CINCINNATI — It’s a little bit daunting when they get the Big Red Machine together. In the interview room at Great American Ball Park Friday, you had Johnny Bench holding court in one corner. Tony Perez was a few paces away.
Ken Griffey Sr. was in another corner. Don Gullett, Cesar Geromino, Jack Billingham, Fred Norman were in the room, too.
Pete Rose, the reason for the celebration, was telling stories. Lot of stories. He talked about his first All-Star Game in 1965.
“My first year hitting .300. My first year getting 200 hits. But when I walked in the clubhouse, the clubhouse guy had me between Aaron and Mays. I had to slap myself and say ‘What the hell am I doing there?’ You’ve got Hank Aaron right here and Willie Mays right there. That’s why I’ve always respected those guys. They always treated everyone at the All-Star Game like we were a team. They didn’t snub anyone. I was just a young player. I was a third-year player but a rookie for All-Star competition. They made me feel like I was one of the guys.”
Rose has a million stories like that — probably literally. Name a game, a stadium or a player and he’ll rattle off some interesting antidote. It’s enormously entertaining.
The Reds kicked off the weekend Friday night by honoring the 1976 World Series champions.
The Reds have trotted out the Big Red Machine many times over the years. The difference this weekend is it all revolves around Rose. The Reds are putting him in the Hall of Fame and retiring his number. All of this, of course, would have happened years ago if Rose hadn’t been on baseball’s banned list for betting on baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t lift the ban, but he cleared the way for the Reds to do what they’re doing.
The weekend doesn’t exactly end the Rose saga. But it brings some closure. A Rose statue will be unveiled next year, but beyond that, what’s left for Rose and baseball?
Manfred has made it pretty clear that is as far as he’ll go with Rose, i.e., no full reinstatement, no working with players.
Rose is resigned to this.
“I don’t have no ambitions like that,” he said. “I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done: Watch a couple of games a day. Work for Fox, report what I see. I’ll be working the All-Star Game in San Diego. I’ll be working the American League Championship Series and the World Series.”
Rose would like it to be different.
“I’d love to work for the Reds, being Mr. (Bob) Castellini’s assistant,” he said. “I think I can bring positive things to the organization. I really believe that.”
That’s what makes this weekend just a little bit sad. It was touching to see the members of the 1976 team get plaques from Rick and Mark Stowe, the sons of clubhouse legend Bernie Stowe. It was great to here the ovations for Rose and Bench and the others.
Saturday and Sunday will be even better.
But Rose could do and be so much more. He’s one of the game’s great ambassadors. No one is more entertaining when it comes to talking about baseball.
Rose has gotten what he deserved in a lot of ways. He’s fairly unrepentant about what he did. When the Reds announced this big weekend back in January, Rose made a crack about not wanting his statue to be of him in the $2 betting window at Turfway.
Manfred had to think: This guy doesn’t get it.
So all we’ll likely get of Rose in the future is an occasional appearance honoring this milestone or that team. It’s too bad. As great as Rose’s past is, it would be better if he had some sort of future with the Reds.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.