Wednesday, March 12, 2003 Updated: July 20, 9:46 PM ET
Turning the page on Charlie Hustle
By Jim Caple Page 2 columnist
No need to speculate. We'll know when Bud Selig is finally ready to lift Pete Rose's lifetime ban, because the night before it happens, ol' Charlie Hustle probably will be seen in a crack house.
Pete hasn't been very humble in his post-ban life.
The man just can't keep himself from wallowing around in mud. Whenever he sees a cesspool, he leaps in and coats himself as if it were Brylcreem. When he received his lifetime ban in 1989, he reacted by hawking memorabilia on a shopping network that very night. Just when momentum rose to lift his ban last December, Rose defiantly strutted around Vegas casinos (his hair is the only color that may be more visible than the lights on the Strip), amid revelations that he owes the IRS $150,000 in back taxes.
Yeah, it sounds like he's really turned around his lifestyle.
And yet the man remains unaccountably popular, not unlike Ben Affleck. He is pretty much the antithesis of what we like in an athlete. He was a hot dog, he is arrogant, he did time as a tax cheat, he charges for his autograph, he gambled on the game -- about the only vice missing is drug abuse. If he were black, a lot of people would want him in solitary confinement instead of Cooperstown.
So what accounts for his persistent popularity? Two things. His ban has undeservedly turned him into a martyr, and he always hustled to first base when he walked. A recent ESPN.com user poll related to Rose last December found that more fans are offended by a player not hustling than by a player gambling on the game. Good God. As if it were worse not to run out a groundball than to bet against your team.
Rose has so much public sentiment on his side that he probably will see his ban lifted soon, as long as he first admits to betting on baseball and issues an apology.
You might argue that it is contradictory to lift Rose's ban if he admits guilt. In a way, it would be like a convicted murderer being pardoned for admitting his guilt just before the switch is thrown. Shoot. Now that you finally admitted the crime we're punishing you for, I guess we have to let you go.
There are some key differences, though. When commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose in 1989, it was agreed that he would become eligible for the Hall of Fame, same as everyone else. Baseball changed its mind on that, which isn't right. If the commissioner's office sees fit to allow Rose on the field whenever a credit card company pays it enough, it should allow him to be eligible for the Hall of Fame based on what he did as a player.
Let Pete into Cooperstown and he'll be yesterday's news.
This would not be the same thing as pardoning his crime or lifting his permanent ban from baseball. It would merely be lifting his ban from a museum. As a compulsive gambler, Rose should never be allowed back in baseball in a role that could possibly influence the outcome of a game.
However, that should not preclude him from working in public relations or broadcasting a game. If Rose can help draw fans into baseball, everyone benefits.
Baseball also would benefit from letting Rose into Cooperstown, because it would finally end the controversy. As soon as Rose enters Cooperstown, he becomes yesterday's news, the same way Jesse Ventura did when he left the governor's office. He'll no longer be the center of the storm. He'll no longer be a question at every Selig press conference. He'll no longer be the topic of radio talk shows. Heck, some stations may have to go out of business.
Keep Rose on death row, and he remains baseball's official canker sore. Put him in Cooperstown and he becomes Johnny Bench. Just another guy with a plaque.
Albeit a plaque he'll be willing to sell if your credit limit is high enough.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.