Latest sorry chapter should close book on Rose

Baseball

January 19, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

THE JURY may be out on Pete Rose, but the jury is apparently reading. The Hit King's new autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, will make its debut at No. 1 on next week's New York Times best-seller list.

Talk about up the charts with a bullet. Talk about crime paying.

The literary merit of Rose's hardcover mea culpa, otherwise known as the book of excuses, deserves at least cursory inspection, if only because it so dramatically leapfrogged nonfiction hotties like Dude, Where's My Country? and polemics from the left (Al Franken) and the right (Bill O'Reilly). Consider the colorful descriptions of Rose's bartending mother punching out a woman down at the Trolley Tavern or Rose's wife punching out Rose's girlfriend. Woman scorned. Love gone wrong. Dangerous liaisons.

Is there a Pulitzer in the future for F. Scott Rose, who wound up securing a job for the girlfriend as a Playboy bunny in Atlantic City after the divorce papers were served? Gripping stuff. No wonder this book carries a $24.95 jacket price.

Same goes for the passage about how Rose once stuffed thousands in a sock and sent his "runner" off down an Ohio highway to pay Rose's bookie the week's gambling debt. Rose got a real laugh when he found out that the bills flew out of the car window after a traffic accident.

"I didn't take it all that seriously. It was only a few grand, so I wasn't really worried. I bet on football the way I bet on the ponies - for entertainment," Rose wrote.

As for Rose's book, there is little entertaining about it. It is what it is: a "confessional" aimed at clearing the way for Rose's reinstatement to baseball. It runs the risk of free-falling into the discard bin as fast as it rocketed to the top of the charts.

What else looks like it's headed for discard bin? That would be Rose's reinstatement campaign - at least judging by the silence from baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig.

The theory was that an admission of guilt by Rose would open the door for ending his lifetime ban. The theory was that with an admission, Selig could justify satisfying the vocal fans who helped turn Rose from exiled, lying cheat into sports martyr No. 1. Full reinstatement, probation leading to reinstatement or eligibility for the Hall of Fame but no reinstatement - all are, or were, options.

But now? For a Hit King who hated striking out, Rose's new campaign to come clean has turned into a terrible whiff. He has taken a pretty good beating since appearing in television interviews with Charles Gibson and Paula Zahn. Polls show some fans who previously supported Rose are now in favor of his ban as well as his exclusion from the Hall of Fame.

Baseball writers who have a Hall of Fame vote (myself included) who were previously leaning toward voting for Rose's induction (had he been allowed on the ballot) are now convinced Rose doesn't deserve the honor.

It's not as if Rose's marks aren't already celebrated in Cooperstown, but should he get a ceremony and a plaque? Hall of Fame players - Ferguson Jenkins and Hank Aaron to name a pair - don't think so.

Last week, Rose told a Cincinnati newspaper that the hits he was taking from writers and Hall of Famers would diminish after people read his book and got the whole story. He's wrong.

The book starts out with a requisite amount of tease for diehard baseball fans. There's the story about Frank Robinson, after driving to an autograph signing session with Rose, pulling out $500 at a restaurant in West Virginia as part of a prank. The sight of Robinson's counting the wad of bills prompted locals to call the police - until Rose intervened and assured everyone they weren't bank robbers, but ballplayers for the Reds. That's on Page 56.

On Page 62, Rose recounts how he and Joe DiMaggio shared a morale-boosting mission for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam in 1967. He said the sight of body bags and sound of mortar fire further fueled Charlie Hustle's work ethic. Rose came home and won batting titles in '68 and '69.

But the revelry and good memories end quickly. By Page 104, Rose is introducing us to Tommy Gioiosa, his soon-to- be favorite runner.

By Page 111, Rose is in the sports memorabilia business, raking in quick fixes of cash.

Why did he need the bat with which he broke Ty Cobb's record when it could net him $125,000? By Page 124, Rose has admitted he bet on baseball, then rationalizes his behavior vs. that of Rock Hudson, John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Joe Kennedy Sr., Bill Clinton and Robert Downey Jr.

There's not enough soap and hot water to lather away the sleazy feeling - and we haven't even gotten to investigator John Dowd and commissioner Bart Giamatti, the betting slips, fingerprinting, lifetime ban or those 13-plus years of lying before Rose finally confessed to Selig.

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