COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- What is expected to be the largest crowd in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame, with estimates approaching 25,000, will include for a first-time visit the most productive hitter the game has ever known . . . except Pete Rose will still be on the outside looking in and won't attempt to crash the party.
Rose is persona non grata, considered unacceptable by the lords of baseball, because of allegations he bet on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds and, thus, violated the good citizenship code that is a part of the Hall of Fame eligibility rules.
That's why Pete is going to get out of town before the actual enshrinement Sunday afternoon of his former Philadelphia Phillies teammate and close friend, Mike Schmidt.
The Rose visit to Cooperstown is for a commercial commitment: an agreement to sign autographs and, according to the sponsors of the event, will earn "around $20,000" for two three-hour sessions tomorrow and Saturday.
He's being sponsored at a baseball card and memorabilia store, called Mickey's Place, located on the corner of Pioneeer and Main streets, only about 300 feet from the Hall of Fame.
Rose would be there, too, but, to this point, has not even been cleared for inclusion on the ballot of the Baseball Writers Association. He remains as a lost soul in limbo, hoping that he can clear his name and attain membership in the game's most exclusive club, the Hall of Fame.
Such revered performers as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Paul Waner, Hank Greenberg, Lou Gehrig and Bob Gibson are included in this legendary lineup, a galaxy devoted to the game's prominent achievers. Rose belongs with them for his batting accomplishments but is ostracized because of the betting involvement.
Pete, playing off the lyrics of an old song, can knock on the door but he can't come in, which is why he'll depart the Hall of Fame scene before the ceremony is held to admit Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Leon Day and Vic Willie. They represent the class of 1995.
Meanwhile, Rose exercises his signing stroke for serious money. The co-operators of Mickey's Place say two years ago he was expected to be in Cooperstown but canceled plans. Now,
obviously, they feel the heat is off or he wouldn't be coming to Cooperstown.
"There was some pressure on him before and he backed off," said Vincent Russo, who is a partner with Tom Catal in ownership of the store. "He didn't feel it was in his best interests so he asked to be excused."
Catal quickly spoke up to explain that at the time Rose said he would surely be in Cooperstown when Schmidt's coveted moment arrived. Theoretically, that's right, but Pete won't be at the gala function that marks the official occasion.
Still, to coin a phrase, Rose "has made Cooperstown" -- even if it's only to carry out a profitable business deal. He gets $25 for autographing each ball, picture or piece of paper and $50 if it's a uniform, bat or glove.
Rose, who holds the major-league high for career hits with 4,256, can exercise his rights as a visitor or businessman, but that's as far as it goes. He's barred from the Hall of Fame but not the streets of this picturesque community.
Oddly enough, 25 Hall of Fame members, such as Bob Feller, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm and Johnny Bench, will be taking part in other paid autograph gatherings but they won't approach in take-home pay what Rose is going to collect.
Willie McCovey is listed to be here, but it's doubtful if he'd have the gall to embarrass himself and the Hall of Fame by carrying through with the appearance. McCovey and another Hall of Famer, Duke Snider, have been accused of putting fees from card shows in their pockets to avoid taxes.
The Hall of Fame weekend has become more than a pleasant social visit for the past enshrinees. Promoters now sign them up for card-show signings while they are here.
It should be stressed that the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with the extra-curricular activity of their guests who turn a fast profit while having their way paid here and all expenses, including hotel and meals, paid by the host . . . not the card show dealers.
This aspect of what constitutes a reunion has evolved into an almost carnival atmosphere, with no end to the tackiness, on Main Street. But Pete Rose will be working in the next block, much closer to the Hall of Fame.
He can enter as any other tourist but it will only be to view the displays and, of course, he'll have to buy a ticket -- the price for reported indiscretions of the past.
Pete Rose in Cooperstown, a short throw from the destination he cherishes, yet in reality still so far away.