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The Next Step

Pete Rose's application for reinstatement has reached the new commissioner, who needs to focus on the future, not the past

AS HE WEIGHS Pete Rose's petition for reinstatement—his first official filing in more than a decade—new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said, "I want to make sure I understand all of the details of the Dowd Report and commissioner [Bart] Giamatti's decision and the agreement that was ultimately reached."

A reasonable approach, though it is unlikely that Manfred will find anything new or illuminative in those documents. While managing the Reds in the 1980s, Rose wagered chronically and recklessly on his own and other baseball teams. He had also bet, in a less aggressive fashion, as a player. He brought gamblers closer to the inner workings of the game than anyone could want them. He fell into debt. And on Aug. 23, 1989, after he was exposed, Rose signed an agreement with Giamatti that deemed the Hit King "permanently ineligible" from participating in MLB. Not much wiggle room.

A better way for Manfred to reconsider Rose's fate would be to focus less on what happened then—or in the many years of Rose's hot denials, followed by self-serving admissions—and more on what might happen next. The case for letting Rose back into baseball rests on a few central beliefs: 1) It is what the people want (and despite a formidable minority of naysayers, that is true, both in and out of the game); 2) Rose, who was as devoted a great player as baseball has ever known, could be a valuable ambassador for the game; and 3) If Manfred puts the right conditions on reinstatement, no harm will come.

Conditions? Sure. Rose now works up to 20 days a month in Las Vegas, signing autographs at a memorabilia shop at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. It is a lucrative job and one that the garrulous Rose enjoys, although the location makes it easy for him to continue wagering on horse racing and other sports. (There is no indication that he bets on baseball.)

Would baseball allow Rose to continue his autograph work in Vegas, where he is under contract through 2017? Would baseball allow him to go to the horse or dog tracks on his day off? It shouldn't. And if MLB did impose such restrictions, would Rose then balk at coming back? He does want to return—baseball remains the love of his life—but not at great cost to his paycheck or his lifestyle.

If Rose were back in the game, what would he do? "The only full-time job I could take on the field is as a manager," Rose told me last summer. "You can't be a coach and make the kind of money I need to live the way that I want to live." But managing won't happen. While he had a winning record with the Reds (412--373), Rose will be 74 on April 14 and hasn't been in the dugout in 25 years. A club advisory position of some sort (with Cincinnati) might fly, but reinstatement is more likely to lead to gigs as a spring training instructor and appearances at fanfests and charity banquets, including those around induction weekend at the Hall of Fame.

Ah, yes, the Hall. Manfred plays no direct role in running that organization, but by current guidelines a reinstated Rose would be eligible for consideration by the Expansion Era Committee, which next meets in December 2016 to decide inductees for '17. That 16-person group is composed of Hall of Famers, executives and media members, and a candidate needs 12 votes to get in. Of course the Hall's board of directors could pass an exception, allowing Rose to appear immediately on the regular writers' ballot. It was, remember, the board that arbitrarily removed Rose from consideration in 1991, and while it could have put him back at any time, the members are far more likely to take such a step if Rose has been reinstated.

The question of what to do about Pete Rose is now in its fifth commissionership, dating to Peter Ueberroth. And Manfred will proceed according to his own time line, even as the July 14 All-Star Game in Cincinnati looms. To his credit, Manfred has been open to change—a pitch clock?—and as he renders judgment on Rose, he should think primarily about what tomorrow might bring. Over the quarter century of Rose's exile, the message of zero tolerance for betting on baseball has been unequivocally sent. Forgiveness, as Gandhi said, is an attribute of the strong.

Kostya Kennedy is the author of Pete Rose: An American Dilemma.


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