Sunday, June 04, 2000

Reds pick perfect tribute to Rose




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        Maybe it's better this way. Maybe Pete Rose works better in absentia, as a martyr to Bud Selig's misguided meanness. Maybe baseball's banished hit king is more attractive as a perpetual victim than the prodigal son.

        Perhaps his plight will never be more poignant than it was Saturday night, when the Reds honored the Big Red Machine without its leadoff hitter. Perhaps Rose's exclusion from the ceremonies at Cinergy Field will rankle the right people, and lead to the restoration of his Hall of Fame eligibility.

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Aaron Boone touches third base in a tribute to Pete Rose.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Probably, however, it was pointless. After 10 years of implausible denials and institutional intractability, Rose is still looking at a lifetime suspension and an Everest of evidence he is unable to refute. To bring him back to the ballpark for a night of nostalgia would have been touching, but it would also have been a tease.

        Besides, how could Rose possibly improve on Barry Larkin's symbolic tribute Saturday night? What could he have done to match the simple gesture of a solitary rose placed on third base? Rarely has a single flower been so forceful. On a night of lengthy cheers and loud chants, here was your goosebump moment.

        It was brief. It was subtle. And it was perfect. After Sparky Anderson and Dave Concepcion had been inducted in the Reds Hall of Fame and the homecoming heroes of the 1975 World Championship team were introduced, the returning players went out to their old positions.

        Just before the national anthem, Larkin trotted over to third base and left the rose where Rose should have been. Then he gave a clenched-fist salute.

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The rose lays on third base while Boone stands beside it during the National Anthem.
(AP photo)
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        “It was the right thing to do and I was happy to be a part of it,” Larkin said. “It wasn't a protest. It was respect for a man I grew up adoring.”

        When 23-year-old Craig Maher retrieved the flower to facilitate the playing of the game, the fans responded as if the commissioner of baseball had been introduced. It takes a lot of provocation before a guy from the grounds crew gets booed.

        “When they started booing, I thought, "I'll have to take one for the team,'” Maher said. “I think it's a travesty (Rose) is not here. I think it was a class act by Larkin.”

        Reds officials were faced with a delicate protocol problem — how to give Rose his due without defying Selig. Forbidden from inviting Rose to participate, club executives sought to honor the exiled star in such a way that would neither detract from the ceremony nor prompt a fine.

        Master of Ceremonies Marty Brennaman and Master of Management Bob Howsam both invoked Rose's name as they addressed the crowd. Dozens of banners made reference to Rose. A replica jersey bearing his No.14 hung in the front window of the owner's box. Pituka Perez, Tony's wife, wore a hand-made button bearing the No.14 and the inscription “For love and respect.”

        Initially, the club's idea was to leave third base empty during the ceremony. Later, a club executive (who requested anonymity) came up with the flower concept. Hints were dropped in Larkin's direction. The Reds captain was delighted to perform the delivery.

        “This was our statement,” said Cal Levy, the Reds marketing director, “that our third baseman was missing.”

        “Where did the flower come from?” a reporter asked.

        “God,” Levy said.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com



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