For a minute Wednesday night, the whole world was a Pete Rose fan. Rose looked great in a charcoal, pinstriped suit, Reds cap gracing his head, fanly affection filling his ears. He looked a whole lot better than Major League Baseball which, by allowing the Hit King on the field, appeared as integrity-challenged as Rose could ever be.
Baseball permitted Pete on the sod at Pac Bell Park because a credit-card company sponsored a fan poll and Rose was among the top vote-getters. Oh, and also because the credit-card company is a heavy baseball sponsor.
Take me out to the hypocrisy.
"This is a fans' vote, and I'm certainly not going to get in the way of that," decided the commissioner, Allan H. Selig, whose principles are rock solid except when large amounts of money are involved.
This is nothing of the sort, of course. This is a slovenly cash grab, a concession to a sponsor, another leak in the game's credibility, covered in a patronizing statement by a commissioner who insults our intelligence.
Is he banned or not?
Baseball has no problem exploiting Rose at the behest of a big sponsor. Baseball grants Rose these one-night paroles when tall cash piles are involved. You'd expect nothing less from a sport that has approved a fraudulent drug-testing plan and a TV-dictated World Series schedule that in the Eastern time zone keeps all but insomniacs from watching.
Pete Rose acknowledges the crowd after being named one of baseball's most memorable moments before the start of Game 4 of the World Series in San Francisco Wednesday.
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Is Rose banned from the game or isn't he? Is Rose a pariah except when a major sponsor decides he isn't? Did we miss the clause in Rose's agreement with baseball that grants him temporary citizenship when big money is involved?
Baseball takes off Rose's handcuffs and parades him around like a circus elephant for a night. Baseball basks in the glow Rose earned. Because baseball knows its present is lacking, baseball trots out its past the way England wheels out the queen.
No other sport loves its rearview mirror the way baseball does. Only, Pete Rose is in every backward glance the game takes. He pursues his pardon the way he chased Cobb. He's always there. Baseball tries to stay religious about The Hit King, citing crimes against the game that diminish daily. But baseball whistles differently when MasterCard calls the tune.
When MasterCard is involved, Rose isn't the rogue who couldn't be on the field for the Reds last game at Cinergy. He is "Charlie Hustle out of Western Hills High!" as actor Andy Garcia described him Wednesday night.
You can't have it both ways. You can't declare your religion, then abandon it when the money truck pulls up. This might indicate your integrity is no greater than the man whose deeds you have chosen to punish in perpetuity. This might label you as self-serving, hypocritical cash chasers.
Just a thought, baseball: The next time an all-time great is banned from the game forever, make sure to include a clause in his dismissal notice that allows the miscreant to appear at functions designed to help you make money.
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