CINCINNATI – In a way, it was good that Major League Baseball looked the other way for a night.
Instead of playing hardball with baseball’s banished all-time hits king, they let Pete Rose take part in the All-Star Game here in Cincinnati, the place he was born, the place that always loved him despite his betrayal of the game.
Easily, Baseball could have said no to Rose, even on this special occasion at Great American Ballpark on Tuesday night. After all, the sport has basically been doing that for more than two decades after Rose accepted a lifetime ban for gambling on baseball in 1989.
Make no mistake about it. It’s the ultimate sin, the thing that messes with the integrity of the game at its core.
But on this summer night, in middle America, Baseball finally allowed Rose to take a bow.
It was nice, a feel-good story. It’s one Rose will always remember and cherish, especially if he never gets elected into the Hall of Fame.
But it shouldn’t change a thing. Banishment should mean banishment.
The home-cooking response doesn’t erase a thing, however.
Sure, it made Rose – a man getting older and older – feel loved, not the outcast some see him as.
Indeed, it was a moment, not a mandate.
Baseball was bending the rules to fuel its’ online idea of fans picking the best four players in a team’s history.
Rose was allowed to participate after he was voted in the “Franchise Four” for the Cincinnati Reds.
MLB America fans voted for the best four players in each team’s history. The other 29 clubs were presented on a video screen to the sellout crowd.
Before the All-Star Game broadcast nationally on Fox, the Reds team was announced on the field. First, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was named. There was a roar. Then, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was announced. There was another roar. Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan got his own roar.
Then, came Rose, the man with the most hits ever in baseball – 4,256, to be exact – the only man standing in front of the mound that wasn’t inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
It didn’t matter to the fans here. They cheered. They roared. They continued to shower Rose with the love and admiration that was missing since his name turned to mud.
Rose, 74, admitted afterward that he got emotional during the brief ceremony. “You know, I’ve been going through this love affair for 30 years; the fans are great,” said Rose to reporters. “I am glad I didn’t go first.”
Even fans who don’t like Rose would be hard-pressed not to admit that Rose is still beloved here. It was a moment suitable for framing.
“When Pete went out there, the decibels went up a whole bunch,” Larkin said. “We expected that.
“Johnny was saying that he was glad he went last. It was fantastic. Another great, great opportunity.”
MLB will give Rose a look-see since he recently applied for reinstatement. New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he would meet with Rose, although there’s no set timetable and place. “In terms of my own thinking, the timing is going driven by how quickly we can get the work done that I want to get done before I meet with Mr. Rose.”
Manfred talked about taking a fresh look at all of the investigation material that MLB has, both old and new. “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 issues.”
Manfred comes off as a nice man, a man opening the door for Rose.
In reality, the commish can’t go down that road. Rose shouldn’t be reinstated. First, Rose’s history and belongings are all over the Hall of Fame. It’s not like they erased him from the game’s history. Plus, there’s no asterisk next to his body of work.
It’s clear. Rose was a great player who made a terrible mistake. He shouldn’t be honored in a ceremony in Cooperstown. That’s his punishment.
And if that opportunity never comes before Rose leaves this Earth, this was a lasting memory that soon won’t fade away.