BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Pete Rose says he's spent enough time in the penalty box. The metaphor is from ice hockey. The mindset is from denial.
Baseball's exiled Hit King mistakes his permanent suspension for a temporary inconvenience and confuses belligerence with leverage. He is no closer to reinstatement now than he was on Aug. 24, 1989, and he won't be until he drops the ridiculous lie that he was banished for betting on pro football.
If Rose can't own up to what seems obvious -- that he gambled on baseball, and heavily -- then he should stop addressing the subject entirely because his fabrications can only infuriate those with the power of parole.
But Charlie Hustle was at it again Tuesday night, first on a live internet "chat" session, then in a taped interview for HBO's Real Sports. He continued to claim that his lifetime suspension was the result of a failure to admit that he bet on pro football, specifically Monday Night Football. Both the obliging sycophants at Athlete Direct and the dauntless Frank Deford let this outrageous distortion pass without a challenge.
Pete Rose can be a mighty sympathetic figure when he has a sympathetic audience. What he needs, however, is tough love. He needs to know that his story is not remotely credible, and that repeating it only makes matters worse. He needs a heaping helping of the hard truth.
He belongs in Hall
That Rose belongs in Baseball's Hall of Fame is not at issue here. His reputation has been tainted by gambling, but his records have not. He had 4,256 hits in the major leagues, and no player before or since has worked so hard at his play. I was one of 12 voters to add his name to my Hall of Fame ballot this year (down from 41 in 1992).
To deny Rose a place in a big-league dugout is a harsh sentence, but probably appropriate given the game's concerns about gambling. To deny him his due, however, is merely cruel.
Yet as this game is presently played, Pete Rose can not be inducted in Cooperstown unless his lifetime suspension is lifted, and the prospects of this are not promising. Though Rose applied for reinstatement last September, and is presumably entitled to due process, the commissioner's office described his case Wednesday as "still pending."
Question: What is Bud Selig waiting for?
Answer: Hell to freeze over.
The Commissioner is convinced of Rose's guilt, and committed to defending the last major decision of his friend and predecessor, A. Bartlett Giamatti. Selig may hear Rose out eventually, but his mind is already made up and the quality of his mercy is severely strained.
Time to 'come clean'
So long as Rose insists he never bet on baseball, despite the enormity of the evidence against him, he provides Selig little basis for leniency. It's hard to forgive a man who refuses to fess up. Past a certain point, it becomes a matter of principle.
Joe Morgan, a Hall of Fame board member and perhaps Rose's best friend in baseball, says it's time for Rose to "come clean." Kevin Hallinan, baseball's security chief, says he couldn't imagine Rose being reinstated without a confession.
"It (baseball's case) has never been rebutted," Hallinan said. "It was the easiest case I ever worked on. He didn't cover his tracks."
Clumsy and combative when he ought to be careful and contrite, Rose has generally behaved as if reinstatement were an inalienable right and not a reprieve to be earned.
For a while, he was shameless enough to stage his radio show from the back of the Sports Book of the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas. He continues to gamble -- often, according to several sources -- and his checks are not cashed as readily as they once were.
"If Pete's around, I'll be very friendly to him," an old friend of Rose's said Wednesday. "But I don't go looking for him. If you're around a guy enough, it rubs off."
Pete Rose has spent a long time in the penalty box. He's learned nothing.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org