Hit King Helps Offer Players Second Chance
By Nick Magaña, Special to Money Sports
Labor Day was all about giving back to the game for former major leaguer Pete Rose during a baseball event held at the University of California, Irvine.
Rose teamed up with Money Baseball League for the inaugural MBL Tournament; an amateur baseball competition that offers a cash award and a coveted opportunity to play in the presence of professional baseball scouts.
“It’s not the big leagues, we all know that,” said MBL Ambassador Pete Rose looking onto the field from his seat in the bleachers behind home plate at UC Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark. “But there is so much good baseball being played today that does not necessarily take place in the big leagues… and this league is all about getting these guys to compete for a payday, while helping overlooked talent get to the next level.”
Unlike Major League Baseball’s continued rigid stance on keeping him out from Hall Of Fame eligibility, Charlie Hustle’s recent endeavor does represent a second chance for many unsigned, released and collegiate ballplayers that were never drafted.
Far from depictions of a vociferous, unpredictable chatterbox he’s often portrayed as in media, Rose patiently watched the tournament with genuine interest, poised to see players succeed.
“It was a huge honor to have Pete around us the entire day and hand us our prize check; he even helped us celebrate on the field,” said Marvin Horn, 39, of the triumphant L.A. Skunks, who also had stints in the minor leagues with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. “He kept us pumped up and made us all feel like big-leaguers for a day.”
A Different Playing Field
At 72, Rose is still adamant about visiting dugouts to give players advice realizing scouting trends change. He stresses the importance of exposure; getting a shot to showcase playing ability which he said has become incredibly difficult since he came up.
“If I was trying to make the pros today, I would not have been looked at,” explained Rose concerning his early-career size disadvantage and why he supports this league. “I was 165 pounds when I started and scouts today are looking for physical specimens; they don’t measure heart, which is as important as talent.”
He shared that he was fortunate to know a scout that took a chance on him. Also, that not everyone gets that. He converted that chance into a career that would yield the Rookie of the Year award, Most Valuable Player honors, multiple batting titles and three World Series rings as part of the Cincinnati Reds ball club; accomplishments many argue make him HOF-worthy if not for his expulsion.
“That’s the beauty about MBL, a league that extends that window for players to get a chance,” articulated Rose. ”It allows players to dream and that’s a good thing for baseball.”
Besides his unwavering passion for the sport, it is the toolbox he brings to this league that has MBL organizers elated. His knowledge of the game from scouting to coaching and the business side to being in a player’s shoes favorably sets Rose apart.
“Pete’s experience and success at the highest playing level is invaluable to us,” said Tighe Curran, MBL managing director. “We are humbled that he sees the opportunities this league can provide players.”
Positivity Amidst Scrutiny
Participating in this ambitious baseball venture begged asking whether it was for publicity or devotion to the game to which Rose quickly shot back at.
“I don’t do it for you media guys and certainly not TMZ,” Rose firmly responded after learning of a TMZ report about him. “I learned a long time ago from Sparky Anderson to do things that come from the heart.”
He referred to visiting children in hospitals with Hall of Fame manager George Lee Anderson who never announced off-field activities to the press.
Exhibiting a charitable demeanor, a side of Rose media doesn’t often appear privy to, he added, “If I can bring a smile to someone facing a hardship, why would I need a film crew? People who do that are selfish!”
Despite garnering attention for off-field antics, such as recent commentary gone-wrong on a radio show and a tax evasion allegation reported by TMZ, the resilient Rose is determined to stay positive through the calamity that ensues around him publicly.
“The media is always looking for a villain, but let’s talk about Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout and the resurgence of the Pittsburg Pirates in MLB.” stated Rose enthusiastically. “They should focus on those good things instead of trying to uncover cheap news.”
He acknowledged making mistakes, owning them and moving on. Moreover, Rose thwarted a recent tax related accusation offering critics clarification that it is in fact, connected to property from a previous marriage; someone he is no longer responsible for. Although he has proven to resolve tax matters in the past, he feels that media thrives on negativity; making a fuss concerning the matter, whereas his focus today is on positively impacting those around him through projects such as MBL who he is representing.
Both positivity and effort led to a successful first tournament in the eyes of Rose and MBL management. But they realize there are challenges in delving into unchartered waters with this first-of-its-kind league.
”There may have been skepticism when we started the league,” said Jason Cly, co-founder of MBL. “But with the team we’ve assembled, which includes Pete alongside former ball players from various levels, we’ve received amazing feedback from our first event and look forward to our second event in Las Vegas.”
Currently, amateur adult baseball leagues operating throughout the nation only offer players trophies. Having done thorough market research and carving a niche to offer players a more enticing reward, the Woodland Hills-based MBL team said they are just as excited as participants to see how big the league will grow. They eagerly await to find out how large cash prizes will get with a business model comparable to the popular ‘World Series of Poker’ tournaments in that ‘the more participants there are, the bigger the cash pot becomes’ for players.
After fans were treated to a contentious 12-team series filled with ‘whiffs’ from fastball pitches and the distinct ‘crack’ from wooden bats connecting, the L.A. Skunks emerged victors. They were greeted by shaken champagne-bottle showers as they walked off the field. But before the excitement settled, the hit-king himself presented them a king-sized $15K prize check. To cap the closing festivities, sponsors, fans, even kids wearing red jerseys displaying “Let Him In” alluding to the issue of Rose being kept out of the HOF, joined ballplayers for a picture session. The jubilant scene was reminiscent of a past baseball era when championship celebrations included spectators running onto the field; a scene as old-school as Rose’s heyday.
Rose and Money Baseball League now look forward to their December 2013 tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. Staff already reports increased interest from sponsors and participating teams. With a purse estimated to exceed $50K for winning teams, even more eager participants are expected to play for a pot decided by sweat and exceptional skills demonstrated on baseball turf and not luck like in Sin City’s casinos just down the street from their event site.
While Rose now helps tournament players ‘hold destiny in their own hands,’ the same, ironically, cannot be said about his. He holds the all-time hits record. But it is uncertain if Rose will ever receive a second chance from MLB who dealt him a lifetime ban in 1989 for gambling, making him ineligible to be voted into baseball’s prestigious HOF; despite public pleas by supporters.
“All I need is a second chance, I won’t need a third,” said the jovial 17-time All-Star who remains on the outside looking in as a result of the costly blemish on his resume, wandering if his chance to get to Cooperstown will arrive.
At some point, pro baseball will have to deal with blemishes piling up surrounding scandals of another sort, drugs. The severity of present-day player misconduct goes beyond declining values; it is actually altering records. Perhaps that forces the league to establish a moral meter to judge ballplayers by. It may favor Rose. But for however long Rose’s ban lasts, it will not stop the controversial ex-ball player from reaching out to aspiring talent.
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