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My first thought was, Who on earth lit the fire under the San Diego Chicken's tailfeathers?
Anyone who watched Wrestlemania XV on Sunday would have had to admit that the Padres' prized poultry was in an uncharacteristically feisty mood that night.
First, something about guest referee Vinny Pazienza seemed to ruffle the chicken's feathers, prompting a scuffle that ended with Paz landing a knockout blow. The man in a zebra suit won out over the man in the chicken suit.
Then the chicken went after bigger game, namely Kane, the wrestler whose masked face resembles a slab of molten lava. Focusing on his impending match with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Kane shrugged aside this minor interference with the Tombstone, the wrestling move made famous by Kane's sometime brother, the Undertaker.
With his foe rendered momentarily senseless, Kane decided to unmask this pest.
To say that the interloper's identity was a surprise would be tantamount to saying that Duke's 1990 Final Four triumph over UNLV was a minor upset, for behind that mask was none other than baseball's career hit leader, Pete Rose.
Charlie Hustle exited the ring as ignominiously as he had entered it. This time, though, he was accompanied by the announcers' catcalls.
"I guess he thinks he's back in Cincinnati and Kane is Marge Schott!" one of them exclaimed.
Now, I'm as much of a pro wrestling fan as the next person. When the Rock kicked out of a Stone Cold Stunner on a two-count in the evening's championship match, I high-fived my friend Andy in amazement and excitement.
Furthermore, pro wrestling is gaining in respectability. Go to a music store and check out the plethora of wrestling-related CDs. Last week's TV Guide--a main-stream publication if there ever was one--featured different wrestlers on special collector's covers. And for the ultimate vindication, stop by the Minnesota governor's office.
But doggone it, there's something downright humiliating about a man who pounded out 4,256 major-league hits dressing up in a chicken suit to get pounded by wrestlers. Twice.
Rose isn't the first sports star to debase himself like this. The list of athletes who have stepped into the squared circle includes Lawrence Taylor, Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman, Reggie White and Kevin Greene. But unlike these stars, Rose can never go back to the sport that made him famous in the first place.
His previous appearance at a pro wrestling extravaganza--a cameo as a guest announcer at Wrestlemania XIV, held at the FleetCenter last March--actually provided a chuckle or two.
In a city still haunted by the outcome of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, Rose audaciously invoked the name of Bill Buckner. I had to regard his subsequent fate--getting Tombstoned by Kane, a possible premonition of Sunday's events--as sweet comeuppance for his cheekiness. Comeuppance, too, for his barreling into a petrified Denny Doyle to break up a potential double play in Game Seven of the 1975 Sox-Reds World Series epic.
But Rose's antics at Wrestlemania last week convinced me that he needs something better to do with his life--something that might mean a return to baseball. Exiling Rose from the major leagues is a waste of a human being.
Baseball has often regarded itself as loftier than society, and it treats those who have infringed upon its own rules (think Shoeless Joe) more harshly than those who have trespassed against the society that supposedly lies behind the game. Talk all you want about his gambling problems, but I won't see the merit of Rose's exile until Wil Cordero also gets the boot.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's been ten long years. Let Rose come back to baseball. Don't penalize teams who allow him to address young players who could benefit from his knowledge of the game, as well as learn from his errors.
And if Major League Baseball isn't going to lift its ban, it should at least find some means of sparing its most prolific hitter the indignity of battling wrestlers while dressed in a chicken suit.
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