The first brick in a road that may bring Pete Rose back to baseball was placed eight months ago, as Rose watched a 13th consecutive season begin with him banned from the game. Rose's agent, Warren Greene, called Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy, the top assistant to commissioner Bud Selig, with a question: If Rose publicly admitted that he bet on baseball, would he be reinstated?
Selig, who had steadfastly refused to consider allowing Rose back into the game, deliberated for two months. Then, in June, he told DuPuy to continue a dialogue with Greene. Those discussions led to a Nov. 25 meeting in Milwaukee between Rose and Selig that also included Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who was one of Rose's teammates with the Phillies and has been a friend and conciliator. Why did Selig relent? Two sources familiar with the talks said it was because Rose had raised the possibility of an admission of guilt for the first time.
Selig declined to comment on the matter, and Rose issued a statement last Thursday indicating he would not discuss me case, calling it "delicate." Asked why Rose, 61, would suddenly make an offer to admit guilt, one source said, "I think he realized he was never coming back without it."
A source close to the matter said that Selig will insist on nothing less than a public admission "with great specifics" from Rose as a condition of his return. That means Rose will have to acknowledge findings in a 1989 report by John Dowd, a special investigator for baseball, that Rose bet on Reds games 51 times in '87 while he was he manager of the team. Rule 21(d), which is posted in every major league clubhouse, warns that any person "who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible." In '91 the Hall of Fame established a rule that any person on the ineligible list cannot be considered for election to the Hall of Fame.
Talks between the commissioner's office and Rose are likely to continue into at least January, one source said. Still unclear is whether Selig would choose to remove the ban only as it relates to the Hall of Fame, allow Rose a partial reinstatement that would restrict his employment, such as preventing him from managing or coaching, or fully reinstate him. Any reinstatement for Rose will contain conditions and will likely include a probationary period.
In addition to Schmidt, Rose has received support from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who is considered to have influence with Selig because of their long friendship and his place on the Hall of Fame board of directors. Steinbrenner declined to confirm or deny the account of one source who said Steinbrenner spoke directly with Selig on Rose's behalf. Steinbrenner did say, "In my mind Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. He earned it. Beyond that, whether he belongs back in baseball is the commissioner's decision."