Tuesday, September 24, 2002

We still love our Pete

        Pete Rose's bobblehead is vintage 1985, when the Hit King looked like Prince Valiant. If you push it from behind, it does a headfirst fall. “It's a good bobblehead,” Pete decided.

        He was here for the last - and this time we mean it - game/event/wake at the Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field wax museum. Liz Taylor had marriages shorter than the send-off we've given the old, ugly doughnut. A snack food company sponsored this one, a softball game starring former major leaguers lacking hair.

        But it was really about Pete. It was the Pete Game, a chance for Pete to be Pete one last time. Come worship at the Pete altar, fans. It's only 30 bucks, and five more for the program.

        “The reason my bobblehead is a good bobblehead, I'll tell you why, there's only one reason why. It's because I don't have a hat on,” Pete said.

        Pete sat for 45 minutes behind a wire ticket window on the plaza level, signing his name on the $5 programs. You couldn't get any autographs unless they were on the program. You couldn't get the program unless you stood in line for half an hour. If you wanted somebody to autograph your program, you stood in another line, this one longer than Delaware.

        Pete emerged from his autograph cage - “It was like being in a correctional institution,” noted Steve Garvey - and ran the 30-foot gauntlet to Gate 13, escorted by seven cops and another large individual. You could barely see the top of his head. This must have been what it was like when the Beatles landed in 1964.

        It's a rare, sweet and bizarre love we have for Peter Edward Rose, who hasn't lived here for 13 years and visits infrequently. We perceive him to be everything good we like to think we are: hard-working, self-made, generous of spirit. The kid who was born at Christ Hospital, worked on the Anderson Ferry and went 5-for-5 in his last home start. Our Pete.

        I don't know how much Pete made from the Pete Game. But if it wasn't 50 percent of the gate, he ought to fire his agent. Because without Pete, 43,000 people don't show up for a softball game.

        “There's no game” without Pete, Pete decided. Without the bobblehead, the game wouldn't have sold out, either. It says something about baseball now that people come to the park, pay their money, grab their Pete 'head and leave before the first fat pitch. A few thousand did. Or maybe they were still in line on the plaza, waiting for an autograph.

        The autograph line stretched 380 paces, winding from the West ticket windows around to Gate9. As you got closer to the signing cages, the line snaked back and forth, like the lines at Kings Island. People spent two hours in line for one autograph. If they wanted another autograph - or maybe if they just wanted to flog themselves indefinitely - they had to go to the end of the line.

        Fans, bless 'em, are often better people than the people they worship.

        If there is a just baseball commissioner, he will allow Pete Rose into Great American Ball Park before it closes. If not, we'll always have Monday night. And a good bobblehead.

        E-mail Paul Daugherty at pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com

Pete Rose/Cinergy softball photo gallery

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