A few years ago, I tried an experiment. Whenever I spoke - whether it was at a convention or a church gathering or an Optimist Club meeting - I would find the time to ask a question: How many of you think Pete Rose belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame?
I would say - and this is conservative - at least 90 percent of the hands have gone up in the air.
That's what statisticians might call "a small sample size." It's anecdotal. Your experience might be completely different - you might not know anyone who thinks Rose should be in the Hall. But I'd say most fans - even some who don't like Rose - think he deserves a place in Cooperstown.
Look at it: Rose got more hits and reached base more times than anyone (he also came to the plate more often and made more outs). He was amazing, durable and iconic. He was a hero in perhaps the greatest World Series ever, 1975 against the Red Sox. He played in 17 All-Star Games, won a season MVP, a World Series MVP, two Gold Gloves, three batting championships . and he was banished for gambling on baseball as a manager almost 25 years ago. Many people think the punishment overshoots the crime.
There are two ways to get elected. One is by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but that track seems closed for Rose: his eligibility to be on the ballot expired more than a decade ago. True, Rose's name never appeared because he was banned. Still, it seems unlikely Rose could get on the ballot now.
Second - and more importantly - even if Rose somehow did get on the ballot, he'd get nowhere near the necessary 75 percent of the votes. Remember, this is a group that did not vote anyone in this year.
The other way in is through the Veteran's Committee, a collection of living Hall of Famers. Again, I've been doing my own informal polling. I think Rose has almost no chance of getting 75 percent of their vote. The vets' feelings about Rose, who has alienated so many people with his gambling and bad decisions the last quarter-century, seem even more entrenched than the writers'.
So what's the Rose road map? Is there one? How could he realistically get in? I asked Dan McGinn, a leading crisis manager who works with companies and individuals coping with the most intense catastrophes and difficulties imaginable. McGinn also believes strongly that Rose does belong in the Hall of Fame.
"Is Pete Rose willing to do that? I can't answer the question. He's, what, 71 or 72 years old now? [Rose turns 72 in April)]. He would have to decide how he wants to live the rest of his life and if he wants to leave a different legacy."
I interject here to say that nothing in Rose's past suggests he would be willing to make this sort of commitment and take this sort of advice. Rose signs autographs in Vegas, and he just did that dumb reality TV show "Hits and Mrs.,", and it took him forever to admit he bet on baseball, after he was caught and expelled. He grabs for attention, even third-rate attention. It is part of his psyche.
But let's say he did take advice. What could he do?
"First," McGinn says, "and I know this will sound illogical, but the first thing I tell Pete Rose to do is lose weight. Obviously, it would help his health. But it would also show that he can discipline himself. From a public standpoint, he needs to go back to being the Pete Rose they remember from the field, the Pete Rose of extreme discipline and focus. He needs to remind people that he's the same player who was sliding headfirst and playing in the World Series. I know that's illogical and superficial, but I don't think people see him as that man now.
"Second, he needs to stop doing these tawdry things. I'd tell him, don't go to Cooperstown and sign autographs and make a mockery of things. Don't do a reality TV show. He's got to be willing to walk away from all that.
"Third, and most important, he would need to find a cause, a message, something that isn't selfish. He has a real ability to do that, if he wants to do it. I think he has to look at his life honestly. He doesn't have a lot of time left, presumably, and I would think he might want to go out of this life the right way. If he can do that, others will come to their own conclusions about how to treat him.
"People are still unbelievably forgiving in our society. I would say to him, `Pete, you know what this has cost you. You know that your health probably isn't great. If you can come forward with humility, consistency and focus and say that you can't make up for the past but you want the last chapter to be different, you have a shot at writing a different ending. You have a chance to have people think of you in a whole different way. You have a chance for people to see you as a Hall of Famer.'"
I believe Pete Rose was a heck of a ballplayer, and I also like him a lot. He's funny, he's crass, he's a good storyteller, he's a character. His baseball story - unlike his life story - is uplifting in its own way. He made himself into a great player by pushing himself beyond all reason. He couldn't run, couldn't throw, fielded awkwardly, hit with little power.
But he willed himself into being a singular ballplayer by showing up every day full of energy and life, by smacking line drives right over the pitcher's head, by stretching singles into doubles, by being acutely aware of the moment and the situation and quickly formulating the winning move.
I know Pete Rose wants in the Hall and be part of baseball again. The first is a long shot, the second even longer. When I hear people talk about Rose, they usually say something like this: "He's just the same old Pete Rose."
Could he change his life a little? Only Rose can answer that question. But I do believe this: If he did show a little effort, if he did stop trying to hustle all the time, if he did try to make the final chapter different, I think it could make a difference.
Would people look at it as another ploy? Sure, at first. We've all seen Pete Rose remodeling acts before. But, if he stayed with it - stayed with it the way he stayed with baseball until he got the hit that passed Ty Cobb - I think Rose could change the way people look at him. Even now, ever after all the bumps and lies and admissions and silliness, even now, so many people want to be won over by Pete Rose.