Going under the radar toward Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Pete Rose's souvenir shop here at 91 Main Street was crowded, autograph and memorabilia collectors wedging their way through the front door. Yogi Berra signed from 10 to 11, Whitey Ford from 11:30 to 1, and Reggie Jackson was scheduled from 4 to 6. But Pete Rose was missing from Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles today.

Since being banned from baseball in 1989, Rose has appeared here intermittently, usually on the Saturday before the induction ceremonies, unconcerned about whether his presence grated on Hall of Famers or Major League Baseball executives. But now that Rose seems closer to reinstatement than ever before, he has apparently chosen discretion over cash flow, for perhaps the first time since he left the game.

Rose appeared at a baseball game in Macon, Ga., on Thursday and indicated to SI.com he would stay away from here this weekend. His protracted discussions with commissioner Bud Selig seem to be moving in the right direction for Rose. "I think, first of all, you have to understand I think I have a pretty good relationship with Mr. Selig," Rose said. "I do. It just took me a long time to meet him. I met him at Atlanta [at the '99 World Series], first time. I believe he is a fair man."

Selig "knows I can help," Rose said. "He knows I care about the game. He knows that I made some mistakes."

Selig moves slowly in his decisions; one executive said recently said that during Selig's tenure, the game has shifted like a slow-moving ocean tanker gradually changing direction. Selig has been considering Rose's reinstatement for months -- and reportedly, he has heard some dissenting voices among current Hall of Fame members.

It is assumed that before Selig will re-admit Rose to the game, he will demand that Rose confess his mistakes, perhaps directly admitting that he bet on baseball, as former commissioner Bart Giamatti believed. Rose seems willing to do so. "Whatever he needs," Rose said, referring to Selig. "He is the boss."

Stu Bogdanofm, one of the thousands of fans who have congregated here, stepped out of Rose's shop this afternoon, wearing a Yankees T-shirt and cap. Bogdanofm, 63 years old and a resident of Somers, N.Y., thought Rose was smart to avoid Cooperstown this year.

"I think for a number of years that he was here, he was trying to rub the Hall of Fame's nose in it," said Bogdanofm. "He was out front, every day of the weekend, signing autographs. He was around the town, he was in the restaurants, he was, 'Here I am, look at me.' Now that it's getting close to Bud Selig's reconsidering his situation, he's probably been told by his advisers to lay low and not to come up here and make a spectacle of himself.

"I watched that show on ESPN, and I would agree with the jury; you've got to base his induction on his baseball ability. He was one of baseball's immortals, in terms of, as a player, he holds the record for hits. What he did off the field is a different issue. I mean, look at Kobe Bryant right now. He's got a situation [Bryant has been accused of sexual assault], but he's still playing, people are still buying his jersey and probably one day he'll probably go in the NBA Hall of Fame."

Bernie Selvey, 27, of Allentown, Pa., walked through Rose's shop today and remarked how Rose's name saturates the Hall of Fame, yet he does not have a plaque there. If Rose is inducted in the years to come, Selvey said he will make a point to come here and witness the event.

"I'd come next year, definitely, without a doubt," said Selvey, carrying a black knapsack with a bat protruding from its top. "He was a great ballplayer, and I only saw him at the end of the career. His achievements on the field were just fascinating. Forty-two hundred hits [4,256, to be more precise] is an amazing accomplishment. And I think it would say something about baseball, in and of itself; they always say forgiveness is the biggest thing."

"I wish he was here today, for me as a fan. I understand why he's not here -- he wants to keep things on the down-low, hoping to get back, hoping to become part of the Hall of Fame one day."
Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles is sandwiched between Doubleday Café and the Where It All Began Bat Co. There may be a time when he won't have to stay away, a time when Rose can walk down Main Street here, stride a couple of blocks past his store and stride into the Hall of Fame, wholly welcome. But not yet.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.