Pete Rose is back. Well, not all the way back, but as far back as Reading, Pa., and that's a start.
He attended a ceremony at a baseball game in Reading last week in honor of his good friend Mike Schmidt. Some people would think that's nice, seeing Pete back on the field, if only briefly and only for an awards ceremony and only in Reading. Most of us -- I'm guessing about 98 percent of us -- hardly noticed.
And then there's Fay Vincent.
He cares. He cares deeply. He cares so much, in fact, that you have to worry a little for Vincent's mental health. When the rest of us have gone to other things, say the recession or Bruce Willis' career, Vincent has Rose on the brain.
For everyone else, Rose is a hero gone bad. Real bad, like the macaroni that's been in your refrigerator since 1974. Rose was addicted to gambling, sent to prison and, worst of all, reduced to selling baseball memorabilia on a TV shopping channel to pay off his debts. And, of course, they kicked him out of baseball. They even said he couldn't be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The only way Rose's life could have gotten any worse is if he had been John Sununu's chauffeur.
Now, though, he's out of prison -- where he spent five months for tax evasion -- doing community work and still wearing a baseball cap. And many people, as generous folks will, are rooting for him to straighten his life out.
Not Vincent. He isn't concerned about rehabilitation. He wants revenge.
What else could it be? Why else would the commissioner of baseball, a man with a problem or two, a man whose sport is showing declining interest matched only by skyrocketing costs,
care whether Rose had trod on the sacred grounds of the Reading Municipal Stadium?
What Vincent said about Rose's Reading appearance was this: "This raises some questions."
He's right. Like: Are you for real? For real or not, Vincent investigated the, um, offense and found Rose guilty but said he wasn't going to make a big deal out of it. You know why he didn't? He would have been too embarrassed.
We all know Rose did some bad things, for which he has already paid big-time dues. Your typical murderer, if I read the papers right, gets off more cheaply and is also, by the way, eligible to be introduced at Reading Stadium. Rose got a standing ovation Thursday from most of the 5,222 fans on hand for the Class AA Eastern League game. I'm sure they thought it was quite a treat, seeing Rose close-up, seeing him trying to get his life right.
Is this so horrible that a former baseball great makes a minor-league appearance for which -- and this is new for Rose -- he didn't even get paid?
Rose wasn't at a major-league game. He hadn't broken any condition of his agreement with the late commissioner Bart Giamatti, who, we remember, broke his agreement with Rose about two minutes after he made it. When Rose signed the
papers, he agreed only with the stipulation that he admitted no guilt as to betting on baseball games. But Giamatti immediately said he believed Rose to be guilty. So much for honor.
In place of honor we get pettiness.
Major League Baseball doesn't run the minor leagues, which have their own organization. The Reading club doesn't report to Fay Vincent, but, of course, we've seen the long reach of Vincent before. You may remember the incident down in Florida in April when the big-leaguers ruled that Minnie Minoso couldn't take an at-bat in a Class A baseball game. Minoso's only sin was that he'd grown old.
It was Vincent who made it clear to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he also doesn't run, that he didn't want Rose to be elected. And the folks there caved in, deciding to make Rose and other banned players ineligible, meaning that the voters can't decide. Meaning that, if 10 years from now the voters felt Rose had lived an exemplary life, they still couldn't elect him. It can get this ridiculous: Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, after their election to the Hall of Fame, were banned for a time for working in Atlantic City casinos. What would have happened if they hadn't yet been elected?
This is not to suggest that Rose didn't deserve much of what happened to him. He brought himself down, and Vincent and Giamatti had nothing to do with that. He may even have deserved his lifetime ban, but what exactly is a ban and what does it accomplish?
It would make sense that Rose couldn't manage a team or work in a front office. But what sense does it make that Rose can't play in an old-timers' game? What sense does it make to try to say that Rose is a non-person? He exists. His records exist, for good and ill. And if he shows for a surprise visit to Reading Stadium, or even Memorial Stadium, where's the harm?