- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

Thirteen years ago, the suggestion was made hereabouts that Organized Baseball as it used to be called back when it was at least less disorganized should lock out Pete Rose and throw away the key.

Now, just to show that old sportswriters can learn new tricks, I say it's time to go find that key. It's definitely good news that commissioner Bud Selig and Charlie Hustler are meeting and talking about ending the all-time hit leader's banishment.

(It's good news, that is, if you believe anything Bud Selig says. Isn't this the guy who claimed that our area was a "prime location" for relocation? Funny thing: I still can't find anybody who's willing to take my money for tickets to watch the Washington Nationals, as a new team here should be called.)

Oops, sorry got on my soapbox for a minute there, didn't I? But there is at least one similarity between welcoming back both baseball in Washington and Pete Rose each is eminently proper. Which is another reason, I suppose, that neither might happen.

There is one major hurdle in the Selig-Rose negotiations, if that's really what they are: Pete has never admitted that he bet on baseball games, and Selig wants him to do so as a condition of reinstatement.

Is that all Bud wants? Heck, Pete, tell him you bet a grand on a game between, say, the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs in 1986 and get it over with.

Most people think Rose did bet on baseball, possibly on games played by his own Cincinnati Reds. The point is that, as far as we know, it's all in the past. If Rose had put down even a quarter on a ballgame in the last 13 years, you can bet somebody would have found out. And if we believe in any kind of redemption, we have to believe that he has paid for his sins 10 times over.

Sure he was dumb to bet substantial sums on sports events so is anybody else who wastes money that way but nobody ever accused Rose of being smart about anything but baseball. Consider what his stupidity cost him: 13 years of being separated from and ostracized by the only thing in the world he ever cared about; a certain first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame; most of all, the respect and admiration of nearly everyone in the game, now and forevermore.

Yet it doesn't need to be a permanent sentence, regardless of late commissioner Bart Giamatti's "lifetime ban" terminology. For 13 years, Rose has served his sentence. Presumably, he knows he was wrong to do what he did, and now it's questionable whether any club would hire him for a responsible position at age 61.

But at least he deserves to have his ugly mug in Cooperstown on a plaque that reads, in part:

"Peter Edward Rose, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Montreal, Cincinnati, 1963-1986. Managed Cincinnati, 1984-89. Broke Ty Cobb's major league record of 4,191 lifetime hits and finished with 4,256. Known for hustle on the ballfield and love for the game. Banned from baseball for betting, 1989; reinstated 2002 "

Of course, not everybody agrees. Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who is so crabby he ought to live on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, bellyached that "I'm tired of talking about [Rose] he's history."

If Rose is history, what does that make Rapid Robert, who pitched his last game in 1956? Ancient history, I guess.

There's another reason, other than fairness, why Pete Rose should be back in baseball. If he needs the game, it needs him even more at a time when so many fans have turned away from our erstwhile national pastime because of labor disputes, greedy owners and players, interminable games and heaven knows what else.

Until the ugly revelations of 1989 that led to his ban, nobody personified the good side of baseball more than Pete Rose because nobody loved to play the game more than he.

Close your eyes and let your mind's eye see him again when he was 25, 30 or even 40 jamming his batting helmet down on his head as he approached the plate, contorting his body into that ridiculous deep crouch, slamming a line drive between the fielders, making the turn and sliding headfirst into second base with no heed for personal safety.

It was beautiful, I tell you. Baseball didn't get any better, or purer, than the way Pete Rose played it. And if you looked closely, you might see him holding an opposing runner's belt at first base between pitches or repeatedly kicking dirt on an umpire's shoes while both giggled like schoolboys.

I miss that, I miss him and I've never been a fan of any team he played for. But I am a fan of baseball, and Pete Rose has represented both the best and worst of it. He used to be my No.1 rounders hero, and I wish he still were.

For the sake of the game, and for the sake of rightness, I hope he and Selig work things out. I want to turn on my TV next season for Opening Day at Cincinnati's new Great American Ball Park and see Pete Rose throwing out the first pitch as the crowd roars his name.

OK, so he made mistakes a lot of them. But he was a magnificent athlete who played his game magnificently, and good old Alexander Pope put it perfectly: To err is human, to forgive divine.

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