Unlikely ambassador

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Pete Rose once said he'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.

Yesterday he said he'd do the same thing to get back into the game as a manager.

In Winnipeg as the headline speaker at the annual YMHA Sports Dinner, the 65-year-old, banned from the game for life for gambling on it while a player and manager, says he feels like he's been in jail going on 17 years.

"I'm the only American who can't get a second chance," Rose told a group of reporters before last night's dinner. "Hell, three months ago they let the guy out of jail that shot the Pope. He shot the Pope, and he's out of jail. I bet on my own team to win and I'm still in jail."

Rose, of course, wasn't talking literally. But the fact he's not allowed to get back into the game is confounding him more than any breaking ball ever did.

Getting close to Rose and looking into his fiery brown eyes as he sparred with the media gives you an idea of how the man became baseball's all-time hits leader. The fire, the competitiveness, it's still there.

So is the burning desire to manage again.

"I want to teach young players how to play, man," Rose said. "I care about the game, and it drives me crazy to watch the way baseball's played today. Guys don't have no fundamentals. They gotta be taught.

"Who knows more about baseball than me? And I gotta pay to go to the games."

That Rose agreed to his life-time ban in 1989 -- the evidence was so strong against him, he didn't have much choice -- doesn't seem to matter to him anymore.

After 15 years of denials, he finally admitted his wrongdoing in a book two years ago. He's also applied for reinstatement to current commissioner Bud Selig, and there are those who believe Selig may acquiesce, eventually.

Until then, Rose will continue to hawk memorabilia, do speaking engagements and generally be "a good boy."

"You may think I'm crazy when I say this, but I think I'm the best ambassador baseball has," Rose said. "I'm in Winnipeg talking to 1,000 people about baseball. I was in Chicago yesterday, talking about baseball. I was in New York on Saturday with Hank Aaron, talking about baseball. I love the game."

And he obviously enjoys a good gab.

About the only thing Rose was reluctant to express an opinion on was whether or not a player like Barry Bonds belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame if it's proven Bonds used steroids.

"Barry Bonds is a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Rose began. "He won seven MVPs. If they prove he took 'em, there's gonna be some doubt. Next year's gonna be very interesting. Because that'll be the first year when someone that people thought took 'em (Mark McGwire) is on the ballot. It's gonna be interesting to see how you people respond. I don't vote."

And if he did?

"I don't know. I'd have to see. If a guy gets 500 home runs, or gets 3,000 hits or wins 300 games, man, it's hard... even if these guys took steroids, they didn't take 'em their whole career. Barry Bonds did a lot the first 15, 16 years of his career, didn't he?"

Rose, of course, can't get into the Hall, either.

One minute he says he's not losing any sleep over it, the next he says getting in would be the happiest day of his life.

At one point during the interview, a cellphone rang, and Rose was as quick with his wit as he used to be with his bat.

"Answer that -- it might be Bud Selig calling," he said.

Then came the head-first slide into second.

"If it's a collect call, it's him."

If Rose had been as quick with his gambling confession, he might be out of jail by now.

It's hard to feel sorry for a guy, though, who locked the cell door himself, then threw away the key.


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