In what both men indicated was their first conversation in roughly two decades, Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine” of the 1970’s, and Pete Rose, his most public and most star-crossed player, visited together briefly in Cooperstown on the eve of baseball’s Annual Hall of Fame Inductions.
Surprised customers lining up for another Rose autographing session in one of the village’s many memorabilia shops saw Anderson, his slow purposeful gait forever familiar to veteran fans, amble into the store to re-build something of the bridge Anderson felt Rose had burned during the events that led to his banishment for gambling by the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti in August, 1989.
“You made some mistakes 20 years ago, Pete,” on-lookers heard Anderson say. “But that shouldn’t detract from your contributions to the game.” As shopowners tried to hurriedly shoo the customers out, Anderson was seen to tear up as he explained his wife had been urging him to “go talk to Pete” and he finally felt this was the time. Rose also seemed moist-eyed as he quietly thanked his former manager.
Although time has blunted its impact, Anderson took one of the most principled stances in baseball’s long history when, after the 1994 strike, he said he would not manage a 1995 Detroit Tigers team made up of replacement players. He was initially granted a leave of absence, then returned after the owners lost their court bid to impose new work rules on the players and dismissed the replacements. But after the ’95 season, Anderson resigned, never to again manage in the big leagues. There seems little to indicate Anderson was forgiving Rose his transgressions against the game, but those who saw it said it was no challenge to discern that the moment of contact was deeply moving to both men.
The events unfolded even as baseball celebrated the official Hall of Fame dinner honoring Sunday’s inductees, and the subsequent “dessert reception” inside the Hall itself, complete with red-carpet introductions and a public address system straight out of a Hollywood premiere from the 1930’s.
One image from the off-the-record proceedings merits inclusion, and stays within the rules (it was fully covered by the Hall’s official on-the-record photographer): That is indeed Rickey Henderson posing not by his plaque, but by where, within hours, his plaque will be, next to Jim Rice and Joe Gordon, in the class of 2009: