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When Larry Bailey asked his students at Ashland (Ky.) Middle School to think of a research project, one decided to research her dad's favorite baseball player: Pete Rose. Rose also happens to be Bailey's childhood hero. Naturally, he gave her the green light.
About six months later, that class project has taken on a life of its own. Abby Campbell, with the help of Bailey, is compiling a list of 4,256 reasons Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame – one for each hit he notched during his MLB career.
Rose played 23 years in the majors, most of them with the Cincinnati Reds. He was the 1963 National League Rookie of the Year, 1973 NL MVP, and won three batting titles and two Gold Gloves. He helped the Reds to two World Series titles and the Phillies to the organization's first before retiring in 1986 as the all-time leader in hits, games and at-bats.
Many fans considered him the greatest of all time, and Rose stayed in the game as a coach after his playing days ended. It was as a coach, though, that his legacy fell apart. Rose was caught betting on the game in 1989. On Aug. 23, 1989, he was permanently suspended from the league. The next year he was arrested for tax evasion.
Abby didn't know this when she started the project – she just knew that Rose had been a great player and that her dad and grandfather thought the world of him. When she heard about his criminal record, she had a hard time with it at first, she told Yahoo Sports.
"At first I was like, 'Oh gosh, maybe he’s not such a good role model,'" she said. "But then we got into looking into his work ethic and I realized he is a very good role model for baseball."
So far she and her teacher have spoken to about 50 former players, coaches, umpires and scouts, including Larry Heisel, Drew Hall, Brandon Webb, Clay Carrol, Tommy Heims, Joe Morgan, Charlie Rutherford, and, the most exciting name on the list, Pete Rose himself.
One of the players Bailey spoke with made the argument that Rose didn't do anything everyone else wasn't doing, he just happened to get caught. "'You cannot not bet on baseball, I promise you,'" Bailey quoted the player, who wanted to remain anonymous, as saying. "He said, 'I sat in the dugout so many times and bet when Nolan Ryan was my teammate – how many strikeouts would he get? Did we determine the outcome of that game? No, but every day in every clubhouse, it was, OK, $100 bucks.'"
Others focused on Rose's work ethic and devotion to helping young players improve.
“When I played for the [Houston] Astros, I always wondered what Pete Rose had against us in that he played us so hard," said Morgan. "Once I got traded to the Reds I found out. He played that hard against every team every day.”
"Pete’s uncle once told another scout that when Pete was a little boy he would wake up and put his pants on with a ball glove tied to one side and boxing gloves to the other. He said if he couldn’t find a baseball game then he would find a prize fight," said Cincinnati Reds scout Gene Bennett.
“I was young and coming up and approached Pete one day and asked him if he could possibly meet with me some time down the road and talk baseball. He was in the prime of his career and I was just a rookie. He looked at me and said, ‘How about right now?’ That was the kind of player Pete Rose was. He always had time to help a player and talk baseball," said former Philadelphia Phillie Larry Hisle.
Abby gets to school an hour early every morning, and often stays late, researching Rose and contacting former teammates. So far they have about 2,000 reasons; they're hoping to reach their goal by this year's All-Star break. Here are Abby's Top 5:
1. We are a forgiving nation and he has more than paid for his betting crime.
2. Baseball gives so many 2nd chances to players, but not Pete, why?
3. Pete Rose still is the greatest ambassador for the game.
4. The majority of baseball fans want him in the Hall of Fame.
5. The Hall of Fame currently has over 20 items of Pete’s in the Hall, but will not allow him on a plaque? Are you kidding me?
Even if her project doesn't convince MLB to change the ban, Abby says it's time for the league to put Rose's crime in perspective. He was a true ballplayer who made one horrible mistake that he regrets, she said. That, plus what she plans to use as reason No. 4,256.
"It’s 4,256 hits," she said, "and steroids, zero."