Johnny Bench always wanted Pete Rose to come clean. He said it publicly and often, at the risk of his own popularity. He's doing it again, this time as a friend to Rose, and with a fervent wish a repentant Rose will join him in the Hall of Fame.
"It's solely up to Pete now," Bench said from his Cincinnati home Wednesday.
Bench says baseball commissioner Bud Selig will reinstate Rose, but only if The Hit King admits to gambling on baseball and apologizes for it.
"It's all predicated on his mea culpa," Bench said. "He's got to do it. He knows he's got to do it."
It's fitting that Rose's baseball legacy could come down to whether he takes the advice Bench has been giving him for 13 years. They've always been uneasy partners in fame, friendly in a polite, distant way. You could argue Bench resented Rose's local popularity; you could suggest Rose envied Bench's polish. They are inextricably linked, though, the two biggest cogs in the Big Red Machine. They were teammates, if not friends.
But Bench is throwing Rose a lifeline here. Along with Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt, Bench helped facilitate Rose's meeting with Selig two weeks ago in Milwaukee. After refusing for years to discuss Rose's situation, Selig "softened his position some," Bench said.
The meeting was hopeful enough that reinstatement is possible for Rose, if he comes clean. "He had opportunities from 1989, and he wouldn't do it," Bench said. "He had opportunities to derail the whole thing. I wanted to hear it. Joe (Morgan) wanted to hear it, Tony (Perez) wanted to hear it. If he would have said, `I have problems ...'"
Bench believes baseball will put Rose on a one-year probation before he's allowed to work in the game. He wonders how Rose's admitted ongoing legal gambling will be handled. "I don't know. Can they say totally no gambling? Then he might have trouble," Bench said. "But lots of people go to the track.
"He would love to get back to managing. If this works out the way we hope, I still don't think anybody is going to say, `OK, come (manage) our team.' That's what the probation is for. I think they want to see what the year will do."
Apology the solution
Impressions have persisted that Bench and Rose dislike each other. That has never been true. As Bench said Wednesday, "I was never anti-Pete. I was anti- what Pete did.
"Joe and I loved the fact all the press would go to him. He was a great spokesman for all of us. He was a great teammate. We became bitter we had to answer for all the problems Pete created."
Perhaps now, the problems will become memory. "Pete will be asked to say I'm sorry, probably admit to what he's done," Bench said. "If he does, then I think it's signed, sealed and delivered" Rose will be back in the game.
Thanks, in part, to Johnny Bench. It's funny the way life works.
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