The event took place in front of a gaudy giant chair constructed with real baseball bats surrounding an actual home plate, yet Pete Rose never actually sat in it, and the emptiness was palpable.
"Throne of 'Hit King' #4256," read the plaque.
Rose showed up wearing a cap of the
Actually, he was sitting so close to a Las Vegas street, one could hear motorcycles in the background as Rose held court Tuesday outside the Pete Rose Sports Bar & Grill on the Strip.
"All I want to be is friends of baseball, I want baseball and Pete Rose to be friends," he said, his voice cracking. "So I can say I'm not an outsider looking in."
He is 74 now, and this was not so much a news conference as a final public prayer, his giant weathered hands squeezing each other again and again as he begged for mercy.
"I'm a good guy, to be honest with you," he said.
A voice that once sounded like the slap of a bat or a headfirst slide was filled with quiet resignation. He's no longer crashing into home plate, he's pleading for merely a glimpse of home plate.
"I'm a baseball player, I'm a baseball person, that's never going to change," he said.
Yet he remains exiled from himself after the announcement Monday that Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, was upholding Rose's permanent ban from the major leagues for gambling.
It is a penalty which has kept one of baseball's greatest players away from baseball's greatest stage for 26 years, during which time Rose has pleaded with three different commissioners for reinstatement. The man who has accumulated more hits than anyone in baseball history has officially finished by going 0 for 3, which makes the hit king nearly cry.
"If I could change the way my life was lived, obviously I would change it," Rose said.
Manfred handed down the ruling with the strongest words possible, writing that Rose was unremorseful and unchanged. Manfred cited evidence that Rose not only bet on baseball as manager, but also a player, the latter which Rose refuses to admit. He also noted that Rose, who lives in Las Vegas, acknowledged he is still betting on baseball.
"Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing … or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989," Manfred wrote.
But there was one loophole in the commissioner's statement. Rose held the news conference Tuesday in hopes of hustling through that loophole.
Manfred wrote that just because Rose is not allowed to work in baseball doesn't mean he can't be in the Hall of Fame, which is a separate entity — "The considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility."
Manfred left a crack in the door to what Rose views as his ultimate redemption, and the hit king fell in front of it with humility.
"I'll try to be better person every day and eventually they'll want me back," Rose said. "My son is here, and if I kick the bucket he can make the speech in Cooperstown."
About that time, fans in the background were heard chanting, "Let him in, let him in" and Rose smiled and said, "See what you started?"
Yet this is where it must end. The folks who run the Hall of Fame must not give into public pressure. It's not just baseball's museum, it's an extension of the game itself.
If Rose isn't considered fit for baseball eligibility — and who on earth could argue that he is? — then he is not fit for baseball's Hall of Fame.
It's truly disheartening that the man who played in more games than anybody can't be honored in the place where the games matter most. It's painful to watch the man who leads baseball in singles and ranks second in doubles be unable to leg out the final 90 feet of a glorious career.
But nothing threatens the integrity of sports more than those participants who bet on their games, and Rose bet on his games, both as a player and a manager. Allowing him and his ineligible status into the Hall of Fame would be like trolling its halls with a stink bomb.
Certainly, there are all sorts of other miscreants in those halls who have committed all sorts of crimes against common decency. Ty Cobb claimed he killed a man, and numerous others were avowed racists, and who knows how many of them may have cheated their way to greatness, including those steroid users who might eventually get in?
But only Rose admitted to betting on games that involved him, which is the highest baseball crime of all.
"Pete's accomplishments warrant his inclusion," said Mark Rose Baum, one of Rose's lawyers, at Tuesday's news conference. "No one contends his accomplishments or his play were ever tainted or ever compromised in any way."
Except maybe when he was gambling on that play. For Rose, the Hall of Fame remains a distant dream that hovers over his purgatory, which he continued after the news conference when he went to Mandalay Bay to perform his daily job of signing autographs.
He is attempting to atone for his betting sins by working in a casino. One of the most infamous gamblers in sports history is trying to enter Cooperstown via Las Vegas. The saga of the hit king would be infuriating if it wasn't so sad.
"I spent 26 years in the major leagues, and 26 years out of the major leagues," Rose said. "I can tell you without a doubt, the last 26 years were a hell of a lot worse than 26 years I spent in the big leagues, as you can imagine."
His voice cracked again. Yes, one could imagine.
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