PLANT CITY, Fla. — If a big wooden box could talk, this one probably wouldn’t shut up. It was Pete Rose’s locker, and it’s a lot like the guy whose dirty laundry has fueled baseball’s most enduring scandal.
It stands abandoned at what used to be Cincinnati’s spring training clubhouse. The Reds trained here from 1988-1997. For reasons nobody exactly recalls, crews left one red locker behind.
“The locker was there when we arrived in 2000,” Don Porter said. “All the others had been removed.”
He’s the honorary president of the International Softball Federation. Its headquarters occupy the Plant City Stadium complex. The walls are lined with glass cases stocked with softball memorabilia.
There are photos, gloves, jerseys and a ball taken into space. If the federation can raise about $1.5 million, the grand plan is to expand the museum and build a hall of fame.
Can we use those words with Rose?
Baseball banned its all-time hit king 25 years ago. Unlike the locker, the debate has never been forgotten.
Should his lifetime exile be lifted?
The argument has revved again thanks to the silver anniversary and commissioner Bud Selig’s impending retirement. I think baseball should let Rose back in, but so what? My opinion is just one more in the Charlie Hustle echo chamber.
Everybody has heard the reasons Rose should remain persona non grata. Rules are rules. He broke the cardinal one by betting on baseball, then he lied about it for years.
Everybody has also heard the cries for leniency: Rose’s playing accomplishments are unsurpassed. Baseball history is rife with cheats. He’s suffered enough.
If only his locker could talk, it might provide some guidance. There’s nothing Major League about the old box, other than a small plastic name tag. Since it belonged to the manager, the locker was closest to the bathroom.
The sinks where Barry Larkin once shaved are now caked with rust stains. The shower heads were capped years ago, and the area is stacked with boxes of used softball gear.
The clubhouse is basically a steamy warehouse. You’d never suspect this is where a great baseball scandal began to unfold.
Rose was called to the commissioner’s office in New York in the spring of 1989. He never hid his love for gambling on horses, but rumors were he’d been betting on baseball.
When he got back to Plant City, Rose stood in front of the locker and laughed it off. A couple of months later, the 225-page Dowd Report exposed his deceit.
Wonder how many betting slips Rose had stashed in the small lock-box in his locker?
The box is empty now. Feel free to use that as a metaphor for Rose’s character.
He makes a nice living writing his name on stuff in Las Vegas. Every July, he sets up shop in Cooperstown. Fans line up to buy $95 autographed jerseys, $100 “I’m Sorry” baseballs and “Vote Pete Into the Hall of Fame” T-shirts.
He’s chummy, loves the game and is easy to like. But Rose is forever his own worst enemy. Consider an ESPN special last week, where he seemed shocked the interviewer would inquire about his gambling days.
“Get over it,” he said. “It happened. Get over it.”
Rose said he didn’t read the fine print in the agreement he signed accepting his ban.
“I have no idea why my lawyers would accept a lifetime suspension,” he said.
There was no fine print. The agreement was only five pages long. It was just another case of Rose playing the victim.
I doubt his serial apologies are sincere. I just don’t see the harm if incoming commissioner Rob Manfred grants him parole.
After a 25-year sentence, no player or official would take it as an OK to start gambling on games. Rose is 73 and would never get another position of authority.
He would make an excellent gladhander or roving spring-training instructor. He could even swing by Plant City, reclaim his locker and sell it on his website.
As for the Hall of Fame, a reinstatement would only get him on the ballot. Given how steroid freaks have been shunned, there’s no guarantee Rose would get the necessary 75 percent of the vote.
If he does get in, everybody would know the story of Charlie Hustle. Hits, warts and all.
If he doesn’t, Rose could always donate $1.5 million to the International Softball Federation building fund.
He wouldn’t get into a hall of fame, but at least his old locker would.