Pete Rose, who hasn't entered a batter's box in nearly three years, spent the first half of the 1989 season shoving the rest of baseball into the on-deck circle.
Since the commissioner's office announced its investigation of the Cincinnati manager March 20, the Rose saga has evolved into the pulp novel that won't go away. Hounded by media, saluted by fans and portrayed as a compulsive gambler in John Dowd's 225-page report to Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, baseball's all-time hit leader will find no respite during the All-Star break.
The plaintive Ballad of Pete Rose has drowned out baseball's other voices during a first half of drama and mirth. You know it's been a memorable half-season when Frank Robinson is smiling, Mike Schmidt is crying and Nolan Ryan is still smokin'. Add one managerial firing, a dozen key injuries, several exciting rookies, a $427.5 million stadium and the longest night in National League history and it's obvious there's been a whole lot of shakin' goin' on between the lines.
'I can look you straight in the eye right now and deny I ever bet on baseball and I never bet on Cincinnati Reds' baseball,' said Rose June 20. Dowd's investigation offers voluminous refutation, alleging, 'extensive betting activity,' by Rose between 1985-87.
For a while, Rose managed to redirect attention from his gambling habits to Giamatti's sense of fairness, but even his popularity in Cincinnati began to wane as new charges aired daily. Baseball's most intriguing scandal in 70 years continues to dominate the sports page as Rose battles for his place in Cooperstown.
The Baltimore Orioles have provided some of the game's most heartwarming moments on the field, just one year after a humiliating campaign. Losers of a record 21 straight games to open the '88 season, the Orioles are perched atop the somnambulant American League East - where a .500 record is a mark of distinction.
'This will only continue if the other clubs cooperate,' says Robinson, who has deftly blended youthful exuberance and a magnificent defense to create a tantalizing baseball souffle. 'If they continue to struggle and let us hang around, we'll be there.'
While journeyman catcher-turned-slugger Mickey Tettleton symbolizes the revival in Baltimore, a legitimate superstar ended an era in Philadelphia. Mike Schmidt, perhaps the premier third baseman in major-league history, retired May 29 with 548 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves and countless memories of hitting game-winning homers deep into the night.
'I feel like I could ask the Phillies to keep me on to add to my statistics, but my love for the game won't let me do that,' Schmidt said during an emotional farewell speech. Another veteran third baseman, Buddy Bell, retired last month with 2,500 hits and six Gold Gloves.
The dominant player through the All-Star break has been San Francisco left fielder Kevin Mitchell, who hit 25 homers and drove in 72 runs before July despite the lack of a quality No. 5 hitter behind him. After bouncing from the Mets to the Padres to the Giants in a two-year span, Mitchell has emerged as the game's most feared slugger and combines with All-Star first baseman Will Clark in an awesome run-producing tandem.
Injuries have decimated several clubs and a competitive All-Star squad could be drawn just from performers sidelined for much of the first half. AL MVP Jose Canseco, arrested this spring for carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol in his red Jaguar, has been unable to wield his customary weapon -- a massive bat -- because of an injured left wrist. The world champion Los Angeles Dodgers are floundering, offering a listless attack without National League MVP Kirk Gibson for long stretches.
Detroit's Jack Morris, the winningest pitcher of the decade, is not expected back until August due to his first serious arm problem. Other members of the All-Disabled team: Kansas City's George Brett, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter of the New York Mets, Oakland's Dennis Eckersley, Marty Barrett and Ellis Burks of Boston, Minnesota's Kent Hrbek, Todd Worrell of St. Louis and Cincinnati's Kal Daniels.
The Chicago Cubs, led by flamboyant reliever Mitch Williams, have remained close in the NL East despite injuries that wiped out their entire starting outfield. Division rival Pittsburgh is still trying to recover from the elbow injury that deprived the Pirates of bullpen closer Jim Gott. Montreal acquired three-time strikeout champion Mark Langston from Seattle May 25 and the Expos could have enough pitching to hold off the stumbling Mets.
The Phillies, dwelling predictably in the East basement, may have determined both NL pennant races with a pair of trades. Center fielder Juan Samuel could prove a needed catalyst for the Mets while 1987 Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian turns San Francisco's bullpen from a question mark to an exclamation point.
Mitchell and Clark have led the Giants' charge in the NL West, but injuries are threatening to decimate Roger Craig's pitching staff for the second straight season. Forty-year-old Rick Reuschel of the Giants and Houston's Mike Scott, 34, are turning in Cy Young seasons while the Astros have also received a lift from rookie catcher Craig Biggio. The Reds are treading water despite a sensational start by shortstop Barry Larkin as Danny Jackson -- a 23-game winner last year -- struggles for mere respectability.
The National League's major first-half disappointment toils in San Diego, where manager and eager trader Jack McKeon is still waiting for the phone to ring. While McKeon bellows, 'Let's Make a Deal,' his club sinks in the West and bellicose Jack Clark lashes out in all directions except the outfield fence.
While the Orioles broke quickly in the AL East, Toronto's 12-24 getaway frustrated General Manager Pat Gillick. Manager Jimy Williams, asked in spring training what he liked best about the new Blue Jay uniforms, quipped: 'The fact that I have one.' Not anymore. Williams was fired May 15 and Cito Gaston was named interim manager. Sixteen days later, Toronto's former batting instructor got the job for good, becoming the fourth black manager in major-league history.
Detroit's anticipated demise finally materialized and Manager Sparky Anderson was forced to take a two-week leave of absence for exhaustion. 'Inside, I die a thousand deaths after a loss,' says Anderson, who is trying to avoid 100,000 deaths this season.
Rookies sparkled in the AL West, led by Seattle outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., Kansas City reliever Tom Gordon and California left-hander Jim Abbott. Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa has craftily juggled his lineup and he landed a dynamic leadoff hitter when Rickey Henderson returned to the A's June 21. The Angels have stayed close with surprisingly strong pitching while Bo Jackson has sparked the Royals by taking aim on Canseco's 40-40 season of 1988.
Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco have triggered Texas into contention while Minnesota's imposing batting order tries to overcome a dismal starting rotation. Frank Viola, last year's Cy Young Award winner, signed a $7.9 million contract April 20 ... when he was saddled with an 0-3 record and 5.54 ERA.
Four pitchers, including the remarkable Ryan, took no-hitters into the ninth inning during the first two months and hitting was down markedly in the NL. The year's most bizarre game came June 3 as Houston downed Los Angeles 5-4 in 22 innings. The longest night game in NL history (7:14) used 12 dozen baseballs and ended with Dodger third baseman Jeff Hamilton on the mound and Fernando Valenzuela on first base. Houston's Glenn Davis slept overnight in the trainer's room at the Astrodome before Houston completed a marathon assault the next afternoon by edging the Dodgers 7-6 in 13 innings.
Baseball's future was on display June 5 in Toronto as a sellout crowd of 48,378 attended opening day at the SkyDome, a $427.5 million structure that houses a luxury hotel with rooms overlooking the field. Milwaukee spoiled the festivities with a 5-3 triumph, but Blue Jay fans with deep pockets could satisfy their hunger by downing a hot dog from the concession stand.
The mustard is free. The hot dog costs $6.50. Bon apetit. adv.