It's been over 20 years since Pete Rose last donned a Reds uniform, whether on the field or in the dugout.
Now, back in Cincinnati to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his record-setting 4,192nd hit on Saturday, Rose stood on the field, quiet and appreciative of the opportunity given to him by Major League Baseball, who granted him permission to return to a major league field for the first time since being banned from baseball.
Afterwards, at a roast celebrating his life and legacy, Rose took a distinctly contrite tone:
"I disrespected the game of baseball. When you do that, you disrespect your teammates, the game, and your family. I guarantee everybody in this room, I will never disrespect you again.
"You can talk about hits and runs and championship games.... [But] I want my legacy to be [that of] somebody who came forward. If anybody has a problem here today, come forward. Don't hide it.... You can run, but you can't hide. If I can help a young kid to know what I went through, maybe I can prevent them from going through the same thing.
"I got suspended 21 years ago. For 10-12 years, I kept it inside.... That's changed. I'm a different guy.... I love the fans, I love the game of baseball, and I love Cincinnati baseball."
In front of former teammates Tony Perez, Tim Browning, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster, and Ken Griffey, Sr., Rose showed that he is truly sorry for the gambling scandal that turned one of baseball's greatest heroes into merely a discussion point. When Rose was banned from baseball, conversation turned from where the hit king ranked among the game's greats to where he would hold his next self-promotional autograph session.
However, for the first time since his exile from baseball, Rose appears truly sorry. His apology did not hold the same tone as previous ones. Rather than another lame dog attempt at reinstatement, this seems like a yearning for respect from his teammates and friends, to whom he apologized profusely.
So, that begs the question: Would a truly repentant Rose be reinstated?
Well, there is little doubt that Pete Rose is one of baseball's immortals. If his all-time hits and games played records are not enough, he also ranks sixth in runs, second in doubles, and, for you sabermetric folks, 45th in WAR for position players. So, there's little doubt that a reinstated Rose would be granted entrance to Cooperstown.
Many Hall of Famers have thrown their support to Rose, including Hank Aaron and former teammates Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson. Should he be reinstated, his candidacy would be voted upon by the Veterans Committee, which includes six Hall of Famers and five baseball historians.
It's not an absolute lock that he would get the necessary 75 percent for election. "I know there are still guys who feel strongly against him," said one Hall of Famer, "and I don't know if that would change even if [Bud] Selig clears him."
Still, Rose was banned for betting on baseball. In fact, he was betting on his own team. He did not bet against them, compromising the integrity of the game. Yes, what he did was illegal, and he deserved to be punished.
But by betting on his team to win, wasn't Rose just pushing himself harder as a manager? Wasn't he showing that he believed in his team, much like he did during his career, when his grit and hustle were unmatched around the league?
In front of a ballroom of around 500 people, Pete Rose showed that he has learned from his mistakes, and for once, I believed him.
"I didn't know what that meant," Rose said. "It took me years and years [to come to grips with it]. ... I'm a hardheaded guy. ... But I'm a lot better guy standing here tonight."
He personally asked forgiveness of each of his former teammates, all of whom were taken aback at the new Rose.
"Nice, nice," said Perez later. "I was crying. He finally got it off his chest."
"Out of left field," said Browning, shaking his head. "I didn't see it coming."
Standing on first base Saturday, surrounded by chants of "Hall of Fame," was a changed man. No longer the stubborn mule that denied gambling on the game was Pete Rose.
"I guarantee everybody in this room, I will never disrespect you again," Rose said.
When proven cheaters and criminals are allowed back into the game after a 50-game slap on the wrist, shouldn't a contrite, repentant man be given a second chance?
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