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A Different Pete Rose

Pro baseball's all-time leader in hits took 14 years to admit in public that he had gambled on the game while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Now, with that better-late-than-never confession out of the way, Pete Rose wants to be reinstated into Major League Baseball and see his career enshrined in that sport's Hall of Fame.

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This tardy admission by one of the 20th century's greatest athletes is certainly welcome, both for Mr. Rose's sake and baseball's. But the way he finally came clean and his timing should give baseball commissioner Bud Selig some reason to wait and see if Mr. Rose truly understands the damage that inside gambling can do to pro sports, as well as to young fans.

The art of forgiveness requires the skill of perception, and Mr. Selig may need to see more from Rose before he lifts the lifetime ban from baseball.

Ambition, more than contrition, seems to be at work here.

Rose's reversal of his past denials came in an autobiography, "My Prison Without Bars," released this week, for which he was paid an estimated $1 million advance. Making money from an apology seems almost as unseemly as betting on a pro game that one is directly involved in.

And it came less than a year before a deadline for the Baseball Writers' Association to finally decide whether to vote him into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. If he really cared about pro ball, he wouldn't have waited nearly 15 years to unburden himself.

The evidence compiled by Major League Baseball that Rose had gambled was quite ample. Few people actually believed his long denials. Still, for years, Rose's popularity compelled many of his supporters to ask that he be honored and reinstated.

After all, during his 24-year career, Rose had 4,256 hits, 77 more than the great Ty Cobb.

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But pro sports, not just baseball, faces more and more scandals that require tougher action. And with gambling on sports being more accepted these days, the Rose case deserves closer scrutiny today than it did even in 1989.

Sports figures who quickly and sincerely take responsibility for their mistakes, accept whatever punishment is appropriate, and then seek to make some sort of amends, are to be admired. They know that the long-term integrity of a sport is far more important than their performances.

Rose still has an opportunity to show that he's put his love of the game ahead of pride, ambition, or greed.


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