COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ A federal judge must decide whether the Cincinnati Reds are participants or spectators in Pete Rose's legal fight.

U.S. District Judge John D. Holschuh was to decide Monday whether the federal courts or a judge in Cincinnati should handle Rose's lawsuit against baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.

For more than a month, Rose's legal actions have kept the commissioner from deciding whether Rose bet on his own team - an offense that carries a possible lifetime ban. The question of which court hears Rose's case is pivotal.

Baseball wants the case in federal court, where judges previously have upheld the sweeping powers of the commissioner. Rose wants it kept in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, where Judge Norbert A. Nadel has shown willingness to set precedents in his decisions.

To keep the case in state court, Holschuh must rule that the dispute is between two entities that reside or do business in Ohio. That would involve one of two findings: that the case technically is between Rose and the Reds, an Ohio team; or that major league baseball is an unincorporated association doing business in Ohio through the Reds, thus subject to lawsuit in Ohio courts.

However, if Holschuh decides the dispute technically is between Rose and the commissioner of baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti, who lives in another state, then the federal courts could have domain.

Rose has blocked Giamatti for more than a month from deciding whether Rose bet on the Reds.

The manager also has received protections from firing by the team or suspension by Giamatti while the case is heard. The protections extend for three days after Holschuh's decision.

While lawyers for Rose and Giamatti have exchanged voluminous and sometimes sharply worded legal arguments, the ballclub has kept a low profile.

The Reds filed papers with Holschuh saying they were maintaining a strict neutrality. Owner Marge Schott has declined to make public statements about the case while it is in court, but admits she's unhappy it has dragged on so long.

And general manager Murray Cook says there's no thought being given to asking the courts for authority to remove Rose if the case lasts beyond this season.

''I don't know that we can,'' Cook said. ''We're not lawyers. We just have to go by what the lawyers dictate at this time.''