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Hall of Fame bloom should stay off this Rose

Pete Rose was on TV again the other night. He just won't shut up.

Baseball's all-time hit king spent his Tuesday night blathering to ESPN's Bob Ley on "SportsCenter" that his lifetime ban from the game should be lifted. And of course, Rose got in a couple plugs for the new Web site he's launching. He is a businessman, after all.

I'd be all for Rose's reinstatement if he'd simply admit to the crimes that got him kicked out of baseball in the first place. There seems little doubt of his guilt.

In February 1989, Major League Baseball began looking into allegations that Rose was involved in sports betting. Nothing terribly wrong with that unless he also was breaking Major League Rule 21, posted in every big league clubhouse, which explicitly prohibits betting on baseball.

Rose admits gambling on all the other sports but denies placing any bets on the game he loves. Yet the evidence culled by former federal prosecutor John Dowd documents a $15,000-per-day gambling addiction that ran year round. Rose was placing bets in the summer -- what else was there to bet on at that time of year other than baseball?

The case features incriminating hard evidence as well. When Dowd delivered his report to then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti in May, it included testimony from several of Rose's former gambling associates and the so-called smoking gun: Three betting slips supposedly written by Rose to set up his baseball wagers. FBI experts concluded the fingerprints and handwriting on the slips belonged to Rose.

It seems equally clear that Rose, who was then the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, bet on his own team almost every time they played. He never bet against them, but the fact that his managerial decisions might have been affected by his then-substantial gambling debts undermines the foundation of the sport. The betting manager might act in the interest of the money he has on the game instead of the long-term interest of the team. An injured player might be brought back too soon or a pitcher might be kept in the game too long, simply to win one big-payoff game.

Rose's gambling sins place him in a category with the conspirators in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, not with the racists, drug abusers and wife beaters of baseball's past and present. These lowlifes have committed crimes against society, not crimes against baseball. Gambling activity like Rose's threatens fans' trust in the game they see on the field.

And what bothers me the most is those fans don't seem to care in the slightest. Seventy-four percent of the voters at ESPN's Web site feel Rose should be reinstated. At the World Series ceremony to honor the living members of the newly elected All-Century team, the ovation Rose received from the Atlanta crowd was even larger than the one given to hometown hero Hank Aaron. When NBC reporter Jim Gray had the "audacity" to confront Rose about his gambling as he walked off the field following the ceremony, the public and more than a few major leaguers came down squarely on the side of the ex-ballplayer. Come on, what else are you going to interview Pete Rose about?

Baseball officials announced Tuesday that they will meet with Rose's lawyer at the beginning of next year to review the case. If the shortsightedness of the American public is any indication, Rose eventually will get back the game and take his place in the Hall of Fame. That should make the old coot happy; all he talks about is how much it hurts to be kept away from the game he loves.

Then why did you betray it, Pete?


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