COLUMN: Pete Rose's statue unveiling will be a triumph for many, but also bittersweet

This weekend, Pete Rose -- baseball’s all-time hits leader and tattered legend -- will be honored here in his hometown once more. For many, it will be another feel-good occasion provided by the man who has provided countless others.

We have seen this, it seems, time and again.

Last season amidst much ado, Rose’s number 14 was officially retired by the Reds and he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.

He said, and most sincerely, that it was the high point of his career, that making the Reds Hall of Fame was more meaningful to him than being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Pete holds his hometown and original team in high regard, but he is also a grand salesman, one who regards his public as somewhat gullible and trusting. He forgets, it seems, that his public remembers his inconsistencies with the truth.

Last year’s celebration led to sell-out crowds at Great American Ball Park, a fact not lost on Rose who seldom misses a chance to apply the needle.

“I guess they will ask me back when (Reds owner) Bob (Castellini) needs another sell-out,” Rose said, during one lull in the ceremonies.

They will do it all over again this weekend -- only bigger.

This time, the Reds will pay Rose the team’s highest honor. It will unveil a statue of Rose outside the stadium. His likeness will join those of other revered players from the past: Johnny Bench, Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Frank Robinson.

For another weekend, we will be invited to share in the celebration of a magnificent ballplayer, everyman’s player. He's the guy who, at his best, got it done on grit, spit and determination, a player purely perfect for a city whose baseball existed in the shadows of New York and Los Angeles. Thousands will be there to celebrate.

The memories and images of Pete will abound: Pete barreling around the bases, his helmet lost on the base path; Pete sliding into a bag head first, almost smiling and caught in a cloud of dust; Pete racing to first on a walk like a man about to miss a bus, and -- fittingly -- the “the big knock." Yes, hit number 4,192 -- the soft single to left against San Diego on Sept. 11, 1985, Pete passing Ty Cobb assuring his place in baseball history, and, at the time it seemed, a lofty position in the Hall of Fame.

But that never came to pass, and that, too, will be remembered this weekend.

For all those who will revel in this celebration, who will enjoy every moment, there will be those who will find it all a bit sad.

His could have been one of the greatest sports stories of all time, but the last pages were not good ones. Pete violated Major League Baseball’s cardinal rule. He admittedly bet on the game, his game, that which he loved more than anything else in the world.

Then, there were the lies -- so many lies.

Through it all many were deceived. Many were hurt and it was that hurt, it seemed, that cut deeper. It drew more blood than the violation itself.

Years ago at one collection of the Big Red Machine or another, Tony Perez considered all that had passed with Pete. “It’s bad,” Perez said, “and sad. But I always think he hurt himself more than anybody else. And, it still hurts, I’m sure.”

Greg Hoard is a former reporter and columnist for the Cincinnati Post and Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He later worked as sports director at WLWT and WXIX. He returned to writing in 2004 and is the author of five books, including "Joe, Rounding Third and Heading for Home," and "Voices In My Head, The Gary Burbank Story." His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Baseball America, The Sporting News, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day.

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