King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Report: Pete Rose reinstated. A talk with one of the writers who broke the story. Plus: Jeremy Shockey's latest homophobic episode.

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The baseball analysis Web site Baseball Prospectus reported Monday that Pete Rose and Major League Baseball had reached an agreement that would allow the banned all-time hits leader to return to the game next year.

In a statement, Major League Baseball denied the report, calling it “journalistically irresponsible.” Chief operating officer Bob DuPuy called the Baseball Prospectus story “unsubstantiated and totally unfounded. The report is wholly inaccurate.” The Web site issued a statement standing by its story.

The article, written by Derek Zumsteg and Will Carroll and based on “reliable sources,” says that baseball will remove Rose from the permanently ineligible list, which would make him eligible for election into the Hall of Fame. Rose agreed to be placed on the ineligible list in 1989 for conduct detrimental to the sport. Baseball had been investigating allegations that Rose bet on baseball, which he continues to deny. The 1989 agreement did not include a finding by baseball or an admission by Rose that he bet on baseball.

Baseball Prospectus, which ordinarily runs articles offering sophisticated statistical analysis of baseball, reports that Rose’s new agreement was struck after a series of meetings last offseason involving Rose, his agent, Warren Greene, commissioner Bud Selig, DuPuy and Mike Schmidt, a former teammate who lobbied for Rose in his own Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 1995.

The new agreement would allow Rose to work for a major league club in 2004, though not in any job involving day-to-day operations, according to Baseball Prospectus. He would be allowed to hold any job, including manager, starting in 2005. The Cincinnati Reds are rumored to want to rehire Rose as their skipper. He managed the club from 1984 until his banishment, and he has expressed interest in managing again.

Baseball fans will probably argue forever about whether Rose bet on games or not, and if so whether he bet on his own team. There’s also probably no end to the arguments about whether reinstating him, putting him in the Hall of Fame or allowing him to manage are good or bad things. But fans have shown in poll after poll, and in their reaction to Rose at his rare appearances at baseball events, that reinstating him would be a popular move.

It would also create buzz, whenever Rose makes his return, and buzz sells tickets and increases TV ratings. Baseball has rarely shied away from anything that does those things. With nothing to go on but the Baseball Prospectus story and baseball’s denial, I believe the story.

I talked to Will Carroll, one of the story’s authors, Monday morning. Carroll and writer Joe Sheehan are full-time employees of Baseball Prospectus. The other writers, including Zumsteg, “have day jobs,” Carroll says.

Baseball Prospectus had an April Fool’s story this year praising Bud Selig. They’re arguing on the Baseball Primer bulletin boards about whether this is a joke too

It’s not a joke.

Who are your sources? I know you can’t name names.

I’ve got a source in Cincinnati, in the Reds organization, a source in the MLB offices and an independent outside-baseball source. We’ve been following this one since about Saturday. And then when Pete Rose said he had a deal in place, kind of hinted at it in “Sunday Night Conversation” on ESPN, we really went after it whole hog.

When is this deal going to go down?

The deal is already signed. It evidently was signed back in November.

What have they been waiting for?

They’re not going to announce it, supposedly — this was the original plan — until after the World Series, before the winter meetings, sometime in that time frame. You figure they’d try to avoid [announcing it at the same time they're announcing] the major awards. When Selig, Schmidt and Rose met in Chicago in November, everything was pretty much set. There was a later meeting between Rose, Warren Green, his agent, and Bob DuPuy, and evidently that’s where the agreement was put down on paper.

Assuming you got it right, what does breaking this story mean for your site?

I don’t know. I’m reasonably new at Prospectus. It was just too good a story to pass up. Obviously we’re not a news-breaking organization normally. There was a lot of debate [Sunday], saying, “We’ve got this information, what the heck do we do with it? How sure are we?” The editors vetted all the information. We went through about 50 different edits. It was just too good to pass up. I’m not one of the statistically oriented guys. I cover injuries, and there aren’t really stats on injuries, so I talk to a lot of trainers and front-office personnel, so I’ve been one of the first ones that most of my work is based on source information, so I hear a lot more things, and that’s really where this came up. I was actually trying to cover a waiver-wire story.

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Why do athletes talk to the press? [PERMALINK]

All over America, athletes are clamming up.

“I am going to be as plain as possible,” New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey said to reporters this week after not quite apologizing for calling Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells a “homo” in a magazine interview. “You’ll probably never hear me say an outrageous thing ever again. I’ll probably never talk to you again.”

I’ll believe it when I see it, but I can’t think of anything better for an athlete to do than shut his trap. In fact, when it comes to the media, shutting up is probably the best idea for almost anybody who isn’t actively trying to sell a product.

“I feel, in a situation like this, people should be quiet until something happens,” Allen Iverson said when reporters asked him about the Kobe Bryant case after the first Team USA basketball practice. “It’s just something I don’t like to discuss or want to discuss, because I’ve been through that in my own life,” he said, referring to being accused of a crime. “It’s just unfair to speak on it and say what I think. I just wouldn’t do it. I got respect for Kobe and I got respect for the alleged victim, and I won’t do that.”

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Allen Iverson isn’t talking about something. Imagine.

I’ve been sticking notebooks and microphones in people’s faces off and on for about 17 years and asking them all manner of questions, personal and otherwise, and it still never ceases to amaze me that almost everybody, famous and obscure, is willing to answer. Except for that rare person for whom publicity can help sell a product, pretty much nothing good can come of this, but they do it anyway.

I spent about a week recently trying to get a very famous athlete to talk to me for five minutes for a piece I was writing. I grumbled and cursed him the entire time for making my life difficult, but I also saw his point. What did he need me for? I was going to write some article about him that would be added to the giant pile of articles about him, and it would likely have no effect on his life.

But if it did have an effect, it would be a negative one. If he let something inflammatory slip out, or if I misinterpreted something so that it came across as inflammatory, he was going to have to deal with it, answer the same questions over and over, maybe issue an apology.

While this was going on — and it was only going on for me; the athlete was merely blowing me off without a second thought before finally sitting down for what turned out to be a pleasant chat — Emmitt Smith was apologizing and making excuses for telling Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that his last year with the Cowboys “felt like being a diamond surrounded by trash,” something that didn’t go over well with his former teammates.

King later wrote, in response to Smith’s charge that King had come to the interview with an “agenda,” that all he’d wanted to ask Smith about was the poor track record of great backs who changed teams late in their career. “But he threw me a detour by being so strident in his feelings about the Cowboys,” King wrote.

Is Emmitt Smith really so alone in this world that he has to unload his bitter feelings about his former team to a reporter? Couldn’t he have just had a beer with Alf?

Talking to a reporter is like handling a lit match. It can be useful, but it can also be dangerous, and if you don’t have a good reason to do it, you shouldn’t. I once spent most of a day with a boxer I was writing about. After his workout, he gave me a lift in his car. As we were driving, he began talking about his girlfriend, and his lavish praise of her — young love is a beautiful thing — included an admiring description of certain sexual feats of which she was capable.

It was young guys talking to young guys kind of stuff, no big deal, but I wanted to say to him, “Dude, I am not your friend. I am still a reporter even though you’re giving me a ride somewhere. You shouldn’t say this stuff to me.” I could have included those quotes and made him look like a terrific jerk. I didn’t, partly because I rarely say “Dude” but mostly because I didn’t think readers would be interested in this boxer’s sex life or what he had to say about it, not because I’m a good guy who wanted to protect him from himself. If Sugar Ray Leonard or Julio Cesar Chavez had said those things to me, I might have led with them.

Shockey is not a good candidate to take this lesson to heart. He had to make a half-hearted apology last year for homophobic comments he made on the Howard Stern radio show, and his apology this week was no less bogus. It’s pretty clear he has that casual, “I didn’t mean to hurt nobody” hatred for gay people that’s common among male athletes. He also seems to have an exaggerated opinion of himself — thanks in part to the media making so much of his decent but not great rookie season — and a fondness for being “outrageous,” so he’s likely to shoot his mouth off again at some point, and he’ll probably be just as surprised as ever that his offensive remarks have actually offended people.

But most athletes get this whole thing, and that’s one of the reasons they tend to utter bland clichés when they do open their mouths. Another is that many of them are simply dull people.

The fan side of me likes it when athletes say outrageous or even just halfway interesting things, though I’m certainly tired of homophobic insults being passed off as free-spirited, “outrageous” individuality. Players who shoot from the hip — Charles Barkley heads this very short list, but Barry Bonds is on it when he forgets that he’s been trying to be nice the last few years — are more fun than the ones who don’t want to make waves.

But those guys are rare, and that’s why I always love it, as both a sportswriter and a fan, when an athlete proclaims he’s never going to speak to the press again. Good for you and good for everyone else, I think. No more idiotic, offensive insults from you — for that’s what almost always leads to this vow — and no more banalities for us to sit through in between those insults.

The thing is, they never keep the promise. They always start yakking again. Steve Carlton, the great left-handed pitcher, is the only star athlete I can think of who said he was going to shut up and then really did.

When he next sticks his foot in his mouth, the Giants or the NFL will probably ask Shockey to take some kind of sensitivity training. They ought to just send him to talk to Lefty.

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