Hit king takes final cuts at Cinergy FieldPosted: Monday September 23, 2002 7:38 PM
Updated: Wednesday October 23, 2002 7:59 PM
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The No. 14 jersey was untucked, concealing a cushy waist, and the bat was aluminum instead of a black wooden Mizuno.
One thing about Pete Rose hadn't changed in the 16 years between his at-bats in Cincinnati. He could still pack 'em in.
Baseball's banished hits king drew 40,000 fans to Cinergy Field on Monday night for a celebrity softball game signifying the end of the stadium where he made so much history.
Rose, 61, couldn't participate in the Cincinnati Reds' final-game ceremonies Sunday because of his lifetime ban for gambling. He organized a softball game for his farewell.
"It probably would have been a lot better if I could have done it yesterday, but we all know I couldn't do that," Rose said.
Fans paid $20 or $30 for tickets to get a Rose bobblehead and see former major league stars play seven innings of softball at Cinergy, which will be torn down to make way for Great American Ball Park.
The attraction a chance to see Rose dig in at the ballpark for the first time since Aug. 17, 1986, when he pinch-hit and struck out against Goose Gossage. Three days earlier, he went 5-for-5 against the Giants, leaving his career hit total at a record 4,256.
Rose hasn't kept himself in playing shape -- he let his red jersey hang out, covering his waist, and couldn't move very well.
"I can guarantee there's one thing you will not see me do, and that's a headfirst slide," Rose said. "I can't get going fast enough to do it. My knees are killing me. But I will get a hit. I will hit a rope somewhere."
The stadium rang with "Pete! Pete! Pete!" as Rose got into the batter's box for the first time against Steve Carlton.
Swinging right-handed from an upright stance -- his bad knees prevent him from getting into his customary crouch -- Rose hit two fouls, then lined out to Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who spiked the ball in honor of his boyhood hero.
Rose also hit a grounder to Schmidt, then gave the fans one last reason to chant his name. Rose singled past Schmidt, who was playing generously wide of the base, and advanced to second. He tagged up and slid headfirst into third base and slapped the bag with his right hand.
Then, he got up and jokingly grabbed his lower back as flashbulbs went off and his name filled the air.
"Did I slide? What I did was fall down 10 feet from third base," Rose joked. "That's what the fans wanted to see."
The four main components of the Big Red Machine -- Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez -- thanked fans over the public address system for turning out.
"It was a chance to see one more headfirst slide," Bench noted.
Rose and Bench joined arms after the game, a friendly gesture between two stars who haven't always seen eye-to-eye.
Rose had most of the historic moments at the stadium, which opened with his single on June 30, 1970. He gave it a legacy a few days later by bowling over Ray Fosse to win an All-Star Game.
The stadium's signature moment came on Sept. 11, 1985, when he singled to left-center field for hit No. 4,192, breaking Ty Cobb's record.
It hardly mattered to fans that Rose had changed a lot in the interim, which included his lifetime ban in 1989, a prison term on tax charges, and a long-standing tussle with baseball over reinstatement.
"I wanted to show my support for Pete," said Mark Donnan, 46, of West Liberty, Ohio, who bought a $25 commemorative shirt. "I think he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. Everybody that's here is here for him."
Rose's No. 14 was cut on the infield grass. One of the many Rose banners in the stands said: "Rose in the Hall. Bet on it."
Better not, Schmidt suggested.
Schmidt, who grew up in nearby Dayton with a Rose poster on his bedroom door, thinks Rose is resigned to the notion that he'll never get in the Hall.
"At some point in time, Pete could have come forward and said, 'I apologize, I'm sorry, I'd like another chance,'" Schmidt said. "If that would have happened 10 years ago, he'd probably be in the Hall of Fame right now.
"But Pete's stubborn that way. Pete truly believes that he didn't do what they say he did and he isn't going to admit something that isn't true."
Schmidt said the overwhelming majority of Hall of Famers believe Rose bet on baseball. He also said the majority would favor admitting him into the Hall if he acknowledged it.
"I believe we're kind of past that time," Schmidt said. "And unfortunately, I think Pete's sort of fallen into the bad-boy role. He's got a tremendous following around the country for this reason. I think we're almost to the point now where it's become a way of life for Pete."
Shuffling nervously outside the visiting clubhouse before the game, Rose deflected questions about being excluded from the Hall.
"If you'd have told me I was going to die in the next six months, it would worry me," he said. "But the Hall of Fame has
got to be the ultimate goal for any player, and it's got to be worth the wait."