(Eds: With AP Photos.)
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Pete Rose wasn’t in the mood to say much Monday, understandable after Commissioner Rob Manfred slammed the door shut on what almost surely will be his last chance at getting back into baseball.
It was, however, still a work day. So Rose dutifully sat at a folding table outside the Mandalay Bay casino, pulled out a bag of assorted pens and quickly got down to the business at hand.
He signed a black bat, on special this day for just $299. A few fans wandered in, drawn by the two young men in Pete Rose jerseys who barked out his availability to anyone walking by.
“Pete Rose, here today guys,” one yelled. “He’s the hit king of baseball. Come meet a living legend.”
If Rose was devastated by Manfred’s denial of his request to be allowed back in baseball, he didn’t show it. Wearing a white Cincinnati Reds cap, he chatted amiably about the game with a reporter but said he would wait another day to gather his thoughts before talking about the decision.
A lifetime ban really does mean lifetime now, though, something that has to be jarring for Rose. At the age of 74 he’s not going to get another chance to appeal his ban for betting on baseball, nearly three decades after he was first exiled.
“Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life,” Manfred wrote.
By reconfigured, Manfred meant that Rose remains an unrepentant bettor, wagering on all kinds of sporting events, including baseball. That it’s legal in the sports book just an escalator ride away from where he signs autographs is properly noted, but labeled as irrelevant by the commissioner.
If Rose was talking, he might note he has long since taken responsibility for his actions. He might point out he has served many years of his sentence, and that he was welcomed by the Fox network to be a part of its team of analysts at the World Series without anyone in baseball saying a word.
Or he might just note the blatant hypocrisy of those who run the sport today.
They are the same people who embrace daily fantasy play by declaring it’s not gambling, which is almost as laughable as was Rose’s longstanding denial he bet on baseball. Then again, Major League Baseball has a financial stake in daily fantasy, which is every bit as much a threat to the moral fabric of the game as the bets Rose made on the Reds.
He might also wonder why the kings of the steroid era, who nearly destroyed the game with their jacked-up numbers, are still welcomed with open arms. That includes Barry Bonds, who begins employment in a few months in Florida as a hitting coach for the Marlins with baseball’s blessing.
There’s a ball for that, which Rose will gladly sell you for $199. On it he writes: “Hits 4,256. Steroids 0.”
For $100 more, he’ll sell you a personally inscribed baseball that says “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.”
It’s a bit tacky, yes, but a guy has to make a living. So 20 days a month, Rose sits for four to five hours a day at Mandalay Bay, where people who remember Charlie Hustle in his prime stop by to get some memorabilia and chat for a few minutes.
“Steroid users can get in the Hall of Fame and they directly affected the game so why not Pete Rose?” asked Cliff Cho, a sales manager at a Las Vegas BMW dealership who bought a baseball for Rose to sign. “And just because he bet on the Reds doesn’t mean he didn’t get 4,256 hits.”
There’s no doubt Rose has the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame, of course. Without the baggage of betting, he would be elected on the first ballot, though he won’t ever get the chance because the Hall has ruled him — unlike Bonds and the others — ineligible for a vote.
There’s also no doubt Rose has been his own worst enemy in his battle with the sport he loves. For years he refused to admit he bet on baseball, and Manfred claims that in their meeting earlier this year Rose was not entirely honest with him when questioned about recent disclosures that he bet on baseball while a player-manager with the Reds in 1986.
Rose can be arrogant, and he can be coarse. If you’re easily offended, you probably don’t want to have dinner with him.
But is he really a threat to the integrity of the game as Manfred suggests?
Hardly, no matter how the sanctimonious people who run baseball try to make it look.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg