Four months ago Pete Rose had it all figured, like a trifecta at
Santa Anita before the horses are out of the barn. He would be
reinstated by November, maybe December. He was so confident of it
that the publication of his book My Prison Without Bars was moved
back from March to January to piggyback on the news. A major
league managing job would quickly follow. What owner, especially
Carl Lindner of Rose's hometown Cincinnati Reds, could resist
putting the Hit King back in the dugout?
"Mr. Lindner's no dummy," Rose told SI last Thursday. "He's a
businessman. Maybe this is the wrong thing to say, but being
reinstated, being a manager, it all boils down to economics. Can
I help the game of baseball? Can I help the game of baseball make
money? That's all sports is today is economics. Isn't it?"
Chalk up another losing wager for Charlie Hustle. Though the
lifeblood of pro sports is capitalism, its backbone must be
integrity. So let Rose be enshrined in that nice museum called
the Hall of Fame, but if the institution of baseball is to
maintain a shred of integrity, it must not let him near a major
league uniform--not now or, barring total reformation of a man
who looks incorrigible, ever.
In 1989 commissioner Bart Giamatti did allow the possibility of a
return for Rose, provided he came clean about betting on baseball
and conquered his jones for gambling. Fifteen years later Rose
still cannot be trusted on either count.
In print and on tour last week the combative Rose was all too
familiar. True, he admitted he bet on baseball games, including
the Reds' when he managed them. Yet he also made clear he still
enjoys gambling legally; refused to apologize to former
commissioner Fay Vincent and investigator John Dowd, though he'd
been lying for years about their findings; rationalized that
betting on his team to win was not "corrupt"; claimed he did not
use "inside information"; denied making bets from the ballpark;
and said he did not recall even in general terms when he first
gambled on baseball. (This from a man who remembers that USC
covered against Georgia Tech in a 1973 football game.)
In his book Rose wrote about his transition into baseball betting
in 1987 and how he stopped months later because he was winning
too much for his bookies. Yet he also wrote that he bet on the
1986 baseball playoffs and said last week that he did not stop
until 1989. Truth to Rose is wet clay.
Rose and his advisers bungled his first and possibly last chance
to return to the game he loves. How could they spend three years
on a book and not craft it with the contritional tone requisite
for reinstatement? How could they release the book in the week of
the Hall of Fame voting announcements?
Rose's playing career is worthy of the Hall, and he should be
granted the chance to be considered by the baseball writers or,
better yet, his peers on the Veterans Committee. He has
forfeited, however, the privilege of having anything to do with
the outcome of a major league game. Considering his unreformed
gambling, he is useless as a counselor for young players, too.
Asked about the possibility of a partial reinstatement that would
bar him from the field, Rose dug in his spikes once more. "I
understand that, but is that really fair?" he said. "I mean, to
put you on the ballot but not give you the opportunity to excel
at what you excel in, is that really the American way? You know,
I don't know if people would tolerate that. Do you? If that's
what I got, that's what I'd have to settle for. I just don't
think it's going to help the game of baseball, and it's certainly
not going to help me."
Rose was a more popular and more sympathetic figure while
standing in a business suit and waving his cap in front of a
World Series crowd. He was the exile allowed back to the yard
only when it served baseball's corporate purpose. Now he has
revealed himself in a confession that sounds more like a defense.
Now we know him too well.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER
"I just love pirates! I love their approach to life."
--PAT CROCE, Q+A, PAGE 27