What Pete Rose lost – and maybe found – in his All-Star return to Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – I look at Pete Rose and see not him but a husky, earnest young man who bounced a single through the right side of the infield on a September afternoon in 1997. The ballpark is gone now, along with the finer details of the memory of that day, but I recall Pete's kid standing at first base and Pete himself applauding from a seat behind home plate, the two just then having broken the record for hits by a father and son.
Pete had told his boy more than once, "You get one, I'll take care of the rest," and so it was true: Pete had 4,256 and together they had 4,257. The final tally was 4,258.
The record isn't theirs anymore. The Griffeys and Bondses came along with a bit more familial balance. It doesn't diminish that day at Cinergy Field, however, or the love of a man who scratched a tribute to his father in the dirt behind third base – "HK4256" if I recall, for the Hit King – or the notion that no matter how screwed up everything may appear, on some days it could be just a guy and his kid and a pretty regular life.
I wonder if Pete at 74 years old ever has those kinds of days anymore. If he's capable. If the world will let him. If his past will allow it. If his conscience will.
Just when the whole thing became so cartoonish is probably for Pete to decide. After all, it's his self-inflicted journey – the crimes against baseball, the cover-up, the lies, the life on a game's periphery.
The story will continue to rattle around in the conversations on Park Avenue and across card tables at autograph shows, along with musty spots here, where Pete Rose remains the hard-as-iron superhero whose tragic decisions are misguided and perhaps forgivable.
Before Tuesday night's All-Star Game he was re-introduced to Cincinnati, to Great American Ball Park, as part of MLB's Franchise Four campaign. From the third-base dugout to the mound, he followed Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin and Joe Morgan. They love their baseball here, and they love their ballplayers, and they cheered madly until Rose walked before them. And then they cheered more.
Rose lifted his hands to them. Maybe they forgive, maybe they believe there is nothing to forgive, maybe he was just the best damned hitter they ever saw and really it begins and ends there. He is part of who they are, who they were. He was their favorite player when they were young boys and girls. He was a champion.
So they stood and cheered, because there was Pete, their Pete, and he was on a ball field again among his buddies.
There's really no point in being disappointed in Rose. He made his choices and with them came hard and warranted consequences.
Rose was for 18 years, since he first applied for reinstatement, Bud Selig's hangnail. He is today Rob Manfred's toothache. Manfred said Tuesday no meeting was scheduled with Rose, whose circumstance changed again recently. A report tied Rose to betting on Reds games while managing the Reds, an unfortunate development for the story Rose told for decades. Manfred said he must first review the case before hearing Rose out.
"There's no change with respect to the process with Pete Rose," Manfred said. "The review of the original investigatory material is ongoing. I frankly was surprised at how much material there was to be reviewed. We're taking a fresh look at all of that.
"I remain committed to the idea that Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me, in whatever format he feels most comfortable, whatever he wants me to know about the issue. I'm sure there will be an in-person meeting. I want to schedule it at a time when I'm comfortable I have a good grasp of all the factual material."
Tony Clark, the players' union chief, said he only regretted the conversation.
"I'm disheartened at how we got here," he said. "It has nothing to do with reinstatement. I'm just disheartened that the Hit King finds himself in a place where every time you say his name it's tied to gambling and the situation that has dictated 25 or 26 years away from the game. It's just disappointing."
That, I guess, is the point of this, that Rose the player has been fogged over by Rose the guy who's still working up a real apology or even a real explanation for the real events of the late 1980s. And that Rose the man might actually have been lost in all this, too.
That would require him to drop the victim act, to find a word and then be true to it, and then be the man you'd want your son to be.
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