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Latest Pete Rose scandal finds Phillies in the fire

Vincent Vega said it best in “Pulp Fiction.”

“But still, I have to say, you play with matches, you get burned.”

Well, the Phillies played with one of the quickest-igniting matches there is in Pete Rose when the team announced it would induct Rose into its Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame during an event scheduled for Aug. 12, less than two weeks away.

Recent reports detail court documents that a woman claimed to have sex with Rose before she turned 16, and while he was in his 30s. Rose alleges the relationship began when the woman was 16, which is legal age in Ohio. Also, this was about four decades ago, long gone from the statute of limitations in Ohio. Now the Phillies are faced with a grave decision to make before Charlie Hustle’s date for induction to the Phillies Wall of Fame.

First, let’s not belittle the unidentified woman’s accusation or the mental anguish it could have put a young woman through 40 years ago. These are serious accusations that paint Rose’s sexual activities as questionable at their most charitable, disgustingly illegal at their most damning.

In the past 20 years, few public figures have incited such a splintered debate as Rose. He’s a walking lightning rod. Most organizations and businesses shy away from Rose, and the Phillies marketing department waited until it had very few cards left to play to get people into the stadium before saying, “Let’s put Pete Rose in the Wall of Fame! We’ll sell out!”

And they will.

But the team had to have known the volatility with which something like scheduling Rose for induction into its Wall of Fame carries, and now it’s going to have to deal with it.

The team had evidence all would go smoothly. The Cincinnati Reds inducted Rose last year into its hall of fame, and it barely registered on the radar. He had seemed to turn a corner in remaking his image, with his studio commentator gig during the playoffs on Fox winning over fans. As always, where Rose went, eyeballs followed, as Fox set records for viewership. The Phillies obviously hoped for that kind of marketing boost without the normal Rose headaches.

So you can accuse the Phillies marketing department for being somewhat spineless in the first place for not taking the Rose gamble first, instead letting others tread in those Rose-infested waters first. But that’s exactly the way I would have played it, so you won’t hear that charge from me. Instead, the Phillies waited. And they have been burned just by sheer coincidence of timing (I’m not going conspiracy theory on the timing either – that’s a rabbit hole I’d never dig out of).

But from a crisis management standpoint, this couldn’t have happened at a more interesting time for the Phillies. The team is on the west coast for the next week and a half and the players won’t have to deal with the headache of answering countless Rose questions until they get home. They’ll receive a couple of those questions from the heavy-duty beat writers on the road with the team, but by the time the Phillies come back home for Alumni Weekend on Aug. 10, the players will have had plenty of time to be given talking points on this, and the front office will have come up with a clear plan on how to handle the hometown media.

But the fact remains that the Phillies were just schooled in Pete Rose 101. You don’t deal with him unless you’re ready to deal with the baggage he always seems to carry. If the team didn’t have a plan for how they would handle another Rose dust-up – whether that be deflecting or just canceling the ceremony altogether – then I blame the Phillies.

It’s the same kind choice the producers of this year’s “Daddy’s Home 2” had to come to when they cast Mel Gibson as Mark Wahlberg’s dad. What if he does something crazy the week before the movie opens? What if there is some long-unearthed revelation about another racist incident with another cop? At some point those producers said, “The potential benefit outweighs the potential cost.”

And that’s what the Phillies likely said. Make no mistake, while someone in the marketing department probably floated this idea, a move like this had to be signed off from on high. And if they were smart, the Phillies have had a plan to deal with something like this in place for months, or just have a whole different Plan B ready to unveil.

It will be interesting to see exactly what that plan is.

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