The Baseball Desert

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Charlie Hustler

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here, because I was away in the UK over the whole Christmas / New Year period. It was a real break for me, and by that I don’t just mean getting away from Paris (I know – how blasé does that sound?) and spending some quality time with the family – I also mean thirteen consecutive days without an Internet connection (and if counting the number of days seems anal-retentive, well, what can I say? Anal-retentive is my middle name…). A lot happened over those thirteen days, but the big story of last week made me realise that, although another year had come and gone and we were eagerly looking forward to the promise of things new, in some respects it was the same old same old, with the return of The Ballplayer Who Just Wouldn’t Go Away™: Pete Rose.

A lot has been written on this subject, by better baseball minds than me, but I thought I would chip in with my thoughts, but rest assured that this will be the only post I’m going to do on here on the subject, for two reasons: 1) although I’m no great baseball analyst, I am sure of my point of view on this one, and there’s no way it’s going to change, and 2) I’m just so sick of seeing Pete Rose’s ugly mug and sad, tired old point of view plastered all over the sports press that I’m not prepared to spend any more time than is strictly necessary on the subject of his possible reinstatement.

You know, there are arguments in favour of Rose’s reinstatement, the main one being his career stats (4256 hits, lifetime, more than any other baseball player in history), but my view is that if you are willing to argue that his career stats clearly make him eligible for Cooperstown, then you ought to be willing to argue that his betting on the game when he was manager of the Reds also makes him ineligible for life. I’ve heard the case put forward that players with a drug or alcohol problem have had a far better deal than Rose, and my answer is “So they should have…”. Players with that type of problem are possibly in danger of destroying themselves, but are rarely in danger of destroying the game itself. Now maybe I’m a naive idealist, but I still feel that, even with all the millions of dollars being thrown around the game in salaries and advertising and TV rights, the game has managed to retain a certain integrity, at least between the foul lines – little has changed in fundamental terms over the years: three strikes and you’re out, four balls and you go to first base. The problem posed by betting on the game – as opposed to abusing legal (or illegal) substances – and the reason why the rules on betting are posted in every major league clubhouse in the country, is that once you set foot on that slippery slope, there’s no going back. The game either retains its integrity or it doesn’t – there’s no middle ground. If Pete Rose bet on one game (and I don’t care whether he bet on Cincinnati to win or lose – they’re both just two sides of the same coin), then he compromised the integrity of the game, casting doubt over not only every game he managed, but every major league game that is played. I’m not accusing major league players or managers of systematically betting on game, but what I am saying is that if overwhelming evidence of your doing so is found, then you forfeit the right to be in that position of responsibility. At the risk of drawing a totally unreasonable parallel, if someone is convicted of armed robbery, it’s unlikely that they’re ever going to be given a job working as a bank teller, and this is the same – Rose should never be allowed back into a position where he can commit the same kind of offence.

So, that’s the rational, “for love of the game” argument, but there’s another, possibly even more powerful argument as far as I’m concerned, and it’s a very simple one: I don’t like being treated like a fool, and that’s what Pete Rose has been doing for the last 14 or 15 years. All that time he’s been saying “I never bet on baseball when I was manager of the Cincinnati Reds”, even though everything seemed to indicate that the truth lay elsewhere. Now, all of a sudden, Pete has a Road to Damascus conversion and says: “Gee, folks, I remember now – I did bet on a whole bunch of games way back when”. Hmmmm… Now I’ve nothing against sudden religious conversions, but when it happens against the background of a big-money book-publishing deal, well excuse me, but I tend to be a little bit sceptical. It doesn’t even bother me when that kind of admission makes the person like a Grade-A fool – after all, it’s their problem – but I do object when they’ve insulted my intelligence for fifteen years trying to get me to swallow a bunch of lies that even a four-year-old child would have trouble getting away with, let alone a grown man.

Oh, and there’s one last thing, even if I were prepared to sacrifice the integrity of the game and my own pride and self-esteem at the altar of Pete Rose, I would still have to say that, on a class scale of 1 to 10, leaking rumours of these so-called ‘revelations’ in the week that the Hall Of Fame ballot results are announced is about a minus 7...

So Pete, if you’re reading this – I may not be a baseball writer or one of those people wielding the power to reinstate you, but I’m also no fool, and so I’m voicing my opinion as a fan of this great game that you managed to bring into disrepute: you screwed up, and your admissions and pseudo-apologies are just too little, too late. Take your sorry story elsewhere and find another shoulder to cry on…