Four months ago Pete Rose had it all figured, like a trifecta at Santa Anita before the horses are out of the barn. He would be reinstated by November, maybe December. He was so confident of it that the publication of his book My Prison Without Bars was moved back from March to January to piggyback on the news. A major league managing job would quickly follow. What owner, especially Carl Lindner of Rose's hometown Cincinnati Reds, could resist putting the Hit King back in the dugout?
" Mr. Lindner's no dummy," Rose told SI last Thursday. "He's a businessman. Maybe this is the wrong thing to say, but being reinstated, being a manager, it all boils down to economics. Can I help the game of baseball? Can I help the game of baseball make money? That's all sports is today is economics. Isn't it?"
Chalk up another losing wager for Charlie Hustle. Though the lifeblood of pro sports is capitalism, its backbone must be integrity. So let Rose be enshrined in that nice museum called the Hall of Fame, but if the institution of baseball is to maintain a shred of integrity, it must not let him near a major league uniform—not now or, barring total reformation of a man who looks incorrigible, ever.
In 1989 commissioner Bart Giamatti did allow the possibility of a return for Rose, provided he came clean about betting on baseball and conquered his jones for gambling. Fifteen years later Rose still cannot be trusted on either count.
In print and on tour last week the combative Rose was all too familiar. True, he admitted he bet on baseball games, including the Reds' when he managed them. Yet he also made clear he still enjoys gambling legally; refused to apologize to former commissioner Fay Vincent and investigator John Dowd, though he'd been lying for years about their findings; rationalized that betting on his team to win was not "corrupt"; claimed he did not use "inside information"; denied making bets from the ballpark; and said he did not recall even in general terms when he first gambled on baseball. (This from a man who remembers that USC covered against Georgia Tech in a 1973 football game.)
In his book Rose wrote about his transition into baseball betting in 1987 and how he stopped months later because he was winning too much for his bookies. Yet he also wrote that he bet on the 1986 baseball playoffs and said last week that he did not stop until 1989. Truth to Rose is wet clay.
Rose and his advisers bungled his first and possibly last chance to return to the game he loves. How could they spend three years on a book and not craft it with the contritional tone requisite for reinstatement? How could they release the book in the week of the Hall of Fame voting announcements?
Rose's playing career is worthy of the Hall, and he should be granted the chance to be considered by the baseball writers or, better yet, his peers on the Veterans Committee. He has forfeited, however, the privilege of having anything to do with the outcome of a major league game. Considering his unreformed gambling, he is useless as a counselor for young players, too.
Asked about the possibility of a partial reinstatement that would bar him from the field, Rose dug in his spikes once more. "I understand that, but is that really fair?" he said. "I mean, to put you on the ballot but not give you the opportunity to excel at what you excel in, is that really the American way? You know, I don't know if people would tolerate that. Do you? If that's what I got, that's what I'd have to settle for. I just don't think it's going to help the game of baseball, and it's certainly not going to help me."
Rose was a more popular and more sympathetic figure while standing in a business suit and waving his cap in front of a World Series crowd. He was the exile allowed back to the yard only when it served baseball's corporate purpose. Now he has revealed himself in a confession that sounds more like a defense. Now we know him too well.