Fay Vincent wants the World Series to go seven. All of organized baseball wants to see this Series stretch out and spread its wings and do 1,000 things it's never done before -- primarily because they want it to escape from the long, melancholy shadow of Pete Rose and The Earthquake.
It's impossible to place the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series and not be reminded of Rose, the local hero. And it's equally impossible to return to the Bay Area for Game 3 and not be reminded of last year's devastating earthquake.
Pete Rose's prolonged free fall, his banishment from baseball and subsequent jailing for tax evasion, were wrenching, agonizing dramas for baseball. The Bay Area earthquake, which jolted the whole nation, is inextricably associated with the World Series through the guerrilla theater aspect of it having occurred live during the pregame show, in everyone's living room as it were. No other events in baseball's near past are as sore as these.
Now, in the first World Series after the earthquake -- which also is the first World Series after Rose's incarceration -- you have the ironic pairing of Oakland, one of the storied participants, and Cincinnati, Rose's place in the heart. Lucky baseball, it gets a chance to chase two haunting crows with one stone.
Rather than decorate the cover of their 1990 media guide with their current all-stars, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis, the Reds chose to show the world the face of new manager Lou Piniella, a not-too-subtle attempt to airbrush away any memory of the previous manager, Rose. This was a continuation of the Reds' cosmetological revisionism that began last year when owner Marge Schott took down Rose's picture from the vestibule leading to the clubhouse and replaced it with a picture of what my colleague Tom Callahan calls "her look-alike dog," the St. Bernard, Schottzie. (By the way, did you hear Marge at the pregame festivities on Tuesday, "We're dedicating this World Series to our wonderful women and men over in the Far East who are serving us." Am I stupid! All this time I thought we were in Saudi Arabia, and it turns out we've declared war on Japan.)
No matter how they try to exorcise Rose, his presence -- actually his absence, he's 250 miles away, in a Marion, Ill., jail -- dances in the air over this team like vapors from a witch's caldron. It's not Piniella's team truly. It's still, lingeringly, Rose's. Larkin and Davis and the core group of Reds, like Chris Sabo, Danny Jackson, Tom Browning and two of the Nasty Boys, Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton, they were Rose's. In Rose's four full seasons as manager the Reds always finished second. These Reds were ready to win the pennant. Last season's collapse was about the traveling medicine show surrounding Rose, not a lack of talent.
But they didn't name the street in front of Riverfront Stadium "Pete Rose Way" because of his managing. Rose's grip on Cincinnati -- on all of baseball for that matter -- was about his ballplaying. He was the Cincinnati Kid, the local boy made good; higher than Morgan and Perez, higher even than Bench, stood Rose.
Pete Rose was the poster boy for baseball's renaissance in the 1970s. Not the handsome iconoclast Jim Palmer, nor the urbane clinician Tom Seaver. Rose was the one who proved the democracy of baseball -- that you didn't have to be a glandular freak to play, you could get in on dedication and perseverance. Here was an average-sized kid from the heartland succeeding on grit and hustle in the heartland. What a metaphor. You sell the game on one picture: Rose chewing dirt, his hair blown straight back in the wind, flying headfirst into second. Frame it. Pete Rose made baseball America's game again. Pete Rose was the American Dream. What anguish Rose caused baseball after all that investment in his legend. If Cincinnati wins this, shouldn't someone set aside a bottle of champagne and a pardon for Pete?
We leave Rose languishing in prison, considering his implosion, and go west, anxiously, where the destruction was on a broader, starker scale. One year ago, on an idyllic fall afternoon 25 minutes before the start of Game 3, part of California buckled like a weak knee. A reporter standing on the outside rim of Candlestick Park, staring out dreamily at placid San Francisco Bay, felt the ground beneath his feet begin jackhammering. "It seemed like I was in a car going over rumble strips," he recalled. The shaking lasted about 15 seconds, sweeping across the Bay Area bringing pandemonium. Chunks of concrete tumbled out of Section 53 in the upper right field deck, but Candlestick held together. From the catwalks you could look 10 miles into the city and see bright fires burning in the Marina district.
In his first significant act as commissioner, Fay Vincent was wise, postponing the Series while California buried its dead, then honoring the Bay Area by resuming the Series there. Some argued that the Series should have been canceled in the name of compassion. Had both teams not been from the area that may have been appropriate. But the courage and the spirit of the survivors was better served by resuming there, and boosting morale. A year later it's hard to imagine anyone who was there -- even anyone who was watching on TV -- not recalling exactly where they were and how they felt at 5:04 p.m. Pacific Time. A year later it's hard to imagine anyone not being slightly apprehensive at the eerie coincidence of driving on I-880 to Game 3 in a Bay Area ballpark. And should they see ghosts on their way, imagine a chunky switch hitter in a red cap wearing No. 14, or feel a phantom shimmy on an overpass, they are to be forgiven.