Thursday, July 15, 1999

Ballot revives Baseball's ghost: Rose




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — Pete Rose gets immortality with an asterisk. Cooperstown is still closed to baseball's exiled hit king, but the will of the people is not always bound by protocol and politics.

        If baseball fans choose to include Rose on the sport's All-Century Team, there's nothing Bud Selig or John Dowd or the ghost of Bart Giamatti can do to stop it. The ballots are printed, and Rose's name appears right beside Babe Ruth's. The matter is officially out of institutional control.

        Rose continues to serve a lifetime suspension, remains barred from Baseball's Hall of Fame and is the gambler non grata at every big-league ballpark. Yet at least until the voting ends Sept.10, in this one election, Rose is every bit as eligible as anyone else. (So, too, is Shoeless Joe Jackson.)

        The names of 100 players appear on the ballot, to be distributed at ballparks and K-Mart stores. The roster is to be trimmed to 25 through the voting process, with a special committee authorized to add up to five players overlooked by the public. Rose is one of 34 candidates for nine designated outfield spots. He is the only one with 4,256 hits.

Don't underestimate his fans
        Whether Rose is ultimately included on the 20th Century Dream Team probably will depend more on sentiment than on statistics, for competition has never been so keen. The first nine outfielders on my ballot would be Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, The Babe and Ted Williams. That's an awfully tough lineup to crack.

        Still, recognizing the remarkable devotion of Rose's fans, and the enduring resentment over his exclusion from Cooperstown, Charlie Hustle can expect a substantial sympathy vote. There are certain precincts on the west side of Cincinnati where Pete Rose commands a higher approval rating than ice cream.

        See Bud Selig. See Bud Selig squirm.

        “Either Pete Rose or Joe Jackson's official status has nothing to do with the selection of the All-Century Team,” the commissioner said Tuesday. “They're great players. They're entitled to be on the ballot. Frankly, it doesn't in any way — I want to be very precise in the way I say it — it doesn't in any way affect their status with Major League Baseball.”

        Thus Rose's name was included on the All-Century ballot, while his person was conspicuously absent from the All-Century ceremonies preceding Tuesday's All-Star Game.

        How awkward was that? Five of the first nine questions directed at Selig during Tuesday's press conference concerned Rose, as did most of the subsequent media coverage. Rose's vote totals are sure to become a leading topic of talk shows and editorial sermonizing. (Next on a very special Springer: “Pete Rose, From Elba With Love”).

Baseball burying its head
        What was conceived as a promotional bonanza for baseball ultimately may be remembered as self-inflicted chagrin. Rose is the black sheep who can't be sheared, wild and wooly, impossible to ignore. Much as baseball might want him to disappear, his mark on the game is indelible. He might be excluded, but he won't be erased.

        This is not to say Rose should be reinstated. He has yet to refute the damning allegations of the Dowd Report, and there is no evidence that he has changed his wayward habits. The extent of his gambling — past and present — is so enormous that his mere presence in a major-league uniform could undermine public confidence in the integrity of the game.

        Yet baseball has failed to make a convincing case that formal recognition of Rose's past achievements somehow would imperil the sport's future. Selig has yet to explain satisfactorily why a lifetime ban is not enough punishment for Rose; that he also must be denied his place in posterity.

        A compassionate commissioner might seek justice rather than retribution. He might leave Rose suspended but seek to change the rule that keeps him out of Cooperstown. He might give the devil his due.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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