Watch out, John Kasich. Just two days shy of the Ohio primary, Donald Trump has revealed one more trick up his sleeve – former baseball player Pete Rose.
The Republican presidential hopeful tweeted a photo of a baseball Sunday night apparently signed by Mr. Rose, a former Cincinnati Red and an Ohio native. “Mr. Trump,” the baseball read, “Please make America great again.” Trump added that he had just received it, symbolizing an endorsement of sorts.
Although polls put Trump behind the leader in the state race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the real estate mogul is still setting his sights on the winner-take-all primary Tuesday, and he’s cutting it close. The latest poll numbers place him at an average of a mere two percentage points behind Mr. Kasich.
Could Pete Rose tip the balance?
As manager of the Reds, Rose was banned for life from Major League Baseball after he was caught betting on games in 1989. Rose agreed to the ban after a MLB investigation found that he placed numerous bets on the Reds from 1985-87 while he was a player and manager of the team.
Still, in Ohio, to many he’s beloved sports figure – especially among Trump’s key supporters: older white men.
"Where he tends to run up the score is with 40-plus white men," Mack Mariani, Xavier University political science professor, told Cincinnati.com. "Those are people who grew up with Pete Rose. That’s a smart fit for Trump's voters.”
Stumping in West Chester, Ohio Sunday night, Trump garnered exceptional cheers when he brought up Rose and his baseball legacy.
"I love Cincinnati," the GOP front runner said. "By the way, Pete Rose, let him in."
The crowd burst into applause.
"We gotta let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame," he added. "I don't know what Major League Baseball is doing."
While the Reds announced early this year that Rose will be celebrated this summer with a commissioned statue to be built in his honor and the retirement of his number, 14, the league has yet to budge on his lifetime ban.
"I am also not convinced that he has avoided the type of conduct and associations that originally led to his placement on the permanently ineligible list," current commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in his decision upholding the ban in December.
And Trump’s allegiance with Rose isn’t wholly strategic, as he spoke out in favor of the all-time hit leader’s reinstatement last year and on at least two other occasions.
"Let Pete Rose into the Baseball Hall of Fame,” he wrote on Twitter last July. “It's time, he has paid a big and very long price!”
Rose, indeed, has publicly apologized for his past.
As The Washington Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer points out, Rose’s public persona has resulted in a public narrative connection between him and the billionaire reality television star.
“While Trump and Rose have not led parallel lives – Rose did five months for tax evasion while Trump was building up his casino empire – they have sometimes been linked in the public consciousness,” Mr. Moyer writes, going on to cite a 1989 Howard Simon column that mentions both men by name.
“In the recent past, people have hailed Ollie North, Donald Trump and even Pete Rose as American heroes,” the sports commentator wrote. “If those are the type of men our society would have as heroes, I think I’m moving to Canada.”
Rose has yet to confirm his official endorsement for the candidate. But the two men have one more thing in common: Trump himself was once scouted by the Phillies.