Pete Rose is almost ready to apply for reinstatement and has almost no chance for success.
Baseball's banished hit king thinks the time is coming for his comeback. He says baseball finally "has its house in order" and had "better have a good reason" to deny him clemency. Rose talks and talks, but he keeps missing the magic words that could transport him to Cooperstown.
They are these: "I bet on baseball, and I'm sorry."
Almost eight years since his permanent suspension, Rose is still stuck in denial. He continues to insist that he never bet on baseball, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He wants forgiveness but balks at confession.
Judged on performance, passion or popularity, Pete Rose clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was once baseball's best ambassador and remains one of its most amazing achievers. Damning as it was, the Dowd Report could not deny his greatness.
But when baseball failed to bully Rose into pleading guilty to its cardinal sin, it soon resorted to a subtler form of pressure. The Hall of Fame's Board of Directors rewrote its rules, making those players who were permanently suspended ineligible for induction.
Plenty of scars
To get his name on the Baseball Writers ballot, Rose must gain reinstatement. His reinstatement is probably contingent on a confession.
"I couldn't see it (otherwise)," said Kevin Hallinan, baseball security chief. "It (baseball's case) has never been rebutted. It was the easiest case I ever worked on. He didn't cover his tracks."
Baseball spent millions of dollars investigating Rose and in protecting its power to discipline him. It endured six months of scandal and aggravation. It lost Commissioner Bart Giamatti to heart failure nine days after the agonizing impasse was resolved. Some of these scars have yet to heal.
"Bart Giamatti was one of the best friends I've ever had in the world, and I have great faith in his decision," acting Commissioner Bud Selig said in 1995. "His decision still stands, and as far as I'm concerned, his decision should stand."
Rose originally said he would seek reinstatement on the one-year anniversary of his suspension, the first day he was eligible to apply. He has since postponed that appeal several times: first to take care of more pressing issues with the IRS; later citing the hostile stance of Giamatti's successor, Fay Vincent; and then on the grounds that baseball's labor problems deserved priority.
Now, Pete Rose is running out of excuses. Baseball has a new collective bargaining agreement, and Selig's interim status is approaching permanence. If Rose does not seek reinstatement soon, it can only be because he considers it a lost cause.
Hallinan said that if Rose were to apply for absolution, baseball would likely launch another probe to learn how carefully he had cleaned up his act. It is not clear how well Rose would withstand such scrutiny.
He continues to gamble. The question is to what extent. Arnold Wexler, an authority on compulsive gambling, says the basic difference between Rose and Art Schlichter is Rose is able to generate enough income to cover his losses.
The problem is what Rose can afford financially is more than he can afford in terms of image. If he had really "reconfigured his life" - Giamatti's condition for reinstatement - he would probably not do his radio show from a Las Vegas sports book. He would probably not gamble at all.
Rose need not bet on baseball to tempt fate. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that two MGM Grand employees lost their jobs because of an incident involving Rose and a high-stakes blackjack table.
The story said a dealer overpaid Rose at one stage by about $10,000. Rose quickly sought to cash the chips but was confronted by casino officials. The money was ultimately returned, but this didn't allay baseball's concerns.
The last thing baseball wants is to reinstate Pete Rose, fearing that it will be forced to reprimand him again. If he is to change his status, he must first change his ways.
ROSE MAY SOON SEEK REINSTATEMENT June 20, 1997