Sunday, August 22, 1999

Giamatti's death sealed Rose's fate

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Rose sits alone in the dugout.
| ZOOM |
        In the summer of 1989, I'd sit in his office long after games, waiting for the media horde to disperse. He'd be shaving, a towel wrapped around his waist, barrel chest in its familiar puffed-out mode. He would say he didn't bet on baseball, couldn't have, wasn't his handwriting on the betting slips, how could he make those phone calls during a game? He'd find supposed cracks in the investigation's utterly smooth sidewalk.

        One on one, Pete Rose was hypnotic. Was it because you wanted to believe him? Or because he was as good at telling stories as he was at finding the outfield gaps? Give him 15 minutes, he'd convince you the Indians bought Manhattan from Donald Trump.

        More than once, I left Rose's office believing everything he'd said. I'd literally have to smack myself on my way out, so I wouldn't actually write it.

        He had a plastic jar of Rolaids on the corner of his desk. It was bigger than Rhode Island, a lifetime supply that by Aug. 24 had been nearly exhausted. The last 20 or 30 tablets rattled around the bottom of the container like faded hope.

        Rose didn't mind talking about the investigation. This is a man who endured his divorce by hitting in 44 straight games. After a few months, as June turned to July turned to August and Baseball started turning the screws on Pete Rose, you began to sense that Rose used the sessions as therapy, to convince himself of his own innocence. If you say something enough, you believe it.

        He stood up to it. Give him that. Rose had all of Baseball sniffing around the unmade bedrooms of his private life. He was on the network news a few times a week, he heard the same questions every day. He was an eyewitness to his own downfall. He watched himself stumble and trip and be bounced out the door like a drunk after last call. He never cracked. Rose had the will of a steel door. It was amazing.

        We were introduced to a whole cast of characters that summer, a real chorus line of people we'd never allow to

        date our daughters. There were Tommy and Paulie and Fat Mike and, of course, Val from Staten Island. It could have been a casting call for The Sopranos.

        They showed us a side to Pete Rose we didn't want to see. We'd heard about what Rose did away from the field, maybe even known it for a fact. But we didn't want to believe it. He was Pete Rose.

        Before '89, you'd see these guys in the clubhouse. They were over-muscled bouncer types or pseudo-slick wiseguys with that faded East Coast, neck chains, shirt-open-to-the-navel look. And you'd wonder.

        The day of his banishment, someone asked Rose if he would seek help for his gambling “problem.” Rose replied that he didn't have a gambling prob lem. He said his biggest problem was the people he hung around with.

        That night, he flew to Minnesota to sell memorabilia on a shopping network.

        After stonewalling Baseball for an entire summer — even mocking the probe by occasionally using the phrase “If I were a betting man” when denying his guilt — Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from the game.

        He could apply for reinstatement in a year. But there was no guarantee he'd be allowed back in. Why should there have been? Because he was Pete Rose?

        Rose thought he could beat Baseball the way he beat Ty Cobb. He would outlast them. He would apply same single-mindedness in defending himself that he used to chase Cobb's 4,191 hits. He would slide headfirst through his days. It had always worked before for Charlie Hustle, he of supposedly limited ability. He would conquer all with sheer determination. It would work again.

        Only, it didn't. Bart Giamatti died a week after Rose's ban, a coincidence for which Rose has always been held partly (and unfairly) accountable. Giamatti's good friend Fay Vincent took his pal's job as baseball commissioner and held fast. Bud Selig has done likewise. The Hit King found the one door he couldn't break down with the force of his will.

        Rose hasn't helped himself, carrying on about the sins of others (Darryl Strawberry, Steve Howe, Doc Gooden), signing autographs in Cooperstown the week of the Hall of Fame inductions, still inflating his chest and finding comfort in his denials.

        In the end, a man is who he is. He gets the face he deserves. It may not be fair that Pete Rose's face may be forever pressed against the Hall of Fame door. But who said life was fair?

        We've discussed ad nauseam the decline of baseball in Cincinnati. Why aren't the fans coming out? We've given any number of reasons. Here's another:

        Rose's banishment from the game began a wave of cynicism and hard feelings here that hasn't died yet. Pete, our Pete, was kicked from the game he loved. Right here in River City, the place of the deepest baseball soul. It was the beginning of the end of innocence here. It continues today, unabated. The acres of empty red seats are soldiers to that truth.

        Of course Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's not hallowed ground. It's a museum. They collect history there.

        Even if it were something grander, he has paid enough. Once, Rose was an example of all we admired about the game, and about jocks in general. Baseball should remember that. Baseball is not so good that it can ignore Pete Rose. Baseball is not deserving of the luxury of righteousness.

        Rose shouldn't take reinstatement as a vindication, though. A decade in exile is nothing to puff out your chest about. It would merely be an appropriate gesture of benevolence.

        Baseball could use a few of those. We all could.

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

Rose Special Report
Rose sticks to denials; Baseball sticks to its evidence
How they feel about Rose
Bookie's regret: Rose as client
The who, what, when of Rose's summer of shame