Sunday, November 23, 2003

Rose saga probably will drag into 2004

Insistence on managing seems to be sticking point

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There is a good reason why the reinstatement of Pete Rose to baseball is taking longer than the principals thought it would.

His reinstatement requires the wisdom of Solomon.

Indications are that Rose's reinstatement will not be resolved by baseball's winter meetings Dec. 12-14 in New Orleans. Reinstatement, which as recently as this past summer appeared all but certain, now appears headed for next year.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig wants to do the right thing, which would be to end the hypocrisy by welcoming the Hit King back into the family. This would be doable if the prodigal Pete weren't so hell-bent on managing a major-league team. That's the one place baseball isn't eager to have him, given his past - allegedly betting on the Reds to win while he was managing them in the mid- to late-1980s.

Indications are that Rose and his people still believe he'll be fully reinstated after a period of probation of at least a year.

No precedent

Baseball has a strict rule from which it has never deviated since the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919: Betting on or against a team by a person involved in the outcome of that game means banishment. Nobody who has been banished for betting on a baseball game in which he was involved has been reinstated.

Baseball can't have fans wondering if the game is on the square. Even though there is no evidence Rose bet against the Reds, baseball doesn't make a distinction between on or against. Any bet on a game in which he is involved puts the bettor in an untenable position of vulnerability, both to the gamblers who would "fix" games if they could, and to human nature, which dictates that the bettor play or manage even a midseason game in which the closer needs a rest as though it's the seventh game of the World Series.

If Rose will publicly admit he bet on games in which he was involved, and will take the cure for what baseball believes to be his gambling addiction, perhaps all but the most suspicious fans could be convinced that Rose is clean and not betting on the games he's managing.

But Rose might not be yet ready to take the cure, which also is what could be holding up the deal. Indications are that without Rose acknowledging his addiction and getting rehabilitation, there is no chance of full reinstatement.

Must admit wrongdoing

Most Hall of Famers say they would support Rose's election and show up for his induction provided he admits his specific wrongdoing.

With such an admission, it is believed Rose easily would gain the 75 percent of the 600-plus votes needed for election by the 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Even without such an admission, Rose might get enough votes. He has only two years left on his 15-year window of eligibility - 2004 and 2005. Because his reinstatement was still unresolved as of last week, he didn't make the mid-November cutoff for next year's ballot.

Selig would get plenty of public relations points by just taking Rose off the permanently ineligible list and clearing his way to the Hall ballot. But it would be a public-relations nightmare for Selig - even worse than the status quo - if a significant number of Hall of Famers were to boycott the Rose ceremony.

There are only 59 living Hall of Famers. About 45 regularly attend the annual induction ceremony. If even four or five boycotted Rose's induction, it would be a PR disaster. That's why Selig won't unilaterally clear Rose's path without Rose's admission, even though Selig has the power to do so.

Of the five Hall of Famers who attended the unveiling of the "Baseball as America" exhibit in August in Cincinnati, four (Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, Robin Roberts and Gaylord Perry) told the Enquirer they would support Rose's candidacy and induction if he came clean. The fifth member of the group - Johnny Bench - would not entertain the question. But he's in lockstep with the other four, and so is Joe Morgan, another Big Red Machine teammate of Rose's.

That is why reinstatement hasn't been resolved: Rose cares much more about managing than he does about the Hall of Fame. He believes - correctly, say the memorabilia dealers - that the demand for his autograph and baseball stuff is higher if he's outside the Hall rather than in it. It's the America-loves-an-outlaw factor.

There is nothing in it for Rose to publicly admit that he bet on the Reds while managing their games - unless the quid pro quo is full reinstatement, which means the chance to manage again if he can find somebody to hire him.

If a deal can be designed that offers Rose even a shred of hope for managing again, it is believed he would make the required admission that he bet on games in which he was involved. Then, on the road to what Rose hopes one day will be a manager's job (and Baseball hopes won't), Rose would make the quintessentially prodigal-son return to the "family" as the TV cameras whir in Cooperstown.



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