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Published: Wednesday, 1/7/2004

One more hustle

Say it ain t so, Pete. Actually, baseball great Pete Rose has been saying it ain t so for 14 years. Trouble is, he lied.

Now he says that he did indeed bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds. And oh, yes, if you d like the whole story, Pete has thoughtfully timed his admission with the publication this week of a new book, and you can get one tomorrow for $24.95.

That s Pete Rose, a man for whom genuine contrition seems impossible, a man who besmirched the grand game of baseball but steadfastly denied doing so - until now, via a new book and primetime network television interview scheduled to air Thursday night.

Rose was banned from any further involvement with professional baseball by then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 in the face of overwhelming evidence that he bet on the game. Finally, it apparently has dawned on Rose that his reinstatement to baseball - and hence any chance at all of induction into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - was never going to happen without an acknowledgement from him of his guilt.

Why admit his acts, and his lies, now?

Because the clock is ticking.

Pete Rose has just two more years of eligibility for election to the Hall of Fame the traditional way, selection by the Baseball Writers Association of America. After that, his only chance is nomination and election by the Hall s Veterans Committee. But that group is composed largely of former Hall of Fame players, most of whom would rather face a high and tight fastball from Roger Clemens than see Rose join their ranks. Cleveland Hall of Famer Bob Feller is particularly outspoken against Rose.

It s easy to wonder if Rose s book, and his confession, are part of a plan hatched in discussions with Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to reinstate Rose and at least give him a shot at the Hall of Fame. The commissioner could claim that Rose s acknowledgement satisfies the primary obstacle to reinstatement and that Rose remains immensely popular with millions of baseball fans who want to see him back in the game.

But Rose s confession could actually make his Hall of Fame quest more difficult. Many of those who stood by him over the years, including sports writers with votes, will feel betrayed by his stubborn deceit and belated confession.

Much has been made of whether Rose s character should be an issue regarding his Hall of Fame credentials. Based purely on his on-field accomplishments as baseball s all-time hits leader, he would have been inducted on the first ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Baseball, however, includes character and integrity in the definition of Hall eligibility, and on that score, Rose comes up short, now more than ever. And if he does finally win election to the Hall of Fame, what about others who may have the credentials but were denied on grounds of character?

Wouldn t “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, a player who compiled the third highest career batting average of all time, warrant reconsideration? Jackson was acquitted of charges he helped throw the 1919 World Series, yet he remains banned from the game.

Even if Pete Rose, baseball s hit king, is reinstated, he should never again manage or have any on-the-field connection to the game. And if enshrined in Cooperstown, his plaque should make clear that one of baseball s brightest stars was also one of its greatest embarrassments.



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