- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Pete Rose picked the wrong vice.

He probably should have taken up cocaine instead of gambling while he was the manager of the Reds. He would be rehabilitated by now, and no doubt in the employ of baseball as well as in the Hall of Fame.

As it is, Rose remains baseball's preeminent pariah, the Joe Jackson of his day.

No one feels his pain. No one wants to help or understand. No one wants to give him a second chance.

Why does baseball hate Rose so?

Maybe Rose should have bitten his mistress, if he ever had a mistress, and gone to trial to explain how it was that biting became confused with foreplay. Everyone would have tried to figure it out with a straight face, and Rose would have been sentenced to a little of this and that before making the talk-show rounds to express the proper amount of contrition to the American public.

It all would have worked out in the end, and Rose would have been proclaimed fit to serve his sport again on the professional advice of a deep-thinking psychotherapist.

This is how it went with Marv Albert and Mike Tyson, two known biters who lived to work again in their chosen fields.

Rose bet on baseball, an acquired passion, not unlike biting.

The tortuous pace of baseball often acts as a sedative on those who fail to see the game's symmetry, pastoral charm and hidden meanings. That probably explains why baseball's guardians are forever inventing new statistical intricacies. It keeps them awake between pitches.

Rose could have committed a zillion offenses, besides gambling, and reinvented who he is and gone on with his life. Oprah would have held his hand, and America would have been moved to tears.

Rose could have been a Peeping Tom. Baseball could have dealt with that. Even Peeping Toms have rights, a need to move forward, so long as they have paid the legal price and demonstrated the capacity to evolve.

Yet Rose is consigned to a kind of eternal purgatory. There apparently is no statute of limitations in his matter. He is still on the outside, 13 years after he agreed to a lifetime ban, with no chance for parole.

He was not permitted to attend the final-game festivities at Cinergy Field last Sunday, which cast a pall over the proceedings. If anyone deserved to be there, it was Rose. It was Rose who made the antiseptic stadium on the Ohio River what it was in the '70s, the place to be as the Big Red Machine piled up victories.

It seems almost petty, after so many years, that Rose was reduced to staging a celebrity softball game on the stadium grounds the next night after not being allowed to attend the official ceremony.

Rose is hardly a sympathetic figure, which, in a way, makes him sympathetic. He has remained true to the indefatigable spirit that defined him as a player, stubborn to a fault, unable to acknowledge the evidence. He never has been able to bring himself to say the magical word, "Sorry."

Say it and the lifetime ban would be lifted.

That would not be the essence of Rose, however. This, after all, is a person who deluded himself into thinking he could be as great as he wanted to be, and succeeded far beyond reason. He refused to acquiesce to his physical flaws. He is not about to acquiesce to a character flaw.

So baseball and Rose persist in their staredown at 10 paces, with each side waiting for the other to blink first, the probability not high with either.

Rose's smallness is implicit, baseball's just contradictory.

This is the game that redefined the second chance, the difference between it and ad infinitum becoming negligible after Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry.

As habitual substance abusers, both Howe and Strawberry compromised the game, perhaps no less so than Rose. To what degree with each is arguable, just not the charge.

It was Rose's practice to bet on the Reds to win, and he might have been inclined to push unnecessary buttons to meet the betting line. Then again, that is how he played, as Ray Fosse could attest following his knockdown encounter with Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game.

A partial lifting of the ban would be about right, if not a way for baseball to be fair to the notion that Rose the player was considerably more impressive than Rose the man.

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