For three days every summer, hordes of fans spill out of a simple storefront on Cooperstown's Main Street, out onto the sidewalk where red, white and blue bunting graces the most American of avenues.

Pete Rose sits in the memorabilia shop a line drive away from baseball's Hall of Fame and signs everything his adoring public puts before him.

The sight of Rose with a Sharpie pen in his thick right hand during Hall of Fame weekend has become as common as Stan Musial playing the national anthem on his harmonica at the induction ceremony.

There are always quiet grumbles from the famous names a few blocks away at 25 Main St. Ever since Rose signed an agreement that banned him from the game for life in 1989, he has stuck his thumb in baseball's eye.

"The Hall of Fame needs me more than I need the Hall of Fame," Rose told the Cooperstown Crier in 1997.

That may or may not be the case, but that standard is not the one A. Bartlett Giamatti set when he booted Rose from the game in 1989 and told the Hit King he must "show a redirected, reconfigured or rehabilitated life" before he would agree to reconsider the ban.

But Commissioner Bud Selig has not said whether that dictum still applies or what terms he would accept as he considers reinstating Rose and allowing him to appear on the Hall of Fame's ballot -- word so far from the commissioner's office is that he wants Rose to reverse 13 years of denials and show that he won't make Selig regret his mercy.

But if Selig does apply Giamatti's standard, Rose has a much tougher case to make.

"Nothing has changed in 13 years," Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said recently when asked about Rose's reinstatement. "He hasn't seemed to change his life or done anything different. He's still the same guy he was."

Despite mountains of evidence, Rose has defiantly denied he bet on baseball or his own team (in a November 1999 interview with Geraldo Rivera he swore "to God" that he never bet on baseball).

He says he doesn't make illegal wagers any more, but he admits he still bets the horses, and he earns hundreds of thousands of dollars every year hawking his autograph, making corporate appearances at $20,000 a pop and making appearances at casinos. According to Gaming Today, a Las Vegas trade publication, Rose talked last spring about taking a job promoting the Palms, a trendy casino, a position that would surely further reduce his stock with baseball's brass.

Rose has said he is "in bed with pretty much the right type of people now," but Selig will have to determine if he still associates with the same kind of sycophants and hero-worshippers he surrounded himself with before he was exiled from baseball.

For at least a year, baseball officials have been taking a fresh look at Rose's life, investigating how he has made a living during his banishment and with whom he spends his time.

"The fact that Rose has kept his mouth shut has helped," one baseball official said of Rose's behavior in recent months.

But the question looms: Has Rose changed his ways?

Questionable Friends

Rose has never lacked for those who want to be in his company. Like most living legends, he has had legions of fans ready to do his bidding just so they can say they are friends of the Hit King.

The company he kept in the 1980s helped Rose stay in trouble, as a report compiled by baseball investigator John Dowd charged that several associates placed his bets with bookies, including on his own team. Three of them ended up doing prison time for various crimes. Tommy Gioiosa, Rose's "unadopted son" and constant companion in the late 1970s and '80s, was identified in Dowd's report as one of several men who ran bets for Rose. In a 2000 article in Vanity Fair, Gioiosa also accused Rose of financing a cocaine deal and using a corked bat.

Ron Peters, Rose's bookie in 1986-87, says he took numerous bets from Rose on the Reds and other baseball teams, and served two years in prison for tax evasion and drug trafficking. Paul Janszen told Dowd that he ran bets for Rose and later served a six-month prison sentence for tax evasion.

Rose's new friends have kept their noses clean, but have shown questionable judgment in their own associations. Andrew Vilacky, a close friend of Rose's, operates the Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles in Cooperstown, which is where Rose signed autographs last July, as well as the HitKing4256.com Web site that honors Rose and some of Rose's charity events. But he and an associate, Tom Catal, have been involved in business ventures with convicted felon Perry Ferrara, a former Long Island attorney who was sentenced in 1998 to six years in prison for stealing $2.7 million from his law firm's client escrow account.

Prosecutors traced some of that money to the American Baseball Archives and Wax Museum that Vilacky and Catal ran, an investigator familiar with Ferrara's case told the Daily News. In 1997, sheriff's deputies from Otsego County raided the museum and seized about 30 wax statues as Vilacky and Catal watched. The statues -- including Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson and one of Rose sliding into a base -- were later sold at auction and the money given to a fund to repay the clients Ferrara bilked.

After the wax figures were seized, Vilacky and Catal said publicly that they were not connected to Ferrara, that he was only their landlord. But a former New York prosecutor familiar with Ferrara's case disputes that claim.

"They can't separate themselves from Perry Ferrara," the attorney said on the condition of anonymity. "They were partners. We never found that Pete Rose was involved in any illegal activity, but he didn't choose his friends very well."

Even now, a known Ferrara associate named Anthony Turzo is listed in legal papers as the head of the company that oversees what is now known as the "American Baseball Experience," a three-story museum and memorabilia store where Rose once signed for fans at Cooperstown. Vilacky could not be reached for comment and Ferrara did not return calls. Neither did Rose's agent, Warren Greene, nor his lawyer, Roger Makley.

Catal says he no longer has any business dealings with Ferrara, but he remains enthusiastic about his friendship with Rose. "He's a great guy," Catal says. "I love him."

Popularity Endures

Rose says he no longer gambles illegally but his casino appearances have been noted by his critics and in the past have been viewed as proof that he hasn't changed his habits. But the sport that once forced Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle to give up their jobs as casino greeters now features casino ads in its ballparks and in its programs. Players are often seen in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Rose says he needs the casino work to earn a living. "I see the signs in the ballparks and casinos pay for appearances," Rose said in a 1999 interview. "And if I was in baseball, I wouldn't go to a casino. I wouldn't need to. I wouldn't have to."

Rose still bets the horses, but he says he stays away from the gaming tables. "I'm not a casino-type gambler," he says.

He also says he never considered himself a problem gambler and doesn't need treatment -- he briefly attended Gamblers Anonymous after his ban. But he says he later determined he is not a compulsive gambler. "I've never taken my gas or phone or electric bill money or my house payment to the track," he said in a 2000 interview.

In 1989, however, one of his bookies told baseball investigators that Rose bet as much as $1 million with him, later calling that a "very conservative figure." In just a half-season, says Janszen, Rose bet $800,000. Peters says Rose placed bets from Riverfront Stadium and called his betting "desperate."

Rose has never had a problem rehabilitating his image with the fans. When he broke Ty Cobb's record for most hits on Sept. 11, 1985, Rose got a nine-minute standing ovation at Riverfront Stadium. He is still hugely popular and his support among the fans has not been lost on Selig, who has been at the other end of the popularity charts in the past couple of years.

On Oct. 24, 1999, Rose appeared on the field in Atlanta before Game 2 of the World Series as part of the All-Century team ceremony and received the longest ovation of any player. He was banned from the Sept. 22 closing ceremony for Cinergy Field, formerly known as Riverfront Stadium, but when former pitcher Tom Browning spray-painted a red No. 14 -- Rose's number -- on the pitcher's mound, the fans chanted his name. More than 40,000 showed up the next day at Rose's celebrity softball game.

And in Game 4 of this year's World Series, during a ceremony to promote baseball's most memorable moments, Rose received the longest ovation from the Pacific Bell Park crowd as the fans chanted, "Hall of Fame! Hall of Fame!"

Rose hasn't had much trouble making a living off his name, signing at card shows for anywhere from $45 for a photo to $250 for a jersey, and has carefully cultivated his audience. His is one of the least expensive autographs on the market, and promoters say he purposely deflates his value.

"I think he knows he could up his price," says Brandon Steiner, the owner of sports memorabilia giant Steiner Sports. "He's said he'd rather keep his price down and sign a lot. Every time we've been with him in public situations he's been great. The photos, the babies -- he's been great."

Even when the rare fan presses him about his gambling, Steiner said Rose does not shy away. "Some will give him grief sometimes and he'll get into a short debate with them," he says.

A Campaign

Three days before he met with Selig in Milwaukee last month to discuss a possible reinstatement, Rose appeared at a Rockland County Community College card show along with Bob Gibson, Bucky Dent and Mike Torrez. According to Roc Productions promoter Bruce Bond, Rose couldn't have been more gracious.

"The Rockland County College baseball coach and his staff asked if they could get a shot and some autographs," Bond says. "Pete said no problem. After they were done, he said, 'Do you guys have any questions?' He wound up talking with them about baseball strategy for 30 minutes. Other players don't pose with people for pictures."

According to Allan Gutterman, also with Roc Productions, Rose was a delight to deal with. "It appears that Pete is campaigning to impress people that he's a nice guy and belongs in the Hall of Fame," Gutterman says. "He did everything he could to help us promote the show. He's one of the most popular players around today. The antihero is always more popular in this country."

Whether Selig holds Rose to Giamatti's dictum is bound to come up in the coming months. How Giamatti would have applied his own standard so many years later will never be known, but Rose has an answer for that, too.

"I didn't dislike Bart Giamatti," he told Playboy recently. "I got along with Giamatti, and I think that if Bart was still around I'd be reinstated. Because he was a fair man."

Pete Rose, who signed agreement on lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 and has one of least expensive autographs on the market, is popular with fans. "Nothing has changed in 13 years," Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer says about baseball's possible reinstatement of Pete Rose. "He hasn't seemed to change his life or done anything different. He's still the same guy he was."