Hustling for the Hall: Cast out of Baseball a Decade Ago, Pete Rose Heard the Cheers Again This Year. America Seems Ready to Forgive. So Now He's Trying to Dive Back In-Headfirst, as Usual. and His Odds Still Don't Look Good
As charm offensives go, the gambit carried more offense than charm. Pete Rose, the former Cincinnati Reds star who is banned from baseball, last week took his ongoing case for reinstatement to the people. Specifically, he took it to the people who listen to Howard Stern. After some preliminaries, Stern asked the question on the minds of many: 10 years into his exile, why won't Rose just admit he'd gambled on baseball games and let the healing begin? Rose, whose agent did not respond to NEWSWEEK's requests for an interview, has admitted to betting on other sports, but never on baseball. Yet he has rarely phrased his denial as succinctly as he did to Stern. "Why don't you," he asked the talk-show host, "admit you're a fag?"
Pete Rose makes a thorny candidate for redemption. At 58, the game's all-time leader in hits remains a knot of headfirst truculence and bad hair, easier to accredit than to hug. Yet he is also a rallying point for passionate ethical debate--a high road and a low road, all unto himself. Operating in the uniquely mock-grandiose moral universe of sports chatter, his travails stir intense passions--for fairness, forgiveness and a second chance even for jerks. Last week, Rose seemed to inch closer to getting his day in court. Major League Baseball's lawyers agreed to meet his legal team in the new year. "We have a tremendous amount of evidence available to be submitted," says Rose lawyer S. Gary Spicer, who says the lawyers have twice before requested such a meeting, to no avail. Spicer declines to discuss his materials, which were never presented in the original 1989 investigation (Rose agreed to his banishment rather than submit to a formal hearing), but says he hopes they will turn baseball's heart. If not, he says, "all Pete's evidence will become part of a public litigation-type forum." Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig cautions that the league has not agreed to reconsider Rose's case, or even to accept any materials. "I received the letter [from Rose's lawyers] and I gave it to baseball's lead attorney," says Selig, who has shown no sign of reconsidering baseball's position. "I thought he had a right to a meeting, but that's all there was to it."
For now, Rose remains the only living player on baseball's permanently ineligible list, banned not just from the Hall of Fame, but from coaching or even sitting in an official broadcast booth. "There has been a tremendous loss of income in the arena he knows most about," says Spicer. This, Rose has said, is the heart of the issue. Known in his playing days as Charlie Hustle, Rose now makes his living peddling his signature at card and memorabilia shows, as well as from two Pete Rose restaurants in Florida. The closest he has come to a return to the game was a stint last spring as a part-time hitting coach for the Solano Steelheads in northern California, a Western League team that has no affiliation with the big leagues.
Yet Rose is riding a recent groundswell of public support. In October, during the World Series, fans voted him one of the 30 greatest players of the century; the ovation he received at Atlanta's Turner Field exceeded even that for hometown hero Hank Aaron. When NBC sportscaster Jim Gray asked him tough questions coming off the field, fans rallied behind Rose as if he were again the roguish, lunch-bucket hero of his playing days, harassed by some pusillanimous yuppie in what should have been his moment of glory. Rose used his air time to press his case. "Even Charles Manson gets a hearing every two years," he told reporters. "My son thinks I'm a monster."
Since the appearance, fans have flocked to Rose's cause. According to a recent CNN/ USA Today/Gallup poll, 74 percent of the public believe he should be allowed in the Hall of Fame, up from 56 percent a decade ago. Last week an Internet start-up called Sportcut.com, run by the colorful former music-industry mogul Charles Koppelman, posted an e-petition calling for Rose's reinstatement (Rose is also a paid pitchman for the site). …