CINCINNATI (AP) _ Pete Rose is a pizza man now.

Pepperoni. Sausage. Three cheese. They're all right there in the frozen foods section. Sometimes, so too is Pete, hawking the 12-inch ''Hit King'' pizzas wrapped in a picture of a baseball.

''The pizza business seems ready to explode,'' Rose says.

A few aisles over, you can get a jar of ''Charlie Hustle Cheese Dip,'' ''4,256 Picante Sauce,'' ''Batters Box Bar-B-Que Sauce'' or ''Stadium Style Corn Dog Sauce.'' All under Pete Rose's label. All for $2.99 a jar.

Coming soon: ''Hit King'' apparel and a second Pete Rose Ballpark Cafe in Florida. That's in addition to his sports talk show, carried by 100 stations in 30 states.

''A lot of good things are happening,'' Rose said.

Baseball? That's not one of them. Rose has made big inroads in the frozen foods case, but not in major league baseball or the Hall of Fame.

Five years after he inexplicably accepted a lifetime ban while denying he bet on baseball, the sport's all-time leader with 4,256 hits is still on the outside looking in. Rose can put his image on pizzas, but he can't get it on a plaque in Cooperstown.

That's one of his next marketing projects.

For the first time since his exile from baseball, Rose, 52, is planning his return. He's trying to figure out the best way to approach major league baseball and executive council chairman Bud Selig about reinstatement.

''I've started to think about it,'' he said, in a telephone interview from his restaurant in Boca Raton. ''I'm just trying to approach it in the right way so it's easy for everybody. I don't want to cause any lightning rod with the press. I don't want to cause anything with Mr. Selig - he has a lot of things on his mind.

''When we get ready to do that, we don't want a letter to be sent to somebody and it sits on the backburner for six months.''

Surely, he won't have to worry about that. His attempt to get back into baseball's good graces - the prerequisite for getting into the Hall of Fame - will stir up a lot of the questions that were put on hold when Rose left the game:

Did he bet on baseball? Rose says no; Bart Giamatti, the commissioner who banned him, said yes.

Does he have his gambling problem under control? Rose now says he never had a gambling problem.

Does any of what happened five years ago matter now? Giamatti said Rose would have to reconfigure his life before getting back into baseball. Rose believes he's done that.

''I imagine that means no more illegal gambling and watch your associations,'' Rose said. ''Based on what I was told to do, you do it with flying colors. That's all you can do. As far as I know, I don't think it ever came out of the commissioner's mouth why I was suspended.''

On the day Rose agreed to the lifetime ban - the penalty for betting on baseball - Giamatti told reporters he thought Rose had bet on baseball. Rose said he bet on other sports, but not baseball. Their agreement made no finding.

Then there's another touchy matter: Rose's gambling.

When he left the game, Rose insisted he had no gambling problem. A few months later, he said he was getting counseling from Dr. J. Randolph Hillard, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

At the time, Hillard said Rose had ''a clinically significant gambling disorder.''

''He has concluded that he is powerless before gambling, that he will begin an ongoing treatment program, and that he can never again gamble on anything,'' Hillard said.

Five years later, Rose has changed his mind. He says he occasionally places bets at race tracks and sees no problem with gambling once in a while as long as it's legal.

''The worst thing I ever did was admit I had a gambling problem,'' Rose said. ''You think you do because so many things happen to you. Then you go to a couple of Gamblers Anonymous meetings - I went to six or so - and you start to hear the stories and you say, 'What do I have in common with these people?' You say, 'Nothing.' ''

Hillard declined to talk about Rose's change of heart. But John Dowd, who investigated Rose for major league baseball, was saddened to hear it.

''It means he hasn't licked his problem,'' Dowd said. ''It's very sad. I think it's got a hold of him, did have a hold of him.''

Dowd also bristled at Rose sidestepping the reasons he got banned from baseball.

''It troubles me,'' Dowd said. ''I don't like it when people try to revise history. As long as I'm breathing, I'm not going to stand silent and let it happen. The facts are very, very strong.''

Rose has never had to confront everything in the Dowd report - the depositions, telephone records and betting sheets that reportedly contain his fingerprints and handwriting.

Rose has made amends for his tax problems - he served five months in jail, three months in a halfway house and did 1,000 hours of community service for failing to report income. Making amends with baseball might not be so easy.

Giamatti is dead. His successor, Fay Vincent, was forced out in 1992. There's no indication when baseball will have another commissioner.

The uncertainty doesn't seem to bother Rose, who goes about his new businesses, raises his family and polishes his legacy.

His image - in baseball uniform swinging a bat - adorns his products. When callers to his restaurant get put on hold, they hear a tape of Cincinnati Reds broadcasters Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall describing hit No. 4,192, which made him the game's all-time leader.

And he holds court on his nightly radio show.

''Being on radio here is sort of my way of going to the ballpark,'' he said. ''Here I talk to people every night - not just about baseball, but sports in general.

''It's not like I'm not in the game. I'm just not on the field.''

END ADV for Season Preview Editions