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Cincinnati loves Pete Rose, whether he's a baseball pariah or not

Cincinnati put on a show for hometown kid Pete Rose, but baseball's stance on his future remains unclear even as he made his most public appearance yet.

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CINCINNATI -- It's hard to realize just how much the people of this city love Pete Rose until you're here. For instance, you can stand where Rose stood for seven minutes on Sept. 11, 1985, accepting the undying devotion of the Cincinnati crowd at Riverfront Stadium after collecting historic hit No. 4,192. "I'm just like everyone else," the inscription on the plaque representing first base reads. "I have two arms, two legs and four thousand hits." That stadium on the banks of the Ohio River might be long gone now, but the monument remains in front of the host station at Morelein Lager House, in the shadow of the newer Great American Ballpark, home to the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.

Take a short walk from there across Joe Nuxhall Way, where just outside the new park you can stand on the edge of the Rose Garden, a single white rose surrounded by shades of red and pink marking the exact spot that the Rose's record-breaking hit landed safely, giving him one more knock than Ty Cobb and the all-time record that remains to this day. Major League Baseball may wish to pretend none of those hits happened after Rose was accused of -- and later admitted to -- gambling on the sport in the 1980s while manager of the Reds, leading to a lifetime ban from the game.

It's a little more complicated in Cincinnati, though, where Rose was born and raised on the city's tough, blue-collar west side. At the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, 4,256 baseballs -- Rose's hits total -- rise 50 feet, overwhelming the viewer with the accomplishment. That's the museum, though. A short distance away in the actual Hall, no plaque with Rose's face can be found. A FAQ explains why. "Rose is not eligible for the Reds Hall of Fame (or for the National Baseball Hall of Fame) because he is on baseball's ineligible list." At Great American Ballpark, Rose is not explicitly honored by name and number. But he is implicitly featured on the two large smokestacks that rise left of the center field scoreboard. Each is topped by seven bats, for a total of 14, the number Rose wore on the back of his Reds uniform.

Keeping Rose outside officially while sneaking him in unofficially may not always be a requirement. On Tuesday Rose met MLB commissioner Rob Manfred a few months after making a formal request for reinstatement to the game. The meeting was brief, but Manfred has allowed that he will give a fresh eye to the entire history of Rose's banishment before coming to his own conclusion on whether readmission to MLB is due. Later Tuesday night before the All-Star Game, Rose, two teammates from the Big Red Machine -- Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench -- and Barry Larkin stepped onto the field at Great American Ballpark to cheers from the partisan crowd as part of MLB's "Franchise Four" push recognizing the best players in the history of its 30 teams. Chants of "Let him in!" and "Pete! Pete! Pete!" could be heard as Rose walked to the pitchers mound. Cincinnati's views on Rose seem clear.

Let Him IN

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"The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. By choosing not to come to a hearing before me, and by choosing not to proffer any testimony or evidence contrary to the evidence and information contained in the report of the Special Counsel to the Commissioner, Mr. Rose has accepted baseball's ultimate sanction, lifetime ineligibility." -- MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti, Aug. 24, 1989

On Aug. 24, 1989, a few months after allegations he gambled on baseball while managing the Reds first went public, Pete Rose signed his name and accepted exile to the ineligibility list. The 225-page Dowd Report concluded Rose bet on baseball. Rose simply chose not to dispute the claim and took his punishment, banning him from baseball. He has remained banned ever since, but not always willingly, and every so often -- typically when a new commissioner takes over the game -- attempts to gain reinstatement to the sport.

At the time, Rose was still eligible to be given the sport's greatest career recognition. Then the Hall of Fame made formal an informal rule in 1991, barring any person on baseball's ineligibility list from being elected by the baseball writers association, BBWAA. Rose was the only one on that list. In 1992, Rose applied to new commissioner Fay Vincent for reinstatement. It went unheard. In 1998, Rose appealed to another new commissioner, Bud Selig. It went unheard. Rose spoke with Selig personally in 2002, but again, he remained ineligible.

In 2004, through the book My Prison Without Bars co-authored with Rick Hill, Rose finally made a public admission that he did, in fact, bet on baseball while manager of the Reds. The fact he only bet on his own team to win was supposed to soften the blow a bit, but the bigger conflict remains that owing gambling debts could, whether consciously or not, lead to Rose altering the outcome of a game. Worries of that sort of gambling scandal -- reminiscent of the 1919 Black Sox (who threw the World Series to the Reds, no less) -- damaging the sport had to be taken serious and dealt with in a serious manner.

The fact that Rose, rather than holding his hat in his hand and asking for forgiveness took a brash stance does not help his attempts to get back into the game's good graces.

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong," Rose wrote [quoted by the New York Times]. "But you see, I'm just not built that way. Sure, there's probably some real emotion buried somewhere deep inside. And maybe I'd be a better person if I let that side of my personality come out. But it just doesn't surface too often. So let's leave it like this. ... I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

Worse yet, Rose may not even have told the entire truth in the book. ESPN brought allegations to light in June that Rose also bet on the game during his time as player-manager of the team in the mid-80s. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that it continues to show flaws in Rose's character. In his book he said he gambled because, "I didn't think I'd get caught." Rose got caught, but he wouldn't admit to it. He admitted to it, but "only as a manager." Now we have reason to believe that's not even true. Rose comes across as dishonest, at best, or openly mocking of the process at worst.

The second problem is that the argument for Rose's Hall of Fame candidacy has always been that what he did as a manager should not keep the player out of Cooperstown. Rose managed the Reds for parts of seven seasons, the first three as a player-manager, compiling a 412-373 record. Nothing in Rose's Hall of Fame credentials rests on his time as a manager.

As a player, he was the 1963 National League Rookie of the year. He made the All-Star Game in 17 of 24 seasons.   He won three batting titles. In 1973 he earned the NL MVP, garnering 82 percent of the vote. Two years later he took home World Series MVP honors after leading the Big Red Machine to the first of two titles. You could go on listing Rose's accomplishments, but being baseball's all-time hits leader is enough to make the argument Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The argument quickly erodes about creating a firewall between what he did off the field as a manager and what he did on the field as a player. And if Rose has lied or withheld truth about what went on during the final few years of his professional baseball career, how can we be certain we know the entire truth about all the earlier years as well? Why would a new commissioner of the sport choose to put his own reputation on the line by openly allying himself with Rose, who treats his own word and reputation with such little regard? That will be a decision Manfred himself has to make after a lengthier meeting with Rose at some point in the future. And unlike past commissioners, Manfred appears likely to either accept or deny the appeal, rather than leave it to sit on his desk unanswered.

And the question, as it stands today, is not simply one of Rose's Hall candidacy. Reinstatement would allow for him, an admitted gambler and convicted tax fraud, carrying all the marks against him, to take a job in baseball. You might wonder who's going to give him a job -- but FOX already has as an analyst. As it stands today, Rose needs special permission just to step onto an MLB baseball field.

Rose would still have to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He is no longer eligible to be voted on by writers, as his playing career ended in 1986 and a then 20-year window for the writers closed in 2006. Now he would have to rely on the Hall's 16-member Expansion Era Committee, which votes next during the Winter Meetings in 2016. "There might be a faction of former players on the Expansion Era Committee who are sympathetic to his cause, but I'm skeptical that it would be enough to carry the day on the 2017 ballot," Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this year.

One suggestion put forth to navigate the minefield is to change the rules to allow Rose into the Hall of Fame, but to be sure the plaque captures the dichotomy of Rose for all of history. Something like: "Pete Rose is MLB's all-time hits leader. He was thrown out of baseball for gambling on his own games." Maybe that's enough, or maybe that's not, depending on how strongly you stand on Rose's baseball merits vs. his personal demerits.


Tuesday night at Fountain Square, several blocks away from Great American Ballpark in downtown Cincinnati, fans watching the All-Star Game on a large screen stood and gave the loudest applause of the night when Rose's name was spoken and he stepped back onto a baseball field in Cincinnati. That Major League Baseball recognized a once-pariah during its marquee event of the summer was a fact that couldn't be lost on them -- or an outsider. Momentum might be shifting in the direction of Rose's eventual reinstatement or enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, if only he can stay out of his own way this time. There's no question, though, that should that day occur the cheer that arises from Rose's home town will be heard nearly 700 miles away in Cooperstown, and beyond.