Saturday, September 27, 1997
Truth may be coming
too late to save Rose

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Rose has carried his lineup card to home plate, and now he and the umpires will go over the ground rules.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose

The game has not yet begun. The outcome is nowhere near resolution. But Rose has finally resolved to take his cuts at reinstatement.

Eight years, one month and three days after accepting a lifetime suspension, baseball's banished hit king formally applied for pardon Friday. Rose's attorney, Gary Spicer, faxed a two-page letter to acting commissioner Bud Selig, who declared the matter would be dealt with in ''due course.''

''Due course'' might be Seligspeak for ''when hell freezes over,'' but it is at least a start. Pete Rose will never know exactly what he's up against until he confronts it directly.

''I think that it's something he needs to do,'' said Jerry Carroll, the Turfway Park owner and Rose confidante. ''He needs to find out where he actually stands. It's like a salesman. Sometimes, when you call for the order, you have to say: 'If I'm not going to get it, why not?' Pete has to ask, 'What are my problems? Please identify them to me and the public.'''

The plea bargain Rose negotiated with A. Bartlett Giamatti in August of 1989 did not neatly resolve their messy dispute. It was an act of expedience, a means of moving on.

Two-front battle

Giamatti, weary of the struggle and its effect on his institution, agreed to make no ''official finding'' that Rose bet on baseball in exchange for the right to get rid of him. Rose, unwilling to face the evidence and unable to finance a two-front court battle (the other being with the Internal Revenue Service), settled for an implausible deniability.

Rose insisted he had never bet on baseball, but accepted sanctions which could only have been applied to someone who gambled on games of his own team. Much as he has tried to finesse these facts, Rose has never come up with an adequate explanation for this astounding contradiction.

Which brings us back to where we've been all along: Pete Rose proclaiming his innocence and persuading no one.

To believe Pete's story, you must first accept that a man would agree to life imprisonment for littering. Spicer plans to challenge some of the evidence compiled by John Dowd, but he will be hard-pressed to explain away all of Rose's actions - the phone calls to bookmakers; the checks to fictional characters; the sheer mass of sworn testimony and incriminating documents.

Contrary to his claims, Pete Rose still has a real problem with credibility.

''One of my problems through this whole ordeal is that I've always been too honest,'' Rose said Friday on his radio show. ''My whole baseball career, I've always been too honest ...

''One of the worst things I ever did in the whole investigation - and I did it on the advice of my attorneys at the time - was I went on the Phil Donahue show and told the world I had a gambling problem. That was the worst thing I ever did because they thought the judge was watching and he was going to be more lenient cause he heard me say that.''

What's our man saying here? That he was too honest about his gambling problems with Phil Donahue, or that he lied on national television to try to impress a judge? You make the call.

In Giamatti's memory

Though Bud Selig's sympathy is probably unattainable - the acting commissioner considers pardoning Rose akin to disgracing Giamatti's memory - the baseball establishment might yet be moved to mercy. Phillies owner Bill Giles, among others, believes Rose's exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame is an injustice that should be redressed, reinstatement or not.

Trouble is, Rose's campaign for Cooperstown requires either his reinstatement or revision of the voting rules. Neither is a strong possibility unless Rose can convince baseball of his innocence (unlikely), or admits to being guilty (very unlikely).

''I think he's got to make some sort of drastic statement,'' Jerry Carroll said. ''He can't sweep this under the carpet. He's the only person who can get himself out. He's got to say, 'I need to be reinstated to the sport. Whatever I've got to do, I've got to do it.'''

Applying for reinstatement is a good first step. Coming clean would have been better.