Rose Taking Heat, Showing No Signs of Wilting

Pete Rose, public enemy No. 14, is in town today, up to his shaggy bangs in investigation and innuendo. How happy he would be if the toughest question he had to answer all week had to do with sending up a pinch-hitter, or pulling a pitcher, instead of those third-degree interrogations that begin: “Where were you on the night of . . . ?”

Ask me baseball questions, Pete Rose pleads, a condemned man’s last request.

On the other hand, after weeks and weeks of wild rumor and nasty humor, Pete Rose remains persecuted, not prosecuted. This may change, and soon. A decision is due any month now. So far, however, Pete Rose has been accused of everything but the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping and the ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaner scam.

“Let me tell you something,” his old friend and foe, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, said Sunday. “If this guy is innocent, can you imagine the injustice that’s been done to him?”


Yes, I can. If Pete Rose is innocent, I think he should take the bat he used to break Ty Cobb’s record--if he still has it--and come out swinging at every single person who has soiled his good name.

Somehow, the man manages to keep managing, manages to keep his Cincinnati Reds near the top of the National League standings, while dealing with all the Rose-bashing and Red-baiting that has followed him from town to town. Charlie Hustler, they call him now. Or gag songs they write, like “Gamblin’ Rose,” a parody of an oldie by Nat King Cole. Ours can be a cold, cruel world, can’t it?

At the same time, Pete Rose’s various transgressions could turn out to be extremely serious, in which case, he could end up being inducted in the Hall of Infamy. He could end up the very way he stood his ground in the batter’s box--with the short end of the stick.

All we can say is, we hope not.

“It’s a simple game,” Pete Rose is fond of saying. “The ball is round, and you try to hit it square.”

That’s all the guy wants, a square deal. If these investigators really have something on him, he must pay the price. If they don’t, then somebody owes this guy an apology-and-a-half.

Through it all, Charlie Hustle has endured. He has handled himself about as well as anybody could be expected to handle the notion of people prying into his personal life, quoting his children, quoting his former spouse, quoting his friends, quoting his casual acquaintances, quoting unknown and unnamed assailants, dissecting his personal life as though he should be this week’s special guest star on “America’s Most Wanted.”

Maybe things will turn out poorly for Pete Rose. Maybe he will be thrown out at home, caught stealing, trapped in a rundown, sent to the showers. As we say, we sure do hope not. Pete Rose has been good for baseball, as well as vice versa. He is one of those guys we hoped would stick around as long as Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra, grow old wearing short pants, be there to manage the Reds on the first Monday in April of the year 2000, be there to toss out the ceremonial first ball at the World Series of 2025.

At this season’s opener, before his friends and apostles of Riverfront Stadium, the Reds had a date with the world champion Dodgers, and Lasorda had hoped to pull him aside, speak to him confidentially. Trouble was, whenever Pete Rose poked his head from the dugout, wherever he stepped on the diamond, he bumped into somebody who wanted to know if he placed bets on this, or sold this to that, or gave secret hand signals to so-and-so.

“I finally managed to whisper in his ear,” Lasorda recalled. “There were all these people around, it was hard to get near him. All I told Pete was, we’re all pulling for him to come out of this thing fine. We’re all hoping he’ll come out with his reputation not tarnished.

“All these things they say and write about Pete, they’d better be sure of their facts. I’ll tell you one thing: He has to be a very, very strong person to keep doing his job the way he’s been doing, because I certainly understand how demanding it is taking care of your players, your coaches, your trainers, your fans, your press, you name it. I know Pete’s got a lot on his mind.

“If the guy messed up, he’s gotta pay for it. Everybody knows that. But they’d better be damn sure he messed up before they accuse him of it.”

And to think it was only last summer when the biggest worry Pete Rose had, or certainly appeared to have, was overtaking the Dodgers for first place. The blues got the last laugh on the Reds, hanging tough all the way through October, after the Cincinnati manager had prophesied that Los Angeles would topple somewhere along the way.

All Pete Rose wanted to think about during the off-season was ways to jump from second place to first. The biggest problem he seemed to have was staying in owner Marge Schott’s good graces, and making sure he never ran over her dog with his Porsche.

Now, as Pete Rose returns to Chavez Ravine, he is fighting for more than first place. He is fighting for his baseball life. And, I will tell you something about Pete Rose. He will not go out without a fight.

You can bet on it.