Ten years ago this month Pete Rose signed his own death warrant. His pact with commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose from playing or managing again. Rose admitted he had gambled with bookies (though not on baseball) and hung out with cocaine-dealing lowlifes, and nine people had told investigators that Rose, then the Reds' manager, had bet on baseball. The deal didn't charge Rose with that last offense, however, and stated, "Nothing in this agreement shall be deemed either an admission or a denial by Peter Edward Rose of the allegation that he bet on any major league baseball game." But then Giamatti told reporters he'd concluded Rose had bet on baseball.
In 1991, the year before Rose would be eligible for the Hall of Fame, the Hall's board of directors passed a new rule: Suspended players were no longer eligible. Board member Fay Vincent, Giamatti's successor, made the ludicrous claim that the rule wasn't aimed at Rose. "I'll kiss your ass if that's true," Rose tells SI.
On Hall of Fame weekend Rose, 58, sat at a long card table in Cooperstown, signing autographs that included the number 4,256—his career hits, nearly half again as many as Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn has. The Hit King grinned and joked and signed nonstop but left town before the induction ceremonies. ("It's their day, not mine.") He also said he's royally pissed at how the game keeps spitting in his eye. " Bart Giamatti told me to reconfigure my life," he said, "and I have. I don't gamble illegally. I'm real careful who I associate with." He said he has formally applied for reinstatement but gets no reply. "They don't answer me." That's a betrayal if you believe, as he does, that the sentence Giamatti handed down wasn't meant to be eternal. "During our negotiations they said it'd be 22 years till I could apply for reinstatement. We got it down to 11, then to one year, and that's when I signed," he said. But Giamatti died nine days later, and Selig, a man Rose has never met, honors Giamatti's memory by keeping the status quo. "I knew Bart Giamatti. He was a fair man," Rose said. "He would have given me a second chance."
Ten years is a long time. Even Charles Manson gets parole hearings, and Hall of Famers, as Rose points out, "aren't all altar guys." Finally, 4,256 is so many knocks that without Rose the Hall of Fame ought to have a big asterisk on its front door.
Rose left Cooperstown with a word of advice for Boggs and Gwynn. "The first 3,000 hits is easy," he said. "It's the next thousand that's tough."