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Live from New York, it’s Pete Rose!

The Hall of Fame ceremonies came and went with very little Pete Rose debate this year. I expected much more. I had a whole column ready to go. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Oh sure, there was that little Johnny Bench, Marty Brennaman tiff, but that didn’t really take. I don’t know, I wanted more fight. Where’s Felix Milan when you need him?

Anyway, in an effort to stoke the fire, here’s what I had to say about Rose earlier, when I was ready for the deluge of talk show banter which never came:

Remember that old Saturday Night Live skit where Belushi drops by his old pal’s house uninvited, and makes himself at home, very at home? He’s got his mega-sized bag of chips and six-pack handy, and couldn’t take a hint if it reached up and bit him in the butt.

Pete Rose is John Belushi. He just won’t leave. Not now, not ever. Not until we say we’re sorry to him, and open the doors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, high, wide and friendly.

As another SNL great used to say, “Not gonna do-it.” Not now, not ever.

Look, Pete Rose isn’t the worst guy to play the game (it’s close, but there’s some competition there), and you can trot out that “It’s what he did on the field that counts” argument till you’re Dodger blue in the face. And please, save the “Yeah, but he didn’t bet against his team” line too. Not gonna buy-it.

Pete Rose bet on baseball, period. He was caught Red-handed, exclamation point. Unlike the Chicago Black Sox of 1919, Rose had the best legal advice his gambling winnings could buy, and he was given due process of law. He put his signature on the document which banned him from the game, waiving his customary autograph fee to boot.

Rose damaged the sport severely in 1989, dragging his team and the country through the mud for months, refusing to step down or accept responsibility until it was absolutely necessary (sound familiar?). That was as dark a year in baseball as 1994, when the World Series was canceled. People who selfishly hurt their sport to such a degree deserve to banned from it.

“Ten years is enough punishment,” you say? “You are incorrect, sir!” Not by a longshot.

Joe Jackson has been waiting for 80, and he’s been dead half a century. Pete Rose is the latest man on the list of suspended players. If you were going to do something about righting a perceived injustice with the banning process, why in the world would you start in reverse chronological order?

Yes, an argument can be made, that if they just enshrine the guy already, we can put to rest a very tired topic. He’s getting considerably more pub out of his current predicament than he would be otherwise.

Admit him, the argument goes, just be sure to note on his plaque that he disgraced baseball and that his inclusion in the hallowed shrine was the subject of much controversy. Display the batting gloves and the betting slips. Though it may be beyond the talents of any living sculptor, his likeness on the plaque could be made to be even uglier than the real thing.

“But nooooo.”

Even if baseball were to lift the ban, or allow banned players to be eligible for Hall of Fame voting, enshrinement could still take years. It’s a democratic process. Sportswriters are an ornery bunch, and can hold a grudge with the best of them.

This discussion will continue, with millions on both sides of the fence, like abortion or gun control, without compromise. It’s like talking politics with a friend. No one leaves the table satisfied, no one ever gives in, and you always say to yourself, “he just doesn’t get it.” Neither does Pete Rose.

Allowing Rose to participate in the celebration of the century’s greatest ball players last year was a mistake, a true contradiction. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig dropped the ball, which he’s prone to do. In fact, you can always count on Bud Selig to do the wrong thing. You want to ban him too? He 86ed the ‘94 Series, after all. “Well, isn’t that special.”

You’ll get no argument here. Just as long as the commish who succeeds him understands at least this one issue thoroughly. This isn’t the designated hitter we’re talking about here. It’s not about juiced balls, or even juiced ball players for that matter. This is about the Baseball Hall of Fame, for Pete’s sake (oopps, sorry).

Before you get all misty-eyed remembering Pete Rose the “Superstar,” hoping against hope to hear an acceptance speech line about how “baseball has been beddy, beddy good to me,” consider the fact that he’s just “not worthy.” He brought this on himself. He’s no Hall of Famer. Not in this lifetime. Perhaps I might be persuaded in 70 years. Look me up then.

That’s the news. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow....

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