Baseball's career hits leader could know by the end of the year if baseball will agree to end his lifetime ban - which would make him finally eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Which is where many baseball fans - some of them showing up at games with banners reading "Free Pete Rose" - have long argued the 61-year-old player ought to be.
"Pete Rose was a standout player and should be in the Hall of Fame
because he had one of the greatest careers any baseball star could hope for," argues one fan, on a web site (http://www.nku.edu/~issues/pete_rose)set up specifically to advocate letting Rose into the Hall of Fame. "One little mess up shouldn't jeopardize a tremendous career. No matter what Pete did after playing the game, this act shouldn't take away from Pete Rose's glory in the Hall of Fame.
Rose and commissioner Bud Selig met secretly in Milwaukee on Nov. 25 and their lawyers have been exchanging draft proposals that could end the ban, a baseball executive said Tuesday on the condition he not be identified.
A 17-time All-Star and former National League MVP, Rose agreed to the lifetime ban in August 1989 following an investigation of his gambling but has maintained he never bet on baseball. None of the 14 men previously banned for life by the commissioner's office was ever reinstated.
"It's a first hopeful sign," said Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, who wrote twice to Selig last month urging reinstatement. Luken said he spoke to Bob DuPuy, Selig's top aide, on Nov. 27 and DuPuy said he would get back to him in about 30 days.
Baseball wants Rose to admit misdeeds - that he bet on baseball - as part of any agreement ending the ban, the executive said. Rose cannot appear on the ballot for the Hall of Fame as long as he is on the permanently ineligible list. Baseball officials already have held meetings to discuss the implications of a possible reinstatement, the executive said.
Selig did not return a telephone call seeking comment and DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, issued a statement that did not confirm or deny the meeting.
Rose's lawyers, S. Gary Spicer and Roger Makley, did not immediately comment.
Rose took a flight to Milwaukee from Cincinnati on Nov. 24 and chatted with members of Marquette's women's basketball team, which was returning home from a game in Dayton, Ohio, according to the school.
ESPN.com and WXIX-TV in Cincinnati reported Monday night that Selig and Rose had met two weeks ago.
Warren Greene, Rose's business agent, was at the meeting, as was DuPuy, and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, a high-ranking baseball official said Tuesday, also on the condition of anonymity. Baseball and Rose have been exchanging proposals for more than 1½ years, the official said.
Joe Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman who was Rose's teammate on the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s, has pushed for Selig and Rose to compromise, the executive said
Morgan spoke about the situation at the World Series, after Rose was given the longest ovation among the stars who appeared in a promotion before Game 4. Morgan said he detected increasing support for allowing Rose into the Hall of Fame. The Hall adopted a rule in February 1991 that excludes membership to those on the permanently banned list.
"But it all starts with Pete," Morgan had said. "He's got to come clean. I'm sure he liked hearing the fans cheering for him. But that ovation isn't going to get him into the Hall of Fame. He's got to make it right. It's up to him."
The executive said Selig wanted a resolution "sooner rather than later." Rose recently approached a person involved in baseball's investigation and said, "Give me a second chance," another baseball executive said, also on the condition of anonymity.
Rose applied for reinstatement in September 1997 but Selig hasn't ruled on it, saying he hasn't seen a reason to alter the ban. Still, he has twice allowed Rose to participate in pregame on-field promotions at World Series games. Other than that, Rose may not be in areas not accessible to fans.
When the Reds asked for permission this year to allow him to appear in the final game at Cinergy Field, Selig turned them down.
"I knew there's been conversations going on," John Allen, the team's chief operating office, said Tuesday. "It was a difficult situation for the Reds to be put in when we requested permission for the final game at Cinergy. We were denied, then two weeks later at the World Series - that was a very difficult situation. Whether that prompted some conversations, I don't know."
Luken wrote to Selig on Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, asking for a meeting on Rose. Luken wants Rose reinstated in time for the April opening of the Great American Ball Park, the Reds' new home.
"Whatever the crime, time has been served," Luken wrote. "Whatever agreements were signed years ago are irrelevant today."
Asked about his letters Tuesday, Luken said, "It seemed unfair that Pete Rose was allowed to participate in the World Series but not to come to his home town to participate in ballpark activities."
Baseball figures have been divided on Rose.
"I've always liked Pete," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said Tuesday night. But when asked if Rose should be reinstated, Steinbrenner responded: "I'm not going to get into that."
Rose was investigated by baseball starting in February 1989 while manager of the Reds. John Dowd, who headed the inquiry for commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, wrote a report that detailed 412 baseball wagers between April 8 and July 5, 1987, including 52 on Cincinnati to win. Dowd cited evidence that included betting slips alleged to be in Rose's handwriting, and telephone and bank records.
After a legal challenge, Rose agreed to the lifetime ban Aug. 23.
"One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts," Giamatti said.
While the agreement contained no formal finding of guilt, Giamatti said "in the absence of a hearing and in absence of evidence to the contrary ... yes, I have concluded that he bet on baseball."
Giamatti died of a heart attack on Sept. 1, 1989, and Fay Vincent, who had headed the investigation as deputy commissioner, took over. Vincent said Tuesday that Rose should be forced to admit he bet on baseball as a condition for reinstatement.
"Without that statement that he did it, I would be very disappointed," Vincent said.
Dowd wasn't sure reinstatement would be the correct decision.
"I would be very careful before I put him back," he said. "I guess I come down on the side of history. To me, you can't have someone back in baseball unless they've cleaned it all up and have it all straightened out. If you don't, you have the game in jeopardy. What do you do with the bookmakers he's ever dealt with? What do you do with the people he owes money? Has he reconfigured his life?"