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For the love of Pete
Rose returns to diamond with independent ballclub
Posted: Monday May 10, 1999 07:43 PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- It was a scene millions of baseball fans would recognize from their youth. It was a scene that could keep baseball commissioner Bud Selig awake at night.
Pete Rose, baseball's banned career hits leader, was back on a diamond with a bat in his hands.
Rose hit fungoes to outfielders for the Sacramento Steelheads of the Western Baseball League on Monday as part of his role as special instructor for the newly created team.
"I can still hit, I just can't run. I still have good hand-to-eye coordination," said Rose, who slammed liners and sharp grounders toward the aspiring major leaguers. "I'm 58 years old -- I don't look it."
Rose, indeed, looks pretty good. He has gotten heavier and is slowed by aching knees. But he is tanned and fit, and retains the intense gaze and peripatetic style that were among his trademarks.
He wore a black long-sleeved shirt Monday, along with designer sunglasses and a Steelheads cap. In addition to working with the players and giving them a 75-minute inspirational speech Monday, Rose will be back May 28 to toss out the ceremonial first pitch at Sacramento's home opener.
Rose, who insists the stint as special instructor is not an effort to generate public support for his bid to overturn the ban, will get paid about $50,000 to work with players averaging $1,250 a month.
"This is just to help Sacramento. This is not to help Pete Rose. This is fun," he said. "I don't go to bed every night and pray I can go to the Hall of Fame. I can't live my life in the past. Life goes on."
Rose, a 17-time All-Star and the NL MVP in 1973, agreed in August 1989 to accept a lifetime ban after commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti concluded Rose bet on games involving the Cincinnati Reds while he was their manager.
Rose served five months at a federal prison after pleading guilty in April 1990 to two counts of filing false income tax returns by failing to report $354,968 in income from autograph appearances, memorabilia sales and gambling.
The career leader in hits with 4,256 and games with 3,562 is ineligible for the Hall of Fame as long as the ban is in effect. Rose applied for reinstatement in September 1997, but has not received a response from Selig.
None of the 14 people banned for life by baseball for gambling has been reinstated.
Rose was scheduled to give a 15-minute pep talk to the Steelheads, but ended up giving a 75-minute speech while standing near the pitcher's mound at Sacramento City College's Union Stadium.
"It's incredible to sit and listen to him. I'm 34 and I wish I could be 20 again and hear that speech," said catcher Tim McIntosh, a former major leaguer who went to spring training with the New York Yankees this year and hopes his stint in Sacramento is a springboard to another big league job. "He's an idol. He's a god. You see a lot of guys coming through the clubhouse, but he's got 4,000 hits."
Rose is banned from going on the field and clubhouses of any major league team, or any minor league team in organized baseball. The Western Baseball League is independent and not covered by those rules.
Rose said he gave a speech to Reds minor leaguers last week in Rockford, Ill., but Monday's appearance was the first time he's actually worked with players since the ban.
Selig's spokesman, Rich Levin, said he was unaware of the Rockford speech but said if Rose spoke with Reds minor leaguers, it would appear to violate the ban.
Steelheads players said they know about the ban, but appreciated hearing from Rose.
Steelheads owner Bruce Portner said he went looking for a controversial figure to create a buzz around his expansion team.
"Of course it's for publicity. It helps keep Sacramento in the nation's eyes as a baseball town. Remember, there's been no professional baseball here for 25 years," Portner said. "Let's face it, he's Pete Rose. He's banned but also a legend in baseball."
Rose said he'd like to return to the majors as a manager someday, in large part because "the pay is good," and believes Selig eventually will give him another chance. But he couldn't resist taking a swipe at major league officials for the recent series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team."Our country is a great country for getting second opportunities, though sometimes it takes a while. The fans want me back," he said. "Do fans want Bud Selig sitting next to [Fidel] Castro? Ask the fans in South Florida now."
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