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The Pete Rose circus stops in Bridgeport

Pete Rose Leads Bridgeport Bluefish To Victory” shouted the headline at the Bluefish website. “Rose manages to 2-0 victory” read the headline in the Connecticut Post, the Bluefish's hometown newspaper. And the hype wasn't limited to local media. “Pete Rose manages Bridgeport Bluefish for a day, not worried about reinstatement” trumpeted the New York Daily News. Even in Lancaster, PA, home of the opposing team, the headline read “Bluefish defeat Barnstormers for Rose.”

Rose hanging out at the batting cage before the game. "One guy hit three straight balls to centerfield. I asked him what he was doing... practicing sacrifice flies?"
Rose hanging out at the batting cage before the game. "One guy hit three straight balls to centerfield. I asked him what he was doing... practicing sacrifice flies?"
Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Pete Rose, MLB's all-time hits leader, is 'Fish for a Day. Don't be surprised to see him make a return engagement in the Park City in the foreseeable future.
Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

And, in truth, the Bridgeport Bluefish did defeat the Lancaster Barnstormers, 2-0, before 4,573 fans at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard on Monday night. And make no mistake: Pete Rose, MLB's disgraced all-time hit leader was in attendance—adorned in his familiar No. 14 on a Bluefish jersey … all the while wearing black dress slacks, a strange picture for sure.

But to infer, or worse yet, to come right out and say that Pete Rose “managed” the Bluefish last night—or that he had anything to do with the victory—is just plain silly.

For the record, the Bluefish snapped a four-game losing streak, and salvaged one game of the three-game series vs. Lancaster with the win.

It was just the fourth win in the last 10 games for the 'Fish, who are 12.5 games behind first-place Somerset in the first-half Atlantic League Liberty Division “race.”

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Going into the season, manager Willie Upshaw was adamant about how much he liked his team's chances and how he knew it would be competitive.

Guess not.

This non-competitive environment and lack of energy in the air is just just one reason that the Bluefish, once one of the Atlantic League jewel franchises, are dead last in attendance—as they have been in each of the last five year. This year, the 'Fish are drawing just over 2,500 fans per game—only 61 percent of the overall league average (4,169) and not even half of what the league's attendance leaders, the Sugar Land Skeeters, average on a daily basis (5,374). To put things in perspective, last night's attendance was about 1,000 less than the Skeeters and the Somerset Patriots draw on an average night. And between routine giveaways (Two-For Tuesdays, Buy-One-Get-One-Free Groupons, etc.), your guess is as good as mine as to how many of those 2,500 fannies actually paid full price seats.

Desperate for something to juice up his moribund franchise, Bluefish general manager Ken Shepard came up with a promotion that would make the late, great Bill Veek proud: Invite Pete Rose to manage the Bluefish on a one-game only basis. No discounts. No Groupons. Hell, all home games were broadcast on WGCH, 1490 AM in Greenwich. Not last night's however (which strikes me as extremely odd ... as if you could see Rose in the coaching box).

Nonetheless, it was an amazing bit of one-game promotional genius.

Rose, as we all know by now, was expelled from the game in 1989 for betting on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. And while it has never been proven that he bet on games involving the Reds, the late Bart Giamatti, then Commissioner of Baseball, said he was “sure” it happened.

So here we have a team desperate for a gimmick—any gimmick—to get paying fans into the ballpark, and one of baseball's true immortals (Rose is MLB's all-time hits leader—by a substantial margin), banished for life from the game he lived and breathed (including the Hall of Fame).

Can you say “Cha-chinnnnnnng!!!”?

So the gate was doubled for one game, and energy was infused into the ballpark, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Bluefish won their one and only Atlantic League championship in 1999—a simpler, more innocent time than we live in today.

But for anyone to think that this one-game gimmick will have any long-term affect on attendance in Bridgeport, well … that's nonsense. The Bluefish are destined to finish the season in last place (at least attendance-wise) because the team has been unable to come up with any compelling reason for people to come to the park.

They will have Fireworks after every Saturday night game starting soon, and that will help attract families with children. They also have the aforementioned 2-for-1 Tuesday promotions (including tonight); “Thirsty Thursdays” where domestic beers (that is, those brewed by Anheuser-Busch) are half-price; “All-You-Can-Eat Mondays” (one seat and all you can eat from the concessions for $19.99); and “Kids-Eat-Free Wednesdays” (all kids 12-and-under receive a voucher for a hot dog, a bag of chips, and a soda).

Sure, all these help draw perhaps a handful of fans to the game. But note the one thing the Bluefish are not promoting: BASEBALL.

So they reached out to the desperate deposed king, Pete Rose, who gladly accepted the invitation. But manager? Here's the extent of Rose's so-called “managing”: “I was watching batting practice from in back of the cage,” he said after the game, “and one of the players hit four straight balls to center field. So I asked him, 'What are you working on? Sac flies?'”

He also had a bevy of one-liners he shared with the assembled press core. After the game, one media representative asked him what he thought about Donald Sterling. The analogy was fairly obvious to anyone who is currently breathing: Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from having anything to do with the NBA for life after making racist comments. (Sterling has decided he will, indeed, be duking the matter out in court.) And, as we've previously mentioned, Rose was booted from baseball for gambling while he was a big-league manager.

“Who's Donald Sterling?” asked the man we all knew as “Charlie Hustle,” but now is basically nothing more than a hustler. “Oh, you mean the billionaire? All I can tell you is that my fiance (34-year-old Playboy model Kiana Kim) is a lot better looking than his girlfriend. (Sterling's so-called “girlfriend,” V. Stiviano, leaked the damaging recording made unbeknownst to Sterling that brought his empire down).”

Good one, Pete.

Oh, by the way, Rose is 73. There's lot more in common betwixt these two than meets the eye, methinks...

Rose's presence in Bridgeport was a one-time-only event … or was it?

Shepard was enamored of Rose. “For promotion, you want to sell as many tickets as you can,” he said. “It's a home run promotion for us.”

So what did last night's game mean for the future of pro baseball in Bridgeport? Not a blessed thing. Rose's presence brought 2,029 more fans to the ballpark than an "average" game. Setting the average walk-up ticket price at $12.50, that would men an extra $25,362.50 was brought in from ticket sales. That, of course doesn't count parking (which goes straight to the City of Bridgeport) or concessions. And let's not forget that out of that extra $25,000 came Rose's appearance fee. When asked after the game how much Rose was paid, Shepard simply answered, "a lot," and smiled.

The only thing that will assure a long-term presence in Bridgeport is for the fans to come out and support the team. The Bluefish wisely decreased ticket prices (albeit modestly) this season. But thus far, it hasn't made much of a difference at the turnstiles.

Shepard said that he'd like to do similar events in the future—perhaps inviting Hank Aaron, baseball's all-time pre-steroid-era home run leader—to manage the Bluefish for a night. But there are a few problems with this, so far as I can see: Having met Hank Aaron, I can tell you that he is a proud man. He hasn't offered to share is life with the Reality TV set. He isn't a hustler, and he isn't desperate.

But Rose sounded like he'd be open to a second date in the Park City.

“I really enjoyed myself tonight,” he said. “I love being around young players, and I think I pointed out a few things that might help them. I'd love to do something like this again.”

The ball's back in your court, Ken Shepard.

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