Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said yesterday he is actively considering Pete Rose's application for reinstatement.
Selig told the Associated Press he would not put a timetable on a decision and gave no hint to which direction he was leaning. He made his remarks about Rose after a speech in New York to sports business executives.
After an investigation into his gambling habits, Rose accepted a lifetime ban for conduct detrimental to baseball in August 1989, when A. Bartlett Giamatti was commissioner. A year after he was banned from baseball, Rose was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to five months in prison. He was released Jan. 7, 1991. Rose applied for reinstatement to baseball in September 1997.
"Bart gave Pete the right to apply for reinstatement," Selig said. "I kept it on my desk for 51/2 years. I think it was time to at least consider that."
A Major League Baseball spokesman played down the remarks yesterday, saying Selig told a group of reporters "exactly what he's been saying the last three or four weeks."
Until last fall, Selig repeatedly said he saw no reason to alter the punishment Rose accepted from Giamatti.
"There is not a scintilla of give in that area," Selig said in a speech in Wisconsin in 2000. "Pete did accept a voluntary lifetime suspension from Dr. Giamatti. There hasn't been any new evidence since then. I think just from my answer, you'll understand my depth of feeling on this subject."
The ban means Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader with 4,256 and games leader with 3,562, is ineligible for Hall of Fame voting. Selig told reporters he was not concerned with that issue, that it was a matter for Cooperstown's board.
In his storied career with the Cincinnati Reds, Rose -- known as Charlie Hustle -- led the National League in batting three times; was MVP in 1973 and World Series MVP in 1975; had a 44-game hitting streak in '78; and managed the Reds from 1984 to '89.
The issue with Rose was never simply gambling. At issue is whether he bet on baseball games. Rose has never officially challenged baseball's case against him but has denied gambling on baseball and betting on his team.
Although there has been some fan support for his reinstatement, Rose remains under scrutiny. Baseball executives, according to the Associated Press, are said to be looking into reports Rose was seen in January at a Las Vegas casino and sports book, and that the Internal Revenue Service placed a lien on a home he owns in the Los Angeles area, claiming he owes $151,689 in federal taxes from 1998.
"Bart was one of the best friends I've ever had in the world," Selig said. "Yes, we did have a very close relationship. But as commissioner, I have to do what I think is right and make a decision based on the facts."
Selig is not expected to decide on Rose's application for reinstatement before Opening Day. As to whether Selig would okay Rose's participation in ceremonies to open the Cincinnati Reds' new ballpark March 31, the baseball spokesman said, "I don't think [the question] has come to us."