SEATTLE - Joe Morgan loves Pete Rose, but he will not lobby for him. He believes Rose belongs in baseball's Hall of Fame, yet he is not ready to endorse his reinstatement.
Little Joe is like a lot of people who are alternately enthralled and exasperated by baseball's exiled hit king. Much as Morgan would like to help Rose, he wants him first to help himself.
"No matter what anyone else says, I still think Pete needs to apologize," he said. "I think we're the most forgiving country in the world. We forgave Richard Nixon. If Pete says he didn't do anything wrong, and he doesn't want to apologize, that's up to him. But I think if he would apologize, it would be better for all of us."
In speaking of Rose, Morgan chooses his words the way a surgeon might select a scalpel, seeking a sharp point and minimal bleeding. The ESPN analyst was twice Rose's teammate, and is now a member of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors. He has a strong allegiance to both Rose and the baseball museum, but little confidence the two will be reconciled.
"I will defend Pete to the death on his ability as a baseball player," Morgan said. "I will not defend him to the death on whether he did something wrong or not."
A sticking point
Rose has yet to admit or refute the voluminous gambling allegations baseball investigator John Dowd made in 1989. He has stuck with a story so implausible that he has succeeded mainly in trying baseball's patience.
Several of the sport's officials have said whatever chance Rose has at reinstatement is contingent on a confession that he bet on baseball. The Hall of Fame board, too, is unlikely to relax its eligibility rules unless Rose first shows some remorse.
"I can't speak for anyone else," Morgan said, "but there's not any reason from my perspective for changing the rules. . . What has changed since eight years ago? He still says he didn't do it. He's still blaming (late commissioner A. Bartlett) Giamatti. He's still blaming this and that. He's still gambling."
Rose was disqualified from consideration for Cooperstown in January of 1991, when the Hall of Fame board voted to exclude those on baseball's "permanently ineligible" list. Though the 16-person board has nine new members since that decision, assistant Hall of Fame secretary Glenn Perrone says the idea of revising the rules for Rose has not yet been raised at any board meeting.
With two former teammates on the board - Morgan and Tom Seaver - you might think Rose could find someone willing to go to bat for him. What he has found, instead, is Hall of Fame members are more concerned with the integrity of their institution than the plight of the player with the most career hits.
Joe Morgan cares more than most, or he wouldn't challenge Rose to change. Rose's real friends have always been the ones willing to tell him things he didn't want to hear, and not the leeches and lackeys who usually surround him.
No way to win
"The thing that made Pete a great player is also the thing that makes him want to fight everything and think he can win," Morgan said. "And you know what? He can't win this fight. . .
"If I didn't think he did anything wrong, I wouldn't want him to apologize. I don't know if he would get back in (baseball), but I know there would be a better feeling about letting him back in. To me, an apology at this stage would go a long way toward changing things."
What Morgan said for publication, he has also told Rose privately. Rose, he said, replied that he had done nothing wrong. Recounting their conversation, Morgan shakes his head.
"There's no one in the world probably, other than Pete, who wishes (more) that he could do the right thing and get in the Hall of Fame," Morgan said. "I know what he is and what he did on the baseball field. No one deserves to be there any more than he does. Yet if you make a mistake - I don't care who you are - you have to pay a price."
Part of the price Pete Rose must pay is in the frustration of his friends.
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