Almost everyone has heard of Pete Rose, the former major league baseball player and manager whose gambling earned him a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball and denied induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.
The name Tommy Gioiosa may not be as familiar.
But it was Mr. Gioiosa, who lives in Ormond Beach, that was the only friend of Mr. Rose who did not testify against him, opting to stay quiet. That silence cost him 38 months in federal prison, which ended in 1992 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The day he left he had 47 cents with the number 47 tattooed on his arm as a reminder.
Today, Mr. Gioiosa and his wife, Sandy, operate the Take Off Nutrition club at 3771 Nova Road in Port Orange, featuring Herbalife products.
On any given day sports and other celebrities may be seen frequenting the establishment to get a healthy breakfast or lunch and good camaraderie.
Ironically law enforcement officers are some of his best customers, with a wall of the club featuring their pictures hanging under a “Police Lives Matter” banner and flag. FBI agents and prosecutors who played a role in his imprisonment are now his friends.
Mr. Gioiosa said, “We at Take Off Nutrition stand for the flag and back the blue.”
He grew up in New Bedford, Mass., “poor but happy” and never imagined the highs and lows his eventual association with Mr. Rose would bring.
Growing up, he watched Robin Leach on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and dreamed what that life would be like, but his only outlet was baseball.
“I grew up in the YMCA” he said. “I became a really good athlete in all sports, but in high school I excelled in baseball.”
He also wanted to be just like Pete Rose.
It was during spring training in Tampa for his Massasoit Junior College baseball team that at 17 he met and befriended eight-year-old Pete Rose Jr. over a game of catch, not knowing who his famous dad was.
From there he befriended the entire Rose clan and became an especially close friend of the baseball icon, traveling with him, working out with the Philadelphia Phillies, and becoming his roommate after Mr. Rose’s first divorce.
Mr. Gioiosa left the University of Cincinnati and signed with the Baltimore Orioles for a brief period, but got released, at which point he acquired a steroid addiction and became obsessed with weightlifting. He gave up dreams of being a pro ballplayer or police officer, never finishing his criminal justice degree.
“I got addicted to the steroids and went from the All-American kid to a complete ass,” he said. “Because that’s what they do. I do talks on steroids. That’s when Pete Rose’s addiction to gambling kicked in. We’re betting everything. He was betting on everybody to win. I took the fall for him. If I had cooperated with the FBI, I would not have gone to jail. I was the missing link to get to Pete Rose.”
After being released from prison, he had a job waiting for him in Orlando with Lou Pearlman of Backstreet Boys and 'N SYNC fame. He met his wife, Sandy, while working out a nearby gym, who got him involved with Herbalife. They ultimately moved to Ormond Beach and established the club about 10 years ago.
Mr. Gioiosa said, “I was desperate then I got inspired.”
Today Mr. Gioiosa maintains a strong faith and lives a lucrative lifestyle. He stated, “Treat everyone nice. Don’t prejudge anyone. Say thank you. If you come in with a bird on your shoulder or you come in as a CEO in a suit, you get the same treatment. You don’t know what someone has been through. All people want is hope. There is so much evil and negativity. In this club, it’s positive.”
Kim Musson, a wellness coach for Herbalife, said, “It doesn’t matter where you came from. You can always do better and (you get) inspiration coming in here. It gave me hope. When I can see I can help someone feel better about themselves inside and out, it gives people hope and I love that. (Mr. Gioiosa) is the perfect man for people to learn from. He is just happy.”
She added Mr. Gioiosa has helped people open Herbalife shops all over the world.
As for Mr. Rose, after years of denial, he admitted in 2004 that he bet on baseball and on his Cincinnati Reds. The issue of his possible reinstatement and election to the Hall of Fame remains an ongoing debate. He reconnected with Mr. Gioiosa in 2014 after more than 20 years, running into him at a Herbalife convention where he was signing autographs. They now communicate regularly.
Mr. Gioiosa forgave Mr. Rose as well as Paul Janszen, another former friend of Mr. Rose, who was his main accuser and whose testimony was largely responsible for Mr. Gioiosa going to prison.
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Janszen said, “We’re not friends, we’re brothers. Tommy and I met because it was God’s plan. We were supposed to cross paths in life. We did it back in the '80’s and here we are today closer than ever. I think this story is a story of encouragement. It’s a story of forgiveness. Hopefully when you get second chances you can live your life God honoring.
“There are so many sub-plots in our relationship. I’m not proud of who I was back then,” Mr. Janszen said. “When you speak to Tommy, he will tell you the truth, and sometimes it’s an ugly truth. But (truth is) the only thing that works anymore. Now Tommy is an encouragement to so many that are physically unhealthy, Tommy is an encouragement to those who hear his story, and God’s plan is perfect. Pete still has a chance to change his life. You always do. You never can count anybody out.”