Excused from his lifetime exile for one game by the commissioner of baseball, Pete Rose stepped onto the playing field at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati earlier this month.
It was September 11, 2010, the 25th anniversary of the night he singled to left center at now-demolished Riverfront Stadium to break Ty Cobb's record for most hits in a career.
A crowd of 36,101 saw The Hit King and cheered him, but didn't hear him speak. Major League Baseball relaxed the prohibition on Pete's association with baseball enough to allow the Cincinnati Reds to commemorate his achievement, but drew the line when it came to him saying anything to his still-passionate fans.
John Erardi of the Cincinnati Enquirer covered the celebration, and wrote this:
The 4,192 ceremony is something Major League Baseball allowed because the Reds wanted to honor the 25th anniversary, said Rich Levin, MLB's chief spokesman.
MLB doesn't regard it as a one-time exception because it had been done before with Rose being honored on fields as part of All-Time Major League Team celebrations, Levin noted.
He said Commissioner Bud Selig had no comment on the 4,192 ceremony or on Rose's tear-filled apology at a roast afterward to his family, former teammates and fans for the way he "disrespected" them and the game.
"Other than that, there's nothing to say," said Levin.
Actually, there is more to say.
MLB can continue to bar Rose from involvement in the game today, if it must, for betting on his team while he managed the Reds from 1984 through 1989. Never mind that there is no evidence that he ever manipulated an outcome at the expense of his team to win a bet. Gambling has been the unforgivable sin in baseball since the 1919 World Series, which ironically involved the Cincinnati team. It shouldn't be ignored.
But separate gambling as a manager from performing at the highest level as a player. And end the contradiction that denies Rose eligibility for Cooperstown for betting as a manager, yet allows a player who admits using steroids while breaking the single-season home run record to return to baseball as a major league batting coach.
Betting didn't help Rose get any of his 4,256 hits. Not one. Steroids and other prohibited performance enhancing substances didn't make him better, either. And his record as a manager -- 412 wins and 373 losses -- wasn't Hall of Fame-caliber, anyway.
Simply put, Pete Rose, the player, belongs in the Hall of Fame. And MLB is missing a bet, if you will, as long as it continues to rule him ineligible for the sport's highest recognition.
Sparky Anderson, who managed Rose and the Big Red Machine, wrote the foreword to a book, 4192!, published by United Press International in 1985 after Rose broke Cobb's record for hits in a career. In it he explained what enabled Rose to become the most prolific hit-maker in history:
The first thing that ever impressed me about Pete's hitting ability when I managed him with the Reds organization is the same thing that impresses me now... He bears down on every swing. He never gives away an at bat.
Think about that for a minute. It doesn't matter what the score is, Pete bears down like every time at bat will be his last one ever. He never gives anything away.
Rose grew up in the low income, hardscrabble area along River Road in Cincinnati, between Anderson Ferry and Sedamsville, at the bottom of blue-collar Price Hill. He swam in the Ohio River as a kid, sometimes crossing to the Kentucky side, impervious to the river's strong current and countless impurities. He used up his high school sports eligibility before he qualified for a diploma. He was brash, even coarse at times. He reflected his roots.
After signing his first professional contract in 1960, his declared goal was to become "the first $100,000 singles hitter." (He would top that by several thousand percent.)
Young Pete sprinted to first base after ball four, dove head first into bases, and plowed into fences in pursuit of foul balls. Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle called him "Charlie Hustle" during spring training in 1963, when he was still trying to crack the big league lineup for the first time. They coined it in derision, but the name stuck and came to personify him as the all-out-all-the-time player of his time.
Like Ty Cobb a half-century before, Rose was an intense competitor who was criticized and disliked by many for his tough, aggressive style of play. He ran over catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game, causing a shoulder injury that diminished Fosse the rest of his career. And he fought Buddy Harrelson of the Mets in the infield dirt of Shea Stadium after sliding hard to try to break up a double play in the 1973 National League playoffs.In the book Charlie Hustle, written with Bob Hertzel in 1975, Rose reflected on both incidents:
The only way I could get in there was to hit Fosse full force. I think the throw had me beat.
The collision was something to see, and millions of fans did over and over again on the instant replay. Fosse crumbled, his glove flying off his hand and the ball rolling free. I was safe, which at the moment was the important thing, and we owned a 5-4 victory.
I took some flak about the incident, about playing such a daring brand of of baseball in an exhibition game. Well, I play to win, period...
I'm not going to apologize for all those goings-on during the 1973 playoffs... The whole thing was baseball the way it's supposed to be played. I'm no damn little girl out there. I'm supposed to give the fans their money's worth and play hard...
Those 4,256 steroid-free hits should be enough to get Pete Rose, the player, enshrined at Cooperstown. Not to mention his .303 lifetime average in almost 16,000 plate appearances in the 24 seasons from 1963 through 1986, or his 17 All-Star Game selections, the most valuable player awards, the 44-game hitting streak (second longest in the modern era, 12 games behind Joe DiMaggio), or his place on Baseball's All-Century Team.But if repentance from Pete Rose, the manager, is required as well, that has come, too, as John Erardi reported in another story in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
What Rose did at his own roast Saturday evening -- closing the evening, after former teammates Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Geronimo, George Foster and Tom Browning had skewered him -- was to break down in tears over betting on baseball during his Reds managerial days in the late 1980s.
'I disrespected the game of baseball,' Rose said. 'When you do that, you disrespect your teammates, the game and your family...'
He apologized to his teammates who were seated to his right, on the main stage, as he spoke... 'I guarantee everybody in this room, I will never disrespect you again,' Rose said.
'You can talk about hits and runs and championship games... (but) I want my legacy to be (that of) somebody who came forward...'
Despite his statements to the contrary in recent years, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame will mean more to Pete Rose, the player, than to anyone else who ever played the game. It should happen while he's still alive, and able to enjoy it.