Pete's gamble

January 11, 2004

AGE IS showing on Pete Rose's face as the clock ticks down on his last big bet: his campaign for resurrection from major-league baseball's purgatory - and ultimately for entry into its pantheon of gods, the Hall of Fame.

It's a bet fully displaying the very American tragedy of Mr. Rose, a man in whom world-beating will collides with a blindness to his sins against his deepest love, his role in the game of baseball. But unfortunately for Mr. Rose and the many who respect his towering on-the-field accomplishments, it's a bet that appears to be backfiring - and with good reason.

A year ago, we said the game's Hit King ought to be enshrined in Cooperstown if he fully came clean on the source of his banishment, his betting on baseball; if his Hall of Fame plaque noted his transgressions along with his records; and if he remained barred from the game itself.

More than 14 years after he was first confronted by baseball's lords with the facts of his gambling on the game, he's now come forth in the past week with an almost 300-page confessional and a national TV interview, purporting to admit to the full truth of his betting and to deeply apologize.

His remorse has been found lacking by some, but that may just be in the nature of the man - and anyway, that's a subjective judgment. What's clearer and truly disturbing is that his tardy admissions hardly seem to meet the test of fully coming clean.

Take just one key fact: whether he bet on games from the phone in his office while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He still says not so - a hollow claim directly contradicted by one of his former bet runners, detailed Reds' phone records and baseball's investigation. Almost pathetically, he's still lying.

It's taken him 14 years for that? Even two of Mr. Rose's biggest supporters - Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt, who've led the resurrect-Pete bandwagon - criticized last week his less-than-sufficient performance, one that appeared to turn for the worse as the week wore on.

We'd like to see Mr. Rose, subject to the above conditions, in the Hall of Fame some way, some day. But his latest, very high-stakes bet reminds us of one of his trademark headlong slides during his long and storied playing career - except that this time he's bellyflopping short of the base.

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