PLAINS TWP. — Pete Rose greeted each fan with a handshake. Most would respond with that most familiar of refrains.
“Hey, you’re gonna make it, Pete! You’re gonna make it to the Hall of Fame!”
“Can’t wait to see you in the Hall, Pete.”
“It’s where you belong.”
Baseball’s hit king has heard it countless times. These days, he has a fairly boilerplate answer.
“I’m not worried about it.”
Certainly the fan support is there for the Cincinnati Reds legend, who spent Saturday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Pocono, signing autographs for fans as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of harness racing at the track.
The hundreds of fans that filled a good portion of the racing lobby and extended far down the hall cheered when Rose came into view riding down the escalator to the signing event.
Rose’s exile from Cooperstown for betting on baseball as a manager and — as was revealed earlier this summer — as a player as well, still hasn’t thinned the crowds who come out to see him at public appearances.
What has changed, however, is Rose’s perspective on the situation.
The man who once aggressively campaigned for his inclusion in the Hall doesn’t want his life and his legacy to be defined on whether his ban is ever lifted.
“I don’t worry about that. I’m the one who messed it up,” the 74-year-old said before the event. “If I’m ever bestowed that honor, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world, OK? If you ask me would I like to be in the Hall of Fame, sure, everybody who plays baseball would like to be in the Hall of Fame.
“If I’m given a second chance, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. But I’m not gonna sit here in Scranton and complain about something that I screwed up.”
Of course, putting in a good word with the man who has the power to reinstate him doesn’t hurt.
Rose was able to meet with new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last month when the All-Star Game was in Cincinnati, where he was honored on the field with fellow Reds stars Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin and Joe Morgan.
“What I liked about the commissioner is that he seemed like he was a real fan, which I think is real important for a commissioner, to be a real baseball fan,” Rose said.
Rose was able to keep his sense of humor about the situation.
At one point, Morgan called Manfred by his first name when talking to him, which caught Rose off guard.
“Joe, did you just call him Rob?” Rose said.
Bench cut in and responded, “Yeah, me and Joe can call him Rob. You have to call him Mr. Commissioner.”
More than a month later, the line still draws a laugh from Rose.
Regardless of his future standing in the sport, Rose firmly believes that his cherished record of 4,256 hits will stand the test of time.
Asked if he thought that anyone would surpass him, Rose didn’t hesitate to answer.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Only two guys in all of baseball got 200 hits last year. … Players, they don’t worry about getting hits today. They worry about home runs. If somebody’s gonna beat my record, first of all, he’s gotta be a good player. Secondly, if he’s a good player, how are you gonna pay him for 21 years?
“If you’re a really good player, by the time you’re 35 or 36, you’ve got $100 million in the bank. You go live your life and have fun. You don’t want to play baseball until you’re 41, 42, 43. My last year, I was 45.”
Rose said that issue of longevity is why many of the sport’s most revered marks, like Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts, won’t be bested.
Still, Rose remains an avid fan of the modern game and its players. One of the reasons he travels around to meet with fans, he said, is to talk as much baseball as possible.
“I enjoy people. I’m always around people,” Rose said. “I work in Las Vegas 20 days a month, four-and-a-half hours a day, signing autographs. Always talking about baseball.
“I’m pretty good right now with support. Obviously I’m not the same guy today that I was 28, 29 years ago. But I keep my nose clean and do a lot of positive things. You may disagree, but I think I’m the best ambassador that baseball has.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse