Rose is owed spot in Hall, but not game

October 25, 1999|By John Eisenberg

ATLANTA -- Put him in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs.

But don't let him back into baseball, where he doesn't belong.

That's the right way to resolve the Pete Rose dilemma, which is in the spotlight again in the wake of Rose's inclusion on baseball's All-Century team and his subsequent introduction on the field before Game 2 of the World Series last night.

Banned from the sport a decade ago under a cloud of charges that he bet on major-league games, Rose was granted the briefest of pardons last night and predictably dominated the stage.

He met with reporters before the game, was ambushed by tough questions on national TV and completely overshadowed a carefully staged event intended to reflect baseball in a favorable light. He drew a longer, louder ovation than any other All-Century team member, including hometown hero Hank Aaron.

Many fans around the country clearly are ready to give the disgraced all-time hits leader a second chance, and even more would be on his side if they'd seen his funny, emotional and occasionally delusional interview session with reporters.

He said that he "might arm-wrestle" commissioner Bud Selig if they ever met, that he collected so many hits off pitchers Phil and Joe Niekro that he wished their mother "had had quintriplets" and that he was baseball's "best ambassador" because no one loves the game more.

He also chided Selig for not formally responding to any of his appeals for reinstatement.

"I mean, Charles Manson gets a hearing every year," Rose said. "My son thinks his dad is a monster."

But there was a telling moment near the end of the rambling session when, out of the blue, Rose suddenly began listing his likes and dislikes as the inveterate gambler he obviously is.

"I'm not a casino-type gambler," he said. "I like horse racing. I love horse racing. I was into horse racing. I'm going to start talking about gambling. I don't understand craps. I'm not a blackjack player.

"I'm just not going to sit there and do that wheel, and I'm sure as hell not going to pull a slot machine, because you got to be 70 years old before you do that."

He stopped soon enough, but the damage was done. Whatever your stance on gambling, it was what got Rose in trouble a decade ago, and at the risk of practicing amateur psychology, he would never have brought it up again last night unless he couldn't help bringing it up.

Given his history, the seedy company he has kept and the poor decisions he has made over the years, repeatedly earning money for making appearances at casinos, his brief stray into the no-man's-land topic of gambling last night only reaffirmed the notion that he's a serious gambler who has no place in baseball.

It's a shame, of course, because he's right, no one loves the game more. But former commissioner Bart Giammati, who banned Rose before dying of a heart attack, said he believed Rose had bet on baseball games -- an unpardonable sin if true, and an allegation widely regarded as true in knowing baseball circles.

Rose has always denied it, and he did again last night when asked by NBC announcer Jim Gray if he'd thought of confessing in the face of "overwhelming evidence," including betting slips and phone records.

"I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do," Rose said defiantly.

Ten years later, he's still singing the same, unfortunate tune.

But does that mean he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame?

Hardly.

The Hall is a different issue entirely, governing only the undeniable greatness that Rose reached during his career, not what he represents now.

It's simple, really. The Hall is a place for baseball's greatest players, regardless of their level of citizenship. No one should confuse it with the College of Cardinals.

Ty Cobb is in the Hall, and he not only once bragged that he'd killed a man when he was young, but he also once was investigated for alleged betting on baseball games.

Babe Ruth is in the Hall, too, and like a lot of players from his era and before, he was no saint.

To walk the halls of the Hall is to walk among gamblers, drunks, womanizers, you name it.

Rose belongs in there with them not because time has softened our impressions of him and his mistakes, and not because everyone from presidents to ballplayers gets second chances these days.

He belongs in the Hall because it was never about citizenship, and it'll never be about citizenship. Keeping him out was a mistake when it happened, and it'll always be a mistake until it's corrected.

The chances of that happening are minimal, of course, even if Rose said last night that he believed "someone down the line is going to give me a second chance." It's doubtful that "someone" exists.

But on a night when the public made it clear that it sorely missed Rose and his hustling approach to the game, which gets rarer every year, a "split decision" of sorts loomed as a way to quell the controversy, satisfy Rose and baseball alike and, most importantly, give the story the right ending.

In the Hall.

Out of the game.

That's the ticket.

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