-- This is how it ends. Not with a line drive up the gap and a belly flop into second base. Not with the magical weekend in Cooperstown, New York, that once seemed so inevitable for the great Peter E. Rose. Not with crowds roaring, tears flowing or cameras clicking.
No, no, no, no, no. This was how it ended for the Hit King on an otherwise nondescript Monday in December:
With a phone call from the commissioner. With a press release to the media. With a long, unemotional statement from Rob Manfred, at his lawyerly best, detailing why he couldn't possibly grant Rose the reinstatement he had been so desperately awaiting since 1989.
"In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life," the commissioner wrote.
Bam. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
So this is how it ends. This is it, the final chapter in one of the saddest tales in the history of sports, an epic, 30-year plunge from grace, the likes of which might never be duplicated -- not in the sports world and barely in the "real" world.
Try to wrap your brain around what happened here. Then compare it to what could have happened, what should have happened.
First, take a moment to dream about what should have happened. Take a moment to remember the American folk hero the Hit King should have been.
Remember the charisma of Rose at his best and brightest. Remember the easy smile and bottomless supply of one-liners. Remember the joy this man exuded with every swing, every headfirst slide, every trip across home plate, every trip to October.
Remember this was a man who got more hits than any player who ever lived, a man who became baseball's biggest star. Remember how he got there: with an all-American work ethic, with a motor that never turned off, with dust that never stopped swirling around him, with a fire that allowed him to will himself to the top of his sport.
That's the Pete Rose so many Americans rooted for. That's the Pete Rose who should have been selling the game and working his magic the past three decades. That's the Pete Rose so many baseball fans wanted to believe would walk into Rob Manfred's office and charm his way back into his sport's good graces.
How sad is it Manfred never met that man -- couldn't find him anywhere he searched, in fact? How sad is it that the man Manfred spent the past year investigating was a very different character, a man the commissioner clearly couldn't bring himself to cheer for?
This Pete Rose was still denying irrefutable evidence that he bet on baseball as a player in 1985 and 1986. This Pete Rose was admitting to the commissioner that he still placed bets on professional sports -- and one of the sports he bet on was (oh no) baseball.
This Pete Rose was still trying to convince himself that the things that got him into this mess never really happened. This Pete Rose had made no attempt, even after all these years, to avoid the very behavior that swallowed him up in the first place.
This Pete Rose, Manfred wrote, left baseball with no faith that he now has a "mature understanding" of what he did wrong. Or that he had "accepted responsibility for it." Or that he had any grasp of "the damage he has caused."
How could this commissioner -- or any commissioner -- reinstate this man? Manfred couldn't. Bud Selig couldn't. And if Rose believes Bart Giamatti would have seen this any differently, the alternate universe the Hit King is living in is farther from Earth than we ever imagined.
What Rose does believe, his friends say, is Giamatti wanted him to find his way back into this sport one day. The door was left open for Rose to reconfigure his life, his theory goes, so reinstatement could be possible.
That's why what happened Monday was doubly sad. This is a man who had so many opportunities over so many years to save himself. It's too bad he never knew how.
If that door was open, he could never find it. He could never say the right words to point the way. He could never do the right things to light the path.
And then ... the sound he heard Monday was the door slamming on him. Forever.
Thirty years ago, Rose slapped to left the single off Eric Show that left him alone atop baseball's mountain of hits. On Monday morning, he answered a phone call from the commissioner of baseball that left him alone on an island he swam to all by himself.
This is how it ends. With a phone call, a press release and a thud. Many, many years ago, Pete Rose accepted a lifetime ban from the sport he loves. Only now does he truly understand that he had only one lifetime to do the things he could have done to overturn it.