HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

1/15/2004

A Rose by any other name



When I was a kid, my mom bought me a cheap little picture frame that had the words “My Hero” affixed on the bottom and put a picture of me in it. It was a sweet little gesture, the type that moms do for their sons. When I hit adolescence and the Pete Rose gambling scandal hit (and moreover, when the snottiness that pre-teen testosterone seems to invariably breed) I replaced my own picture with a Pete Rose baseball card (a 1987 Topps card, the fake-wood-frame style. I remember this because it was the only year that I ever bought any baseball cards. I still have a bunch of these sitting in old boxes in my attic, but I’m pretty damn sure that they are worth roughly $0.01 apiece. I digress). Pete Rose was never really my hero, but I did like his playing style and the idea that he got to the top of the baseball world not because he was prodigiously talented but because he tried really hard and hustled more than the others. This was also around the time that I was playing Little League baseball, and I can say with some authority that I was the worst baseball player to ever tote a bat. In three years playing, I don’t think I ever got a single base hit. So, you can see, I had a certain respect for someone who succeeded despite his relative lack of talent.

But, as we know, Pete Rose was investigated for gambling on baseball and in August 1989 he agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball in return for avoiding an embarrassing “trial” at which all the evidence against him would be aired. The commissioner at the time was one A. Bartlett Giamatti, who was commissioner for something like a month and a half. A few weeks after the Rose agreement, he dropped dead of a heart attack. (An interesting digression: Bart Giamatti was the father of Paul Giamatti, who has received considerable buzz for his role in the recent movie American Splendor). His body was not even cold when Rose began proclaiming his innocence, or I should say, consistently lying about his innocence. I note that he was lying for the intervening fourteen and a half years because he now is admitting his lie.

Some people seem to think that gambling is just as bad as other vices that other important athletes engage in, or that Rose’s problems are otherwise excusable, no harm no foul. But there are important reasons why Rose’s sins are unforgivable, and why his new “apology”* should be given no weight.

First, gambling is the cardinal sin of baseball. The World Series was once fixed by gamblers, and a well-known decision of the commissioner after that scandal threw out eight members of the team, including the (arguably) best player in the game at the point. There was certainly notice that gambling on baseball was the worst thing a player could do.

Second, Rose’s timing of the confession could not be worse nor more transparent. He timed his announcement to coincide with the election to the Hall of Fame of two of his contemporaries (Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersly) and his announcement took away focus from what should have been a time for their careers to be celebrated. Moreover, Rose’s primary motivation for this announcement is to get reinstated so that he can be eligible for Hall membership himself. Why, you might ask, would he lie for over fourteen years but now come clean? The answer lies in the manner of Hall selection. A player becomes eligible for election to the Hall by sportswriters after he has been retired for five years, but if a player is not voted into the hall within fifteen years of becoming eligible, he is no longer put on the ballot and can only be placed in the Hall by a vote of the Veteran’s Committee. The Veteran’s Committee is a notoriously conservative (baseball conservative, not politically conservative) organization and his election by this method is highly doubtful. Under the fifteen year rule, Rose’s final year of eligibility will be next year—if he is not reinstated by the commissioner by the time of voting, he will never make the Hall except through the Veteran’s Committee. His admission is plainly timed to make a final push for reinstatement before his time runs out.

Finally, the nature of his confession fits his overall pattern of concern for himself and his financial well-being over his concern for the game. He chose to admit his culpability by way of a book, one that he was given a $1 million advance for writing and which will debut at the top of the New York Times best seller list.

Rose blew it. He damaged the game, he hurt the credibility of athletes, and showed himself to be a lying, low-life huckster. If he does get his reinstatement, it will be further proof that professional sports are morally and financially corrupt and that the public has no business patronizing them.

One more link: the Dowd Report, the report commissioned by baseball investigating Rose’s gambling, is now online for us to read in sordid detail what Rose did. He bet on baseball, he bet on the Reds (the team he was managing), he bet from the clubhouse minutes before opening pitches, he used information he got from other players and managers to inform his bets, he had long-time associations with illegal bookmakers, drug traffickers, and mobsters, he sold his memorabilia to fund his gambling losses. Rose should never be reinstated.

*He never actually said that he was sorry for lying or sorry for the cost to the game. He said he was sorry, basically, for people getting so worked up about it. I find this arrogance akin to apologizing to one’s wife by saying “I’m sorry that you got so upset.”

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