MERIDEN, Conn. — The black bat rests on red velvet in a polished cedar case. Four strips of adhesive tape on the handle are worn where the hitter's hands once rested.
Below the bat a proclamation reads: "On Aug. 11, 1986 Pete Rose used this bat to go 5-for-5 against the San Francisco Giants at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. It was the 10th time in Pete's career that he'd hit safely five times in a game, thereby breaking the previous N.L. record."
In the lower right corner of the case, there is a videocassette tape -- "Baseball The Pete Rose Way, Learn Baseball From a Living Legend."
The tape has toppled from its upright position.
Much the same way Pete Rose has fallen in recent weeks. Rose, the Cincinnati Reds' manager, is under investigation by the commissioner's office for, among other things, possibly betting on baseball games. His appetite for gambling has been documented as much as his hitting heroics once were.
Ron Maslowski, owner of a video store, placed the Rose tape in the case after he won the bat at a video convention raffle in Las Vegas in 1986.
Maslowski said Embassy Video, which made the Rose video, raffled off a Rose glove, an autographed ball and the bat at the convention. Maslowski was told Embassy paid $4,000 for the bat.
"They told me to put (the bat) in the hotel safe," Maslowski said.
When he returned home, he wanted his customers to see the bat, but took similar precautions.
"I had this case made with the plexiglass cover and had it set on the wall," Maslowski said. "I probably could take the case apart, but it would be difficult. It's in there solid.
"Somehow the tape has fallen since then. Maybe somebody is trying to tell me something."
The message to part-time Connecticut baseball collectors, such as Maslowski, and to those whose business is baseball memorabilia, is to be wary of Rose items.
The Internal Revenue Service reportedly is investigating whether Rose fully reported income from Pik Six wagers at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., and income from the sale of personal memorabilia.
Although Rose prides himself on his achievements, he has sold many of his baseball possessions, including his diamond-studded Hickok Belt for being the outstanding professional athlete in 1975.
During the last two weeks, it has been reported that five to 10 people have the bat that Rose used in 1985 when he set the major league record with his 4,192nd hit.
Maslowski hopes his Rose bat is the real thing. He believes it is, but he has doubts.
"When my wife Ronnie and I went to the convention, it was only one week after Rose went 5-for-5," Maslowski said. "I didn't think much of it then. But, now I wonder: 'Why would a player want to sell off this bat so quickly, one that he should keep forever?' Did he need $4,000 quickly? Was it all part of a gambling payoff? I don't know. God only knows the reason and if the bat is legitimate."
Neil Robert Sakow, owner of Neil's American Dream Museum in West Hartford, Conn., said that he has about 7 million baseball cards in his museum and "hundreds of thousands" of baseball mementos. He said he sold a Rose rookie card in early April for $800.
Cards are fine. But when the merchandise changes to Rose memorabilia, Ray Karaban, owner of Ray's Card Corner in Seymour, Conn., is reluctant to engage in that business.
"I heard that three or four years ago Rose was selling off his stuff," Karaban said. "Rose often would change his hat and uniforms between innings and then give them to a clubhouse kid to sell. It doesn't surprise me at all now to read about his selling of his memorabilia."
Karaban has only one Rose memento in his store: an autographed 1975 Reds bat that also has Carl Yastrzemski's autograph. Rose was the Most Valuable Player of the '75 World Series between the Reds and the Boston Red Sox.
Sakow said that Rose would not be the first ballplayer to sell duplicate items.
"You hear about there being duplicate shirts, caps and bats with Rose," Sakow said. "Unless I get a memento first-hand from the player or from someone I have complete trust in, I stay away from Rose memorabilia. It's a crap shoot. I pride myself at having blue-chip items. I don't consider the Pete Rose stuff in that class."
Maslowski's bat has the Mizuno label, the brand Rose used in 1986. The end of the barrel has get-the-mud-out-of-your-spikes scuffs. Pete Rose's autograph and the Aug. 11, 1986 date are written on the barrel.
Beneath Rose's autograph, the Mizuno label reads: "Genuine Pete Rose."