Pete Rose wants back in baseball. Why is anyone's guess, but the pundits who follow the sport as well as Pete's old buddies are pretty sure he wants to manage again.
Baseball's all-time hits leader wants to redeem his legacy, much like Richard Nixon — another American scoundrel — tried to redeem his. "Charlie Hustle" thinks enough time has passed that he should be accorded his due. He says he should be back in the game, sharing his knowledge and expertise — and ducking reporters' scrutiny. Come to think of it, Nixon did pretty much the same thing: He wrote op-ed pieces and self-serving books and basically ducked interviews.
But Nixon didn't try to force himself back into the public eye the way Pete has. About the only election Nixon stood for was among fellow condo owners in New Jersey who had to vote him into their co-op. Rose, meanwhile, wants Bud Selig to restore him to his former lustre.
Would we even be having this self-serving show if Bart Giamatti — the commissioner who imposed Rose's lifetime ban — were still alive? Only Pete and Bart were privy to what was said when Rose accepted his banishment back in 1989.
You can understand Selig's irritation with Pete and his lobbying buddies. Pete's like a bad case of dandruff that returns season after season. He's an in-your-face kind of guy who loves the spotlight and has decided to make his reinstatement the burr under every baseball fan's blanket.
Rose has taken up residence in Cooperstown — across from the Hall of Fame — and he's generally making himself a pest until finally baseball's keepers have agreed to hear his latest appeal. Again, my question: What's changed since 1989?
If Pete is a reformed gambler — bully for him — but he knew the rules back then and knows the rules today: If you want in the game, you don't bet on the game.
Rose says he didn't despite mounds of affidavits to the contrary. As a player, you can only change your actions. As a manager, you can alter events, either for yourself or your buddies. As a gambler, you're always looking for an edge. As a baseball manager who was once a gambler . . . well you can see Selig's dilemma.
Today, many people say gambling's no big deal. Times have changed. Legislatures endorse lotteries. The states have pushed the crime lords out of the numbers rackets and taken over the games of chance themselves so they can fund schools and other worthwhile public services. There's a "fever" every time the multi-state lotto jackpot reaches stratospheric heights.
What the politicians don't want you to see is the broken lives and social problems created by those $2 bets at the track or in the lotteries. They don't want you to see the people whose paychecks go into the casinos' accounts instead of their own. Pete's been spotted at Bellagio and in Caesar's sports book. Reports are he owes the IRS six figures.
Is baseball afraid of gambling and gamblers? Most assuredly. As long as Pete has failed to come clean about his past, how can baseball promise him a future?
As for his admittance into Cooperstown, make it easy on him and the voters: Rose gets on the ballot only AFTER all his records are broken. That should be enough to satisfy Pete and his backers. Right?
I wouldn't bet on it either.