Copyright (c) 1999 Pete Coutros. All rights reserved.


 Pete Rose, the All-Century Player exiled from baseball's hallowed halls.


 The Exile of Pete Rose


By Pete Coutros


Jim (Just Call Me Dorian) Gray has Pete Rose lined up in the cross-hairs. His finger's on the trigger, itching to squeeze off a round, reduce the old baseballer to a bleeding cadaver.

But first, he demands that Rose fess up, spill his guts. For the viewing delectation of all those millions tuned into NBC for the opening game of the World Series in Atlanta.

Exiled from the game 10 years ago for betting on baseball (did he bet on his team? against it? only the commissioner knows and he ain't talking), Rose has repeatedly fended off, danced around the subject in dozens of debates with the media.

Debate, hell; inquisition is what Gray has in mind.

He demands an apology, some evidence of contrition, self-flagellation with chains might be just the thing, provide a spark of excitement for NBC on a night that's going to end routinely and predictably with the Yankees squishing the home-standing Braves. En route to four straight, again.

Ultimately, with some prodding from his bosses, Gray apologized for his boorish behavior. His mean culpa notwithstanding, Gray was declared persona non grata by players he sought to interview in the immediate aftermath of that bizarre performance.

"Persona non grata" also happens to be Pete Rose's status in Cooperstown, a bucolic village in upstate New York which owes its life mostly to dead ballplayers.

When the Hall of Fame opened for business on June 12, 1939, 13 legends became its first occupants. At least, their bronze images did. On the wall.

They gained admittance to this hallowed hall by virtue of having been elected in a vote of accredited scribes.

Best remembered of those original inductees are Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Ruth pitched brilliantly, stroked the ball magnificently and caught the public's fancy like no other ballplayer, before or since. When he wasn't toddling around the bases pigeon-toed, he was strutting and swaggering, drinking excessively, consorting with whores and, with the assistance of colluding reporters, hiding the truth from his admirers.

Mercurial afoot and with the vision of an eagle, Cobb retired with a batting average of .367, yet to be surpassed.

Dubbed the Georgia Peach, he embodied the state's racial attitudes. His articulated hatred for blacks was on a par with his abomination for the Sultan of Swat. It riled Cobb that the round-faced, round-bellied Ruth could achieve with one poke of his 42-ounce Louisville Slugger what would require four base hits on his part.

More than 250 practically pluperfect practitioners of the National Pastime have followed Ruth and Cobb into the shrine. They got there by the numbers, most of them; irrefutable statistics establishing their bona fides beyond dispute.

If, on the other hand, morality and integrity were key to the admitting process at Cooperstown, it might eventuate in an exodus of bronze plaques, an expulsion of stars from the galaxy.

Role models? Which American father would wish his son to emulate any of the bigots, alcoholics, wife beaters, absentee fathers and misanthropes whose images populate the Hall.

So pronounced is the disarray in the sport that different rules regulate each of the two leagues (see: designated hitter).

So rancid is the state of affairs in the business of baseball that its most celebrated owner is a convicted felon trying to shake down the taxpayers for the price of a new ballpark.

In a culture which cannot build casinos fast enough nor

promote lotteries noisily enough to fill coffers which might otherwise be replenished more honestly by fair taxation, in a society whose tabloids publish odds and point spreads (making them accomplices of the bookies), in this scandalous obsession with jocks, barring Rose from the hallowed Hall rings hollow.

Just redub Charlie Hustle Charlie the Hustler, and put his mug up on the wall.


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