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On night Reds honoring Rose, Hit King will also appear at casino

If the Cincinnati Reds ever get around to erecting a Pete Rose statue outside Great American Ball Park -- if Major League Baseball, forever principled, ever allows it -- the Hit King will not be bronzed in that familiar crouch at the plate. He'll be seated at a folding card table with a pen in his hand.

Some things you never understand, no matter how hard you try, no matter how compelling the facts of the case. Such as: Why does Pete Rose continue to sell his legacy for pennies on the dollar?

I've been in Cincinnati for 22 years. I was there when baseball took a microscope to Rose's betting habits. I was there to hear baseball's G-Man John Dowd say he idolized Ted Williams growing up. I saw Rose at his most convincing and his most conniving.

I saw him the night Bart Giamatti banned him from the game. Rose was on the Home Shopping Network, selling pieces of himself. I should have known then.

It defies logic, though. And good judgment and, to most of us, good sense. And it never ends.

The Reds will honor Rose on Saturday, the 25th anniversary of his 4,192nd hit. That hit pushed indefatigable Pete past Ty Cobb and toward what should have been his happily ever after. It was the best thing Rose ever did. It spoke eloquently to his talent and persistence.

The Reds want to honor that. After much discussion, Rose said he could make it. For an hour or so. He's appearing at a casino that weekend and well, a guy's gotta make a living.

Good thing Hollywood Casino is just 23 miles down the Ohio River, in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Otherwise, the day would have passed without notice. Except, perhaps, to those at the casino, where Rose is scheduled to be "roasted" from 6-10 p.m. On the 25th anniversary of his signature achievement, Rose is going to be laughed at. For a fee, naturally.

As it turns out, the casino will allow Rose time to take a bus to Cincinnati, stand on the field a few minutes and wave to the masses. Then he'll be whisked back to Hollywood-on-the-Ohio, in time for the roast and, no doubt, more autographs for the idolators at the gaming tables.

There is a twist to this latest example of how a tragic hero continues his free fall, though. It speaks to the eroding effect of time, and to a city that increasingly views Rose in its rearview mirror. Cincinnati has always embraced its bad boys (and girls). Rose, Marge Schott and Jerry Springer might be seen as incorrigibles. But they're our incorrigibles. If Ben Roethlisberger had won two Super rings in the Queen City, we wouldn't be ragging Big Ben about his current suspension. We'd be on Roger Goodell.

No matter what, Pete Rose has always been welcomed home. Only now, the Reds are in a pennant race, 25 years have passed (21 years since the banishment) and people just aren't very interested.

The Reds had announced their role in the big day a few weeks ago, with a terse, six-sentence statement. No one from the ballclub was available to expound.

The casino even made the first move to secure Rose for the big weekend. Hollywood general manager Tony Rodio said he approached Rose in early spring, well before the Reds came calling. Rodio said Rose assumed then that baseball would not allow him to appear at Great American Ball Park, so he agreed to appear at Hollywood.

Rodio takes credit for Rose even being in the area on that day. "We booked it so it could happen in the Cincinnati area,'' Rodio said. "I believe in my heart we've provided a service to the community.''

While we're handing Rodio a key to the city, we notice this:

The news didn't lead any local newscast, radio or TV. It earned a very brief mention on the largest local website, Cincinnati.com. Talk-show callers preferred to discuss the Reds being pounded on successive nights in San Francisco. Ten years ago, a Rose appearance would have provoked a mighty buzz. Now? Zzzzs, mostly.

A city that had wanted to believe its native son has finally taken one too many shots to the head. Rose took a seven-figure advance to confess his sins in his book that came out in early 2004. That was the last time Cincinnati slammed its civic skull against the wall. Now, it's tired of the headache.

The irony is, Rose shows some sign of "reconfiguring,'' as Giamatti put it. He requested a come-to-Jesus meeting with Johnny Bench last month in Los Angeles, at a card show (imagine that), at which Rose apologized to his former teammate for years of tarnishing his own legend, even as Bench and Joe Morgan tried to broker Rose's reinstatement.

Rose was especially sorry for having ruined Bench's August 1989 Hall of Fame induction, by getting himself kicked out of the game. For every congratulation Bench heard, he answered two questions about Rose.

The pair had never been good friends, mostly owing to mutual jealousy and incompatible personalities. But they were fast teammates on one of the best clubs ever assembled. Bench swore off Rose several years ago. He told me recently that he was moved by Pete's apology. But Bench did have a question for the Hit King:

"Why now?''

"Because I turned 69 on April 14,'' Rose said.

Rose could have begged out of the casino appearance on Saturday. Welcomed for a night back into the baseball club, he might have seen the evening as an olive branch from Bud Selig. A next chance for a 69-year-old to redeem his legacy.

Rose won't do that. His appearance in the ballpark will be brief. There is commerce to be conducted, back at the casino. People do change. But not a lot.

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