By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Longtime Reds fans are hardly shocked by the revelation that Pete Rose bet on baseball. On Monday, many said they suspected it all along. Yet, for the most part, they forgive him.
"He is the hometown boy; people are protective of him here," said Kevin Grace, a University of Cincinnati archivist and sports researcher and author who is an avid baseball fan. "He gets a pass from a lot of people."
Knowing that the all-time hits leader and sparkplug of the Big Red Machine was betting on baseball games - including Reds games - while he managed the team in the 1980s has done little to diminish support in Rose's hometown for his reinstatement to Major League Baseball and his admission into the Hall of Fame.
"Nothing can take away from what Pete did on the field. He played for the love of the game and there was nobody better," said Helen Thomas, owner of the Skywalk Baseball card and memorabilia shop on Vine Street downtown.
"If you keep him out on the basis of morality, there's a whole lot of people in the Hall of Fame you are going to have to take out."
Thomas' shop is testimony to the pull Rose still exerts on baseball fans in his hometown, and to the value of his autograph. A framed, autographed photo of Rose suspended in mid-air as he slides head-first into third base has a $249 price tag, and a base bag signed by the Hit King can be had for $150.
Thomas said the admission by Rose that he bet on baseball, after 14 years of denying it, "is probably a relief for himself and everybody else."
Cincinnati baseball fans, Thomas said, "have always been willing to forgive a lot when it comes to Pete."
There is ample - albeit, unscientific - evidence that is the case.
An unscientific Enquirer-WCPO-TV poll shows 66 percent of respondents want Rose reinstated to Baseball, and 81 percent said he should be admitted into the Hall of Fame.
But when it came to allowing Rose to manage the Reds once more, there was a split: 46 percent said yes; 44 percent said no.
Andrew Althaus, a Reds season-ticket holder who makes the 280-mile round trip from his home in Bluffton, Ohio, to see every Reds home game, said he considers himself a "baseball traditionalist."
Players or managers betting on the game is wrong, Althaus said.
"He really doesn't belong back in the game after doing that," Althaus said. "But things have changed. We are a forgiving society, I suppose. I don't want to see Pete managing the Reds again, but I wouldn't mind seeing him throwing out the first pitch at Great American on Opening Day."
In downtown Cincinnati Monday morning, 65-year-old Frank Raffenberg of Green Township said he had little doubt all along that Rose wasn't telling the truth about betting on baseball. "I can't say I believed him. It seemed obvious he did it," Raffenberg said. "But he's done his time. And nobody can say he wasn't a Hall of Fame player."
Grace said he believes Rose's hold on baseball fans is strongest in his hometown but is not limited to Cincinnati.
"I think there are baseball fans all over the country who want to see him in the Hall of Fame," Grace said. "He was somebody who was easy to root for. He played hard. He embodies hard work and determination, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."
Fotis Paskal, the owner and manager of the Sports Page restaurant downtown, is one of those Reds fans unfazed by the fact that Rose spent nearly 15 years denying he bet on baseball. "It is time to let it go," Paskal said.
"How can you take the guy who has more hits than anybody in the history of the game and tell him he can't be in the Hall of Fame?," he said. "It's crazy. I don't think he will ever manage in this town again. But he ought to be allowed to make a living in baseball."
Americans favor forgiving Rose
The Associated Press
A majority of Americans believe Pete Rose should be allowed back into baseball and to enter the Hall of Fame even if he says he gambled on baseball, according to a poll released Monday.
The ABC News-ESPN poll was taken Dec. 17-21, before Rose's admission of gambling became public. But the poll asked whether people thought he gambled on baseball and was able to measure the attitudes about Rose and baseball for those who already suspected him of gambling.
The poll found that 66 percent of those surveyed believe baseball's career hits leader did bet on baseball games. About the same number said Rose's 1989 lifetime ban from the game should be lifted and felt he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame.
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