Pete Rose

updated 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sophocles—a Hall of Famer from the old Greek Tragedy League—may not have known a triple from a trireme, but he would have understood the story of Pete Rose. One moment Rose was baseball's hardest-charging boy of summer, a hustling Charlie who once said he would "run through hell in a gasoline suit to keep playing." The next moment, after tripping over his own hubris, Rose signed an agreement that banned him from baseball "for life" for apparent violations of the league's rules against gambling. In terms of absolute distance, the national pastime hadn't seen such a precipitous fall since the Black Sox scandal of 1919; all that was missing was a tow-headed fan to plead, on cue, "Say it ain't so, Pete."

So it was, but so, Peter Edward Rose fervently hopes, it may not always be. Although Rose's honor-above-all nemesis, Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti—whose death one week after the case was settled added immeasurably to the drama's tragic resonance—had produced a 225-page report in which nine people said that the former Cincinnati Reds manager bet on baseball, the accused claims that most of the evidence against him comes from former associates with various axes to grind. In his resignation agreement, Rose, 48, neither admitted nor denied guilt, and he retained the right to appeal his untouchable status after one year. The man with the most hits in baseball (4,256) seems to understand that his only chance of ever reaching the Hall of Fame is to make amends to game and country for mucking about with national mythology. After months of public denial, he now admits to "a serious gambling problem" and has been seeing a psychiatrist twice a week. "This is a tough fight for me," he says, "but I've always adjusted to battles."

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