Hometown gives Rose mixed reviews

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 22, 2004

CINCINNATI - Pete Rose's hometown has changed, just like his story.

Baseball's hits king returned for a book signing Wednesday, his first homecoming since he ended 14 years of denial and confessed two weeks ago that he bet on Cincinnati Reds games when he was their manager.

Even his staunchest supporters were left with mixed feelings.

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''I had questions all along,'' said Jon Wade, the first of more than 1,000 fans who lined up to get their book autographed. ''I wondered if he was being forthright from the beginning.

''Truthfully, what I try to do is separate the player from the manager. He was a fabulous player. He had some off-field things that I take issue with.''

Until his latest autobiography was released two weeks ago, his hometown's love was unconditional. Even during the depths of Rose's gambling scandal in 1989, fans chanted his first name and defended him at every turn.

Now that he has confessed to betting on baseball, he has a credibility problem with those who know him best.

''The reaction from letter writers after the book came out was largely negative,'' said David Wells, editorial page editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer. ''Pete has had a lot of support in Cincinnati over the years. When he'd be in the news the last several years, we'd get a lot of letters. It's mixed, but the majority is usually pro-Pete.

''This time, it was different.''

Rose didn't stop to talk with reporters Wednesday before sitting down at a table to sign copies of ''My Prison Without Bars.'' During an interview earlier in the day with a local radio station, he wondered why there has been so much controversy over his confession.

''It seems like there's a lot of people who don't want to let me move on,'' Rose said.

Critics across the country, including former teammates and Hall of Famers, have objected to the way Rose is selling his admission that he bet on baseball. His autobiography goes for $24.95 at bookstores, and fans can order a personalized copy on Rose's Web site for $99.95.

In Cincinnati, it's more about how Rose's story has changed.

James Leboeuf, 25, of Cincinnati, wore a No. 14 Rose jersey as he waited in line Wednesday to get his copy autographed. He wasn't surprised that Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball, and wasn't hopeful that he'll ever get to manage again.

''I always knew that he bet,'' Leboeuf said. ''My dad saw him at the track all the time. I felt that he did. I'm glad to have him finally come out with it so he could get into the Hall of Fame. I really want to see him get into the Hall, but he won't be let back into baseball, I don't think.''

Rose said he'd be disappointed if he's not reinstated by the end of the year. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has said there's no timetable for considering Rose's case.

Rose was hoping that public support over the years would sway Selig's opinion on reinstatement. Many fans who supported him for the last 14 years were stung by his confession over the last two weeks.

''Obviously, there's been a lot more emotion,'' said Andy Furman, host of a sports talk show on WLW-AM. ''I think people are more passionate now - 'I told you so, he gambled,' or, 'OK, he gambled, but others broke the rules.'

''A lot of people feel deceived and hurt. The trust factor is the thing that has really gone south.''

Furman, who has supported Rose publicly, thinks his toughest job will be winning back that trust.

''People have yelled about the timing, about the book, about the sincerity, but the biggest complaint we've gotten on the airwaves was that he lied to us for 14 years,'' Furman said. ''That's going to be a hard thing to patch up, but there are people out there who still love him to death and swear by him.''