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Blood from a stone

All these protectionists, these high-minded keepers of the baseball flame, have spent the past 14-plus years demanding a confession out of Rose. No way, they say, should Major League Baseball even think about reinstating him unless he admits that he bet on games.

Well, now Rose has admitted to his wrongdoings -- and they don't like the way he did it.

They doubt his sincerity. They insist he doesn't realize the damage he's done. They say he's only out to make a buck. They're not convinced he's a changed man.

In effect, these people want more than an admission: They want groveling. They want absolute contrition.

They want to see his shame.

The problem is, this is Pete Rose we're dealing with here. You want tears? You want a bowed head? Go back to the video of his 4,192nd hit. That's about the only time you'll see that.

Rose is stubborn and arrogant. He is, in his exile from the game, exactly as he was when he was in it. Vulgar, sometimes sleazy, bullish, fiery, defiant. He is Pete Rose. He doesn't change. He is, in most ways, incapable of change.

So why do we expect it? More precisely, how can we expect it?

I don't think we should expect Rose to change. If we do, we'll be as disappointed as many are right now.

Yes, he tarnished the game, dragging it through some terrible times. He violated the most basic of baseball laws. Then he lied about it for 14 years.

But you know what? He's paid for his crimes anyway. And he will pay for it for the rest of his flawed life.

I'm not asking you to feel sorry for Rose. He is, in fact, a character who calls for no sympathy, and that's no one's fault but his own. He's made millions of dollars playing baseball. He's made millions since retirement, in endorsements and memorabilia shows and just by being Pete Rose. His new book will bring him millions more. It's hardly a sob story.

But none of that is the point. Baseball has banned him from doing what he wants to do -- manage, be around the game, talk the game with baseball people, be in ballparks -- for the past 14 years. Now, tell me, in our society, which crimes merit that kind of punishment? Let me tell you. Not many.

I agree with those who say Rose should not be allowed back in the game to manage. He should not be in any position of any influence on any game. It's just too risky. It sends precisely the wrong message. It's the price he'll continue to have to pay.

But let him shake hands and kiss babies and go to luncheons and talk baseball, if some team wants to hire him to do that. Let him watch a game from the stands, or from a skybox. Let him warn young players about the evils of gambling. Would there be a better teacher?

Reinstate him so he can be placed on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. What he did in his prolific playing career deserves at least that.

One more thing: Forget trying to pry sincerity and remorse out of a man who is emotionally incapable of it. Accept the admission of guilt. Know that he's paid for his crime.

And get the heck on with it.

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Speaking of getting on with it ...

My inbox is again overflowing with questions on the Hot Stove League. I can't go through every one of them -- and, honestly, they're all starting to read alike -- so here are some general answers.

1. Vladimir Guerrero, evidently, doesn't like what he sees.

2. Yeah, the Braves seem to be in a heap of trouble.

3. As far as I can tell, yes, the A-Rod deal is dead. But, hey, I've been wrong about these things before.

Now, down to some specifics:

Don't you think the Braves should have at least offered a contract of some sort to Greg Maddux? Because of his age, he has to look at less money, and all he really wants is 300 wins. I think he would have taken a lot less and stayed in Atlanta. As for Lopez, with the young rookie they have it was wise to let Javy go. And letting Shef go was downright stupid. He won't do well in New York because of pressure. That's what drove him out of L.A. I predict he will have the worst year of his career playing for George. -- Larry Frazier, Piedmont, S.C.

Larry, you know the answer to the Maddux thing as well as I do. Scott Boras, Maddux's agent, is not going to let Maddux work for $1 million somewhere if he can get $1.2 somewhere else. Simple as that. And Maddux, despite not landing anywhere yet, will get more than that. I expect it may be an incentive-heavy deal somewhere. Whatever, it was too rich for the Braves' blood. They wanted to keep him, but the bosses at Time Warner are slashing payroll and ... well, you know the rest. Lopez's numbers will be missed -- at least his numbers last year -- but there are big hopes for Johnny Estrada. Sheffield went for the money. And he landed with a winner. Hard to argue there. And, yes, Braves fans should be nervous. Again.

Since nobody has signed right fielder Vladimir G. from the Expos, could he possibly end up in San Francisco to protect Barry Bonds? What are the rumors surrounding the Giants on signing any more free agents? Thanks. -- Pat Matejcek, Pittsburg, Calif.

The Giants, as you know, Pat, have one of the few privately funded parks in the big leagues, which means they're up to their eyeballs in hock. Bonds is the lone big contract they can afford (he's due $16 million in '04). They couldn't -- or said they couldn't -- afford guys like longtime shortstop Rich Aurilia, which explains why he's out on the market. So the chances of them getting Guerrero, I'd say, are none. The Giants will be coming back to the pack in the National League West, though I suspect GM Brian Sabean has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep his team from sliding too far.

Why don't the Dodgers fire GM Dan Evans already? He has had many opportunities to make the club better but has failed miserably. Why not get Billy Beane? -- Michael Goldsmith, Los Angeles

The Dodgers, as always, will be in the running in the NL West. They still have a lot of pitching strength, even with trading Kevin Brown to the Yankees. And I think Jeff Weaver could blossom there. They do need more hitting, for sure, and I think Evans -- a good GM -- will land some before the season starts. L.A. will be a factor in that division again.

Do you expect the AL East to be the most competitive division in Major League Baseball since the additions of Lopez, Tejada, Sheffield, Lofton, Schilling, Foulke and possibly Guerrero? -- Jay Thompson, Toronto

Sounds like you do, Jay. And you know what? It will be more competitive. Though you could easily argue that they've dropped back some, the Yankees are not dead yet. That starting rotation, especially if Kevin Brown stays healthy, is very solid. But they will be feeling heat from an improved Red Sox team that took them deep into Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last year. Let's not forget the Blue Jays, who added Miguel Batista and Pat Hentgen and who still have one of the best-hitting teams in the league. And Baltimore will no longer be a pushover, with Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada and more to come (Vlad Guerrero, maybe, or pitcher Sidney Ponson).

Is Gene Orza a Yankee fan? This would clear things up a lot if he is. -- Ranny Holt, Richmond, Va.

Ha! Orza, the players' union lawyer, was instrumental in pulling the plug on the Alex Rodriguez fiasco last month. My quickie take on that: I can't blame him. You can't have guys changing contracts all the time just to get out of a bad situation. It's letting owners off the hook. It sets a terrible precedent. A-Rod will have to live with the $252 million contract, as is. As will Texas owner Tom Hicks, who was dumb enough to give it to him in the first place. Sorry, Boston fans. Sorry, Yankees haters. That's the way it has to be.

Do you think the A-Rod deal of $252 million that seems to have actually hurt the Texas Rangers along with the success of lower salaries teams like the Angels and Marlins is going to help continue a downward trend in salaries and contract years in baseball negotiations for some time to come? -- Greg Bohnert, Jasper, Ind.

Wow, Greg, good question. I think both of those things have helped change owners' minds this offseason (and last offseason, to a lesser extent) and made GMs more careful with the contracts they hand out. Certainly, when A-Rod signed his deal, that woke everyone up. I mean, it was ripped before the ink was dry. Then the economy continued to skid, attendance went with it and, all of the sudden, we see semi-small market teams like the Angels and Marlins winning. To many owners, that proves it isn't all in the payroll. All of it is making players and their agents plenty suspicious (can anyone yell "collusion?"), I'll tell you that. But, to me, a bigger factor than the A-Rod deal or the success of some small-market teams is the economy. Now that it's picked up some, it'll be interesting to see what happens later this year and into next offseason. You'll have those owners who believe that payroll isn't everything -- but they very well could be better off financially, and better able to pay higher salaries, because of the improved economy. Will salaries start to creep up if the markets are good? Will owners start to spend big again? The players will certainly expect it. We'll have to wait and see.