By Nathan MaybergSUSSEX — Pete Rose's mythical status has only grown in the last 26 years that he has been banned from baseball.
The game's career hits leader, he has been barred from the sport and kept off the Hall of Fame ballot since he was accused of betting on games he managed.
Rose has since admitted to betting on the games but remains among a group of great baseball players who have been kept out of the Hall for off the field transgressions.
Like Shoeless Joe Jackson before him, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens after him, his accomplishments on the field easily put him in the Hall of Fame.
But like the others, his activities off the field have cost him a place among the game's pantheon.
For many of the 300 or so folks who lined up at Franklin Sussex Automall on Saturday and stood in line for more than an hour to get a free autograph of him, the past is the past.
He should be in the Hall, they said. His achievements on the diamond should be recognized, they said.
Anthony Bak, of Stockholm, brought his two children with him to meet Rose.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Bak said.
"As a player, it was a treasure watching him."
Cobb holds one of the game's most important records, the most career hits. He passed Ty Cobb for that title in 1985 when he swung for his 4,192nd hit. He has 4,256 for his career though Cobb's .367 batting average is 64 points better than Rose.
Rose's appearance and autograph signing was secured by the auto dealership, giving locals a free meet and greet with the three-time batting champ, three-time Gold Glove winner and three-time World Series winner.
In addition to getting a signed glossy 8 x 10 of Rose provided by the dealership, fans took pictures with the former Reds, Phillies and Expos hitter.
Rose gladly signed the autographs and took pictures though he declined to take questions from a newspaper reporter.
Fans showered Rose with applause at the sight of his appearance.
Cathy Bell, of Rock Tavern, NY, was brought to tears.
"It's unbelievable," she said.Bell wore a Reds jersey, held a Reds handbag, a 1977 Reds yearbook and wore red shoes.
Why did she grow up in the Bronx and root for Rose and the Reds?
"My red hair," she said.Veronica Bautista kissed his hand. She was thrilled to get his autograph for her son Tony, who lives in Florida.
Judging by the Mets crowd, a player from the 1969 or 1986 teams might do nearly as well as Rose.
One fan, brought her two dogs dressed in Mets uniforms.
Cliff and Clara Tooker, of Sussex, were dressed up in their own Mets gear .
Cliff has been a fan of Rose since he started playing in 1963. Cliff rooted for the New York Giants before that.
"I've never seen anybody hustle like that," he said.
Cliff was among about a half dozen Mets fans who reminded Rose about fighting Bud Harrelson in a dustup at second base in the 1973 National League Championship Series.
"I was a little mad," Cliff said. "I forgave him."
One fan asked Rose about beating up Harrelson.
"I didn't beat him up," Rose replied.
Billy McNeir, varsity golf coach at Lenape Valley High School, mentioned golf to Rose and got a surprise.
Rose pulled out his iPhone and showed McNeir video of his grandson swinging the golf club.
McNeir complimented the swing of Pete Rose III.
"I guess those lessons are paying off," Rose said.
McNeir said it was a "pleasure to see a legend."
Al Best, of Hillsborough, asked Rose for advice for young baseball players. "Be aggressive," was Rose's reply.
Rose was banned from baseball for life in 1989 by former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti for betting on baseball games while he managed the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980's. He also was jailed for income tax evasion.
Betting on baseball is perhaps the game's most unforgiving prohibition since 1920 when Chicago White Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series.
Shoeless Joe Jackson, who still holds the third best batting average ever, batted .375 in the World Series that year, but admitted to taking money from the gamblers and was banned from the game along with seven other teammates. He was never elected to the Hall of Fame.
Baseball's new commissioner Rob Manfred, is reportedly reviewing Rose's request to be reinstated into baseball or be given consideration into the Hall of Fame.
"He played as hard as anybody who ever played the game," said Allen Gross of Scotch Plains.