In the new season of the great TV series The Sopranos, Soprano lieutenant Ralphie Cifareto has told a joke about the hippopotanic dimensions of the derriere of another family leader Johnny Sack's wife. The joke gets back to Johnny Sack and he is, let's say, upset. To diffuse the situation Tony Soprano has Ralphie call Johnny Sack to smooth things over. The one thing that Tony is adamant about is that Ralphie not apologize since that is tantamount to an admission of guilt. Ralphie eventually does apologize and comes very close to getting whacked.
That said, a Fox poll during last night's game overwhelmingly supported an apology from Pete Rose so that his ban from baseball can be ended. Joe Buck echoed those sentiments after the results of the poll where disclosed. And now, the estimable Jim Cable is joining this crusade. Everyone seems to think if Rose apologizes, he will be welcomed back into the fold with enshrinement at Cooperstown not far behind. Well, he did gamble on baseball, they assume, so just let's just call a Mulligan and start again.
First, there has never been any credible proof that Rose bet on baseball. There has never been any admission to that effect by Rose. John Dowd's entire report was based on hearsay from people known to have reasons to cast aspersions on Rose's anything but flawless character and on inconclusive scribblings allegedly by Rose referring to baseball games on which he gambled. Those scraps list dates and opponents that are erroneous and amounts that do not demonstrate culpability. That said, I think that Rose probably bet on baseball. But I have no proof because there is none.
Second, MLB and Rose agreed to a ban for an indeterminate amount of time as long as they never stated that he gambled on baseball. Rose may be dumb, but he's not stupid. He knew that if he admitted that he bet on baseball, he would never see the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, the ultimate goal for the ultimate stat-oriented, egomaniac player (I actually liked him as a player, but what's true is true). Rose agreed, assuming that he would be suspended for a year like Leo Durocher in 1947 for consorting with gamblers-what else did they have on him? MLB then reneged on the agreement, stating in the news conference that Rose bet on baseball and his agreeing to the ban was in effect a no-contest plea, and then-commissioner Giamatti conveniently martyred himself by dying eight days later. Rose's ban soon became a lifetime one. Baseball has never abided by their agreement, but they hold all the cards, so why should they?
Lastly, if Rose apologizes now, he will be validating everything that baseball has done and admitting their unsubstantiated claims against him. If he did that I cannot see how any logical person can support his enshrinement in Cooperstown. This is the one rule in baseball that cannot be broken. If it is broken and proof to that effect is available, the player concerned should be banned for life with no possibility of absolution.
But in Rose's case, how was it proven? In a unilateral investigation based on unsubstantiated hearsay and circumstantial evidence that would hold up in any court of law. Rose got the shaft. If Rose were to sue MLB, he would win in 15 minutes.
But that will not get him what he wants. What Rose needs to do is cozy up to the powers-that-be in MLB; otherwise his ultimate goal, the Hall, will remain unattainable. Bud Selig seems uninterested in hearing any plea from Rose, having been an owner during the Giamatti tenure. Things may soften after Selig's term as commissioner has ended. But it seems that baseball fans are growing anxious on this issue. Rose remains a black eye on the public face of baseball.
I have to say that the apotheosis of Rose has left me puzzled. He was a popular player, but he received a bigger hand yesterday than Cal Ripken or Hank Aaron. Rose has been elevated to cult-figure status. All of the alienation that the fans feel toward the sport has been misguidedly re-focused into support for this pugnacious character. Just because he ran out walks? Meanwhile, if Barry Bonds isn't constantly smiling, he is vilified.
But back to the apology: If Pete Rose apologizes now, he will finally give the owners the smoking gun they have always sought. If may buttress his popular support base at least temporarily, but any support among the owners' ranks will evaporate. In the long run, it would be the worst thing that he could do.