” Browning said. “We wanted a person who would shake hands, take pictures, talk to guests and kiss babies. We wanted someone who could sell out the event.”
“Those were requirements of mine, and Pete hit ’em all.”
As for nabbing the three-time World Series champion for the Feb. 13 event at the Emerald Coast Convention Center, Browning deadpanned: “The only reason we could afford Pete was because he’s not in the Hall of Fame.”
About Rose’s troubled past, it was a non-issue for Browning , who assembled a speaker committee of past presidents to aid with the decision.“
He’s been punished,” Browning said. “Everybody I talk to, they say, ‘So what? It happened a long time ago.’ He’s made amends.”
Controversy aside, Rose’s career stats are clearly first-ballot.
Spanning a playing career from 1963-86, the bulk of which was with the Cincinnati Reds, Rose is the record holder in career hits (4,256), singles, games played, at-bats and plate appearances.
The 1973 MVP batted a career .303 and retired a 17-time All-Star, two-time Gold-Glover and the three-time batting champion. He’s also a member of the MLB All-Century Team.
Rose, now 71, was a player-manager with the Reds starting in 1984 and lasting through his retirement in 1986, and he compiled a 426-388 record after he stayed on as manager three more seasons before being suspended.“
He’s up there with the game’s greatest,” Browning said. “This isn’t really a baseball community, but we can change that. The name ‘Pete Rose’ resonates with everyone.“
“We’re just thrilled to have him.”
The banquet is the association’s premiere event annually, helping the organization give back to multiple groups that benefit children in the area. Last year, the association presented the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA and Special Olympics each with a $30,000 check. Recognition handed out at the banquet includes the Wuerffel Trophy, the Col. Al Byrne Award and a number of other awards aimed at local professional and amateur athletes.
For information on sponsorship and tickets to the 46th All Sports Annual Awards Banquet, contact Ralph Frangioni at (850) 585-9839 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.