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For Pete’s Sake . . . : Take Baseball Away, and What Is Left for Rose?

Newsday

If this is to be the end of Pete Rose, it will be a tragedy of great depth. Goodness knows, a lot of people are rooting for Rose to be cleared of baseball gambling charges, and that would be in the best interest of baseball.

But each day judgment is delayed, the outcome seems more ominous.

Baseball must be beyond suspicion. It couldn’t afford a cover-up that would inevitably be exposed. Pete Rose is the true Mr. Baseball, but he can’t be bigger than baseball.

And what would become of Pete Rose, the icon for a generation of fans, the symbol of hard work bringing success? As a manager, he has had a kind of suspended mortality. If he couldn’t play any longer, he could still be Pete Rose.

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Listen to the words of Rose’s daughter, Fawn, 24, saying that her father’s greatest resentment is directed toward his own son, Petey, playing in the minor leagues for Baltimore. “Dad’s not playing anymore and Petey is,” she said. “Petey has the one thing Dad doesn’t have now. Youth.”

Hold that against the observations of Joe Morgan, longtime teammate and student of Rose, as he watched Rose attack batting practice one spring training.

“At the end, I don’t want to be around him when it comes,” Morgan mused. “I know what it will do to him. I don’t know what he’s going to do.

“I’ll miss it as a passing thing in my life. He may disappear, and that’s true. It is his life. I’m not like that. At the end of the season he feels bad; a week after the end he wants to take batting practice. That’s wrong. Any psychologist will tell you that’s wrong. When I’m through, I’ll still be Joe Morgan. He won’t be Pete Rose, and I worry about that.

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“You know the movie where the guy sold his soul. Pete would do it to do it over again. A lot of guys would like to play forever, but I don’t know how far they’d go. He’d go as far as he had to.”

Rose made no secret of his love for the racetrack and his betting on sports events. He talked about betting football and basketball. If he couldn’t play, he could prove he knew more about sports than the bookmakers. And what game did he know best?

No sport in 1989 can afford its players being involved in gambling on their game, owing money and eventually owing a favor to gamblers.

In the early days of what became known as Rosewatch, as Pete Rose’s quest for Ty Cobb’s record was moving toward its final acts, the man pulled on his baseball trousers and considered his place in baseball history. The cloak of the Hall of Fame fit as well.

It is almost a reason for living. If he can’t play anymore, then he can be Pete Rose with a bronze in the Hall of Fame. He allowed that some people might not vote for him the first time he was eligible because of a paternity suit. But he had never done anything against baseball. “No way I don’t go in the Hall of Fame,” he said.

It wasn’t boasting. It was matter of fact. There was no need to boast; the numbers spoke for themselves.

And then, Wednesday Rose was sitting in the spring training dugout in Florida with the deafening silence all about him when it was suggested that the current scandal might keep him out of the Hall of Fame. “What?” Rose snapped. “I got 4,256 hits. I scored 2,165 runs. That’s all I did. I’m a Hall of Famer. Next question.”

He has such tunnel vision that he couldn’t absorb the potential impact of the hammer hanging over his head. He missed the point. Nothing could keep him out of the baseball Hall of Fame except a crime against baseball.

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If it is determined that Rose bet on baseball games, he would be suspended for one year. If it is determined that he bet on games that involved him, he would be banned for life. Whose ballot could include a man who had been banned for life?

Judgment has not been rendered by Peter Ueberroth in his last week as commissioner of baseball, pending continued investigation, but each time the commissioner has looked he has been moved to look deeper. He has not cleared Rose.

Nobody ever played the game harder than Rose. Not even Cobb, whose style of play -- not his hostility -- was the prototype for Rose. Nobody has come forth with a charge that Rose fixed a game, but the records say Cobb did.

In 1925, Cobb was accused of having conspired with Tris Speaker to fix a game between the Tigers and Cleveland in 1919, only weeks before what came to be known as the Black Sox Scandal. Cobb, then manager of the Tigers, claimed his accuser, pitcher Dutch Leonard, was framing him because Cobb had dropped him in 1925. But American League president Ban Johnson privately forced Cobb and Speaker to resign as managers.

After further investigation, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis exonerated Cobb and Speaker. Cobb refused to retire quietly, and owners worried that he, supported by the public, might take them to court. Connie Mack then signed Cobb to play his last season for Philadelphia for $70,000, the highest salary in the game.

The Society for American Baseball Research says that the 100 pages of testimony in Landis’ hands indicated Cobb was guilty -- he won $40,000 in bets -- but that Cobb was bigger than baseball, and Landis thought baseball couldn’t stand another scandal.

Cobb and Speaker were voted into the Hall of Fame without delay with the first class inducted.

Rose shouldn’t expect that kind of pardon.

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