- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Pete Rose had more hits than anyone else in major league baseball. He played more games than anyone else, walked up to the plate more than anyone else and was on the winning side of more games than anyone else.
But none of those accomplishments, however impressive, explains the grip Pete Rose banned from the game and kept out of the Hall of Fame since 1989 for betting on the sport has on the nation of baseball.
Somewhere along the way, Rose a convicted tax cheat became a symbol for everything America loves about baseball, particularly at a time when disenchantment with the national pastime has grown along with the perception that high-priced athletes don't play the game the way it should be played, the way Rose played it: hard, 100 percent, all the time.
"People see him as a symbol," said Claudia Perry, president of the Society for American Baseball Research. "Baseball fans are fed up with the idea of million dollar players not running to first and hustling after a fly ball, There is still a lot of respect in the American culture for the work ethic, and Pete Rose was a lunch-pail ballplayer."
He was a throwback to the early, hard-fought days of baseball, when Ty Cobb ruled the game. The connection between Cobb and Rose, who broke Cobb's record of 4,191 hits, is telling. Rose became fascinated with Cobb as he chased the record. Cobb, like Rose, was a man with serious character issues, including charges that he bet on baseball and even threw some games, though nothing ever was proven.
Rose, 61, may be the all-time hit king and may have a long list of major league records. But he retired with a career batting average of just .303 (Cobb had a .367 career average) with 160 home runs, 1,314 RBI and 2,165 runs scored over 24 seasons. Nineteen of those came in two stints with the Reds, five with the Philadelphia Phillies and part of one with Montreal.
He may not even have been the best player on the great Cincinnati teams known as the "Big Red Machine" in the 1970s. Johnny Bench had 389 home runs and 1,376 RBI in 17 seasons and won two National League MVPs. Joe Morgan hit 268 home runs, drove in 1,134 runs and stole 689 bases over 22 seasons and was a two-time MVP. Both were more talented than Rose, who, despite all of his accomplishments, won just one MVP, in 1973 when he batted .338.
But it wasn't what Rose did that made him an icon. It was the way he did it. It was the way he ran down to first base after he drew a walk, which provoked New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford to dub him "Charlie Hustle." It was the way he slid head-first, leaving himself covered with dirt when he got up. It was the way he crashed into Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse on a play at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game, pretty much ending Fosse's career. It was the way he got into a fistfight at second base with New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson during the 1973 National League Championship Series, which prompted Mets fans to throw garbage from the stands when Rose took the field the next inning and nearly caused the game to be forfeited.
You loved Rose or you hated him if he was beating you or yours but you were always passionate about him because he played with such passion.
And even though he hasn't picked up a bat in 16 years or been part of the game for 13 years, the fascination and adoration for Rose only grows. His legion of supporters includes former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both of whom publicly declared that the ban against Rose should be lifted, opening the door for him to take his place in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In 1989, baseball hired John Dowd, a Washington lawyer, to investigate charges Rose was betting on baseball. He turned up crucial evidence betting slips that Rose did bet (and, according to Dowd, not only on his own team while managing the Reds but against it as well). Commissioner Bart Giamatti called Rose to his office for questioning. Seven months later, Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball, though he never has admitted to betting on the game.
The ban had a clause for Rose to apply for reinstatement after one year. But Giamatti, in the news conference announcing the agreement, said he concluded Rose had bet on baseball. Seven days later, Giamatti died of a heart attack, and his replacement, Fay Vincent, made it known he had no intention of reinstating Rose.
Since then, the ban which has kept Rose off the Hall of Fame ballot has been in effect, with little indication that commissioner Bud Selig would consider reinstating Rose until now. It was revealed recently that Selig and Rose's representatives have been involved in talks for about a year.
It appears Rose may be on the verge of returning to the game, although he may have to admit what he has been loath to for 13 years that he bet on baseball. And it appears the only driving force behind the change in attitude among the powers of baseball is Rose's overwhelming popularity, which has been on display nationally during several public events that proved embarrassing to baseball:
Oct. 24, 1999 Rose appeared on the field in Atlanta before Game 2 of the World Series as part of the All-Century team ceremony and received the longest ovation of any player. NBC's Jim Gray interviewed Rose afterward and repeatedly asked whether he wanted to apologize to fans for betting on baseball. The interview brought howls of protests from both fans and players.
Sept. 22, 2002 At the closing ceremony for Cinergy Field, formerly known as Riverfront Stadium, Rose was banned from taking part. But former pitcher Tom Browning, who played under Rose as manager, spray-painted a red No. 14 Rose's number on the pitcher's mound as the crowd chanted, "Pete, Pete." The next day, more than 40,000 showed up at the stadium for a celebrity softball game organized by Rose.
Oct. 22, 2002 During another public ceremony, this one to promote baseball's most memorable moments before Game 4 of the World Series, Rose again received the longest ovation from the crowd at Pac Bell Park, which chanted, "Hall of Fame, Hall of Fame!"
The fans are still chanting, and it appears Selig is listening, though little has changed since the ban was put in effect. Rose has remained unrepentant, and even if he admits to betting on baseball, he will face questions as to why he lied for so long.
"Nothing has changed in 13 years," former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said. "He hasn't seemed to change his life or done anything different. He is still the same guy he was.
"But people have confused the issue," Palmer said. "Everyone loves Pete Rose. They look at him as a guy who played hard and maximized his talent. Most fans are blue collar and can relate to someone that plays hard and shows up every day. But the commissioner needs to look at the best interests of the game."
A generation of baseball fans has grown up since Rose was truly a top hitter, yet they, too, profess their faith and devotion.
"Baseball is a hand-me-down sport, from fathers to their sons, and every father who saw Pete Rose play has told their sons about him," baseball historian Bert Sugar said. "You know, 'You should have seen Pete Rose play.' He has become part of baseball lore. And you know his accomplishments don't get smaller with time. They get bigger. And because he did them in Cincinnati, he is a Middle America-type of hero."
A hero who has been charged with committing the most egregious sin in baseball betting on games. Then there are the character issues. Rose was convicted in 1990 of filing two fraudulent tax returns and admitted concealing $300,000 of income from gambling and baseball card shows. He served five months in prison.
Testimony in the Dowd report revealed that some of Rose's closest friends were gamblers and illegal steroid dealers. Paul Janszen, a friend of Rose, supposedly lent him money and helped him gamble. Ron Peters, another Rose associate, took bets from Rose on baseball games. Both men had been charged with trafficking illegal steroids. These were the men in Rose's inner circle when he was managing the Reds.
Stories have shown Rose was hardly a model family man. He was divorced twice and showed little interest in his children until Pete Jr. was grown and trying to become a major league ballplayer himself. And there might not be a bigger mercenary on the autograph circuit.
"I saw Pete recently at a fund-raising dinner and told him, 'I have the most valuable piece of baseball memorabilia there is: a baseball not signed by Pete Rose,'" Sugar said.
All of this matters little to his supporters. They argue that his sins, whatever they were, did not take place on the field, and there is no argument Pete Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame for what he did on the field 4,256 hits, more than anybody else.
Seven years ago, former President Carter, also the former governor of Georgia, went as far as to write a letter to USA Today urging that Rose be reinstated in baseball.
"For at least five generations, our family members have been avid baseball fans," Carter wrote. "We were particularly proud of Ty Cobb, a fellow Georgian, and simply let the negative aspects of his character fade into relative unimportance when compared to his achievements on the diamond. It was with mixed emotions that we observed Pete Rose getting his 4,192nd hit on Sept.11, 1985, breaking one of Cobb's seemingly invulnerable records. But we recognized Rose's extraordinary spirit and determination. Few people ever made greater use of their natural talents or brought more enthusiasm to the game."
Carter wrote the letter so Rose might be considered for the Hall of Fame. And much of the drive to reinstate Rose centers around the sentiment that the all-time hit leader should have a place in Cooperstown, that it would mean something to Pete Rose, the Middle American hero.
Palmer offered perhaps a more telling view. He recalled a time not long ago when Rose would go to Cooperstown to sign autographs at a store down the street from the Hall of Fame.
"He told me in Cooperstown, 'I could be making a couple of million dollars managing today,'" Palmer said.

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