- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Listed among the bats used by Babe Ruth and Jim Thorpe in an upcoming Leland's auction is Lot No. 1038. It's a bat that Pete Rose supposedly used to hit his second-to-last career home run.
Authenticators say it shows all the signs of a Rose-used bat. It's the same Mizuno model he used, personalized with "PR 4192," a reference to his assault on Ty Cobb's hit record. And the bat is sanded on the barrel, something that knowledgeable Rose collectors say he did to make sure he was making contact with the ball on the ideal part of the wood.
Leland's is selling it as a Rose, game-used bat. The auction house is also marketing it as a corked bat. According to company president Mike Heffner, there is a nickel-sized hole at the end of the bat. Thanks to the paint chipping off, a plug can be seen with remnants of either cork or putty filling.
Heffner said the bat was originally purchased from Rose and has passed through many owners since 1985, so what has happened to the bat over the last 20 years is unknown.
"It was definitely tampered with," said Heffner, who would not disclose the bat's current owner. "I guess you could always say that someone did this after Pete used it, but it's clear that the corking wasn't something that was done recently." In his job, Heffner has seen his share of corked bats as well as Pete Rose signatures.
He is confident that "Charlie Hustle" used the bat to hit the home run. On the bat, inscribed in silver paint pen is "Home Run Bat '159' May 20, 1985. Best Wishes, Pete Rose."
ESPN.com contacted Rose's attorney, Warren Greene, who said he would pass a message on to his client. Rose did not return the call.
Rose hit 160 career home runs and had only two home runs in his final 1,509 at-bats. In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine in August 2001, Tommy Gioiosa, a former friend of the hit king, alleged, among other things, that Rose used a corked bat. Rose subsequently told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that the allegation he corked his bats was false.
"I can say with 100 percent confidence that Pete used a corked bat as he was closing in on the hit record," Gioiosa told ESPN.com. "It wasn't about home runs. It helped him get that snap to hit line drives out of the infield."
After Rose broke Cobb's hit record on Sept. 11, 1985, he started to personally sell off his most prized memorabilia. Many of the items were sold to a collector named Steve Wolter, who bought the bat and the ball from the day he broke Cobb's record for $125,000. He also bought the Corvette the Reds gave Rose when he broke the record.
Wolter said the bat he owns shows no visible sign of corking.
"As Pete got older, he did use lighter bats and he choked up a little, but I'm not sure whether he also compensated by corking the bats," Wolter said. "There's no markings on my bat that would lead you to believe that he corked it."
On Monday, it was made public that Rose, who is the career leader in hits (4,256), singles (3,215), at-bats (14,053) and games played (3,562), will not appear on the writers' ballot in his final year of eligibility in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting. This is because commissioner Bud Selig will not rule on Rose's application for reinstatement until after the ballot is released next Tuesday. Rose can still be voted in by the Veterans' Committee.
The auction, which also includes a 1974 game-used Rose jersey, closes Dec. 16. The current bid on the bat is $1,100.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leland's is auctioning a bat it says belonged to Pete Rose and claims to be filled with cork.