Pete Rose's Last Slide

ANYONE who loves baseball, as well as anyone who admires spirit, courage, stamina, and the tenacious application of high skill to a difficult endeavor, can't help but be saddened by Pete Rose's exit from the national pastime. That's not to pity Rose. He brought about his own downfall. Rose strenuously denies that he bet on baseball games, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. But even if he didn't, he was plainly guilty of conduct ``not in the best interests of baseball,'' through his other gambling and his dealings with nether world figures. Pete Rose doesn't belong in baseball, not now, anyway.

But, oh, how No. 14 played the game. His many records - most hits, most games, most winning games, starring (and starting All-Star Games) in five different positions - mark the obvious dimensions of his greatness. Then there are the contributions statistics miss. Fellow players tried a little harder, played a little better when this scrapper, this battler, this never-say-quit Charlie Hustle was on the diamond.

Does he still deserve to be voted into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 1992? To be sure, character and integrity are elements to be considered beside skill and achievement. Still, we think Rose belongs among the immortals (though maybe not during his first or second year of eligibility). Rose's betting contributed to an environment in which baseball could be corrupted, and for this he's being justly punished. But there's no evidence that Rose - unlike the Chicago Black Sox - actually corrupted the game himself. Indeed, his love for baseball, his intensity, and the 'elan with which he played burnished the integrity of the on-field sport.

Rose can reapply for reinstatement in a year. Whether he's allowed back after a year, after a decade, or at all will depend on him. He should do more than just keep his nose clean. Some kind of active community service is called for. Rose has taken something from all of us; he needs to give something back.

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