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The Rose not taken

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Once, a very long time ago, the Mariners failed to make a big mistake.

blue phase
blue phase
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Thirty-two years ago, an anonymous AP copywriter tossed together 62 words, meant to pad a column in the back of the sports page if the local news turned up light. It was an article meant to be seen, not read: a justification of a headline, a tweet before its time. 62 words that described not even a thing, but the absence of a thing, a single future closed off, the sort of non-revelatory rumor that only comes out in the dark of January.

Mariners Drop Out Of Bidding for Rose

SEATTLE, Jan. 14— The Seattle Mariners have taken themselves out of the bidding for Pete Rose.

''Even though it is Pete Rose, who could have done a lot for us, it is still rent-a-player,'' said Chuck Armstrong, president of the American League team. ''And we want the Mariners out of the rent-a-player business. It is time to develop our own stars.''

Pete Rose was at one time, maybe, almost a Seattle Mariner.

Rose had just completed a four-year, $3.2 million contract with the Phillies, at one point the highest-paid player in baseball. By then he was a first baseman who had hit zero home runs the previous year and would turn 43 when the season started. But teams still wanted him because they knew he could get on base, he had those scrappy intangibles, and most of all, he was Pete Goddamned Rose.

It was thought to be between the Angels or the M’s, but Armstrong bowed out. Part of it was the hangover of Gaylord Perry, who won the heart of the city and his 300th game in his first year with the club, but faded badly on his second encore in 1983. Part of it was the opportunity cost; the team had a kid named Alvin Davis tearing up Triple-A. Part of it was the cost, especially after the team had already gotten its first big superstar in Gorman Thomas a month before in trade. It was always the cost.

Whatever the reasoning, it was the correct choice. Rose wound up signing with Montreal for $700,000, still a hefty amount in those days, and put up sub-replacement numbers for half a year before the Expos gave him to the Reds. Davis won Rookie of the Year playing first and Ken Phelps, in his first real action at the age of 29, was even better at DH. And for all of it, the Mariners were still more than a year away anyway. (They were ten years away, technically.)

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But more than anything else, we were spared the cognitive dissonance of Pete Rose, Seattle Mariner: the discomfort of seeing that paunchy face and those wavy sideburns pouring out from under a blue and gold cap, the momentary association. January 14, 1984 was a dark time for the Mariner franchise: the goodwill of a fun 1982 team, the belated first step forward, was decimated by regression and poor decisions. The Kingdome's artificial turf was already fading to pale green, and the fiscal conservatism of owner George Argyros appeared as steadfast as it was unending. Rose ultimately posed a choice: to create a handful of moments, or to create a baseball team.

Rose did earn his 4,000th hit wearing the red, white, and blue - but what would ordinarily be a joyous, unforgettable milestone seemed anticlimactic with Ty Cobb less than two hundred away. But even though Rose emblazoned himself in his sad exile with the crimson of his first and final team, there would be that residual knowledge that, even for just one dark moment, baseball’s cartoon villain had been our mascot prince, our pathetic pride.

Pete Rose was almost a Mariner. This is not the worst of all possible worlds.