Monday, October 25, 1999

His story's still the same

Rose: Fans give him a huge ovation

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Rose is introduced as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team Sunday in Atlanta.
(AP photo)
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        ATLANTA — The prodigal son returned with a spiffy blue sportcoat and a startling red dye job. His hair was thinner. His face was fuller. His story was still the same.

        Pete Rose came back to baseball for one night only Sunday at Turner Field. He was slightly the worse for wear, partially penitent and completely in his element.

        Ten years and two months since he was suspended for life — exiled from the game he had once exemplified — the banished Hit King was made welcome at the World Series with the longest and loudest ovation accorded any member of the All-Century team.

        “Heart-stopping,” Rose said later, beaming from beneath a crimson Reds cap with his name stitched on the left side. But he quickly grew defensive during a combative television interview with NBC's Jim Gray. (More on the interview) Though All-Century third baseman Mike Schmidt called Sunday's ceremony, “the first step toward reinstatement,” this much has not changed: Rose continues to deny that he bet on baseball, and therefore remains an unsympathetic figure among the game's administrators.

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        Midway through the 55-second demonstration for Rose, Commissioner Bud Selig pulled his hands perfunctorily from the pockets of his camel's hair coat and contributed to the applause. Selig shook Rose's hand Sunday, but he continues to show no inclination toward clemency, and he has yet to formally respond to Rose's 2-year-old application for reinstatement.

        Still, if Rose should go to his grave as baseball's pariah — de nied employment and a plaque in Cooperstown — he will always have this night, and a place among the greatest players of the century.

        “It's quite an honor,” Rose said. “It's something you never think is possible of happening.”

Pete Rose waits near the dugout before Sunday evening's ceremony.
(AP photo)
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        For a decade, the scene had seemed almost inconceivable. The conditions of Rose's lifetime suspension prohibited him from appearing at any official baseball function as anything other than a paying customer.

        He sat with Reds owner Marge Schott last September, when his son, Pete Jr., made his Major League debut, but the stipulations of his suspension were interpreted so stringently that the son was not allowed to leave tickets for his father.

        The reasons baseball relented for the sake of the All-Century promotion remain a subject of speculation. But from the day Rose's name appeared on the ballot, his eligibility and updated vote totals have dominated the news related to the event. Schmidt said he was grateful Rose did not appear for an afternoon press conference Sunday because attending reporters would have been interested in no one else. (Rose arrived late because of a previous commitment at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City).

        “There are basically three questions here,” Schmidt said. “How do you feel about making the team; how do you feel about the guys who didn't make the team; and how do you feel about Pete Rose?”

        Opinions on Rose were generally guarded. Cal Ripken said he thought of Rose only in terms of his career as a ballplayer. All-Century pitcher Bob Gibson told a reporter his views were “none of your business.”

        “Making a statement about Pete Rose couldn't help me,” Gibson said. “It could only help you. And I'm not out to help you.”

        Johnny Bench, perhaps Rose's most persistent critic among his former teammates, was unusually conciliatory.

        “He had to be included,” Bench said. “No question he had to be in this group.”

        Asked if Rose had bet on baseball, Bench sought to play the scene for laughs, lapsing into an imitation of Richard Nixon. “I am not a crook,” he said.

        “Nobody ever played the game harder,” Brooks Robinson said of Rose. “I told him once, "You can't run, you can't throw, you don't have a position. How the hell did you get those 4,000 hits?'

        “But as far as the Hall of Fame, anybody who ever bet on the game as a player, a coach or a manager — and Pete says he didn't — but anyone who did, it's unthinkable that he would be in the Hall of Fame.”

        When he appeared for a pre-game press conference, Rose sought to avoid the issue uppermost in baseball's mind.

        “I'm not here to talk about something that happened 10 years ago,” he said. “This is 1999, getting ready to go into the 21st century. We're here for a festive situation.”

        Later, when pressed for a confession by NBC's Gray, Rose said, “I'm not going to admit to something that didn't happen.”

        As Gray persisted, Rose grew angry, accusing the reporter of “blindsiding” him on the live broadcast. After 10 years of exile, Pete Rose has not changed his story and he has not changed many minds.

        “Maybe they should give him a microphone,” Mike Schmidt said. “And a Bible.”

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