Tuesday, October 26, 1999


Rose for Hall of Fame, Gray for Hall of Shame

        No city knows better than Cincinnati that Pete Rose can be a walking pipe-bomb. He causes explosive controversy simply by being Pete Rose.

        But NBC reporter Jim Gray has managed to make journalists look like the Trenchcoat Mafia. His ambush of baseball's all-time hits leader on Sunday night, just before game two of the World Series, was graceless, tacky, egotistical and painfully inappropriate.

        For 10 years, Mr. Rose has stubbornly denied that he bet on baseball. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. And betting on baseball is more corrosive to the game's credibility than anything else, including drug abuse and other felonies.

        In Cincinnati, it has become a tradition to howl at the injustice whenever another player breaks the rules and gets a second chance, while Mr. Rose remains banned for life, unable to join the Hall of Fame.

        There are strong arguments for and against reinstatement. But Mr. Rose's long-awaited moment of fan appreciation and glory was not the place to rehash them.

        When the legends of baseball on the All-Century Team were introduced — Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench — Pete Rose was given the longest, most emotional standing ovation, because fans know how he has suffered on the dark side of the Major League moon.

        So it was especially jarring when Mr. Gray trashed that touching moment with his Mike Wallace impersonation.

        He asked Mr. Rose why he has not apologized for betting on baseball. The reply was unambiguous: “I'm not going to admit to something that didn't happen. I know you're getting tired of hearing me say that. It's too festive a night to worry about it.”

        That's “Charlie Hustle,” sliding head-first, unswerving, not about to apologize or change direction.

        But Mr. Gray kept peppering Mr. Rose, interrupting his answers, badgering him even after Mr. Rose pleaded that “I am just one small part of something much bigger here tonight.”

        One or two questions were appropriate. But Mr. Gray went over the line, turning a Pete Rose moment into a Jim Gray ego trip that looked like a Saturday Night Live parody of an obnoxious reporter.

        Mr. Rose seemed bewildered: “You know, I'm surprised you're bombarding me with this. I'm here to do an interview with you on a great night, a great occasion. You're bringing up something that happened 10 years ago.”

        NBC said Mr. Gray was just offering a chance to “comment on the issues that kept him out of baseball.”

        That's a lame excuse for such unprofessional behavior.

        Millions of fans complained to NBC. We've received hundreds of e-mails and letters (see Reader's Views). A “Ban Jim Gray” website is urging fans to boycott dozens of NBC advertisers (www.public@mawent.com).

        Jim Leyritz of the New York Yankees spoke for many fans when he stopped Mr. Gray on his way out of the stadium. “I think it's an embarrassment to your profession,” he said.

        Mastercard Internationl, which sponsored the All-Century Team, has demanded that Mr. Gray apologize.

        Ironically, the backlash could boost sympathy for Mr. Rose and pressure baseball to reinstate him. NBC's own website showed 95 percent of fans want Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.

        And just as many believe Jim Gray's interview belongs in the hall of shame.


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