Tuesday, 6 January, 2004
The sorry saga

Tom Boswell has written a magnificent article on the latest chapter in the Pete Rose saga. It will not please Rose's defenders, but it is a terrifically fair evaluation of the "confession":

The more Rose talks, the more he exposes rather than redeems himself. "During the times I gambled as a manager, I never took an unfair advantage. I never bet more or less based on injuries or inside information. I never allowed my wagers to influence my baseball decisions," writes Rose. "So in my mind I wasn't corrupt."

That's like a bank robber asking for parole because he didn't scare the tellers.

Baseball has only one cardinal rule. You can't gamble on the game. In any form. Ever. It's posted in every clubhouse. Everybody, down to the densest rookie, understands it. If you take drugs or become an alcoholic, that's entirely different. It's a personal problem. You deserve and get rehab. But if you gamble on the game -- let alone, good Lord, bet on the team you are managing -- you have stabbed a dagger into the heart of the game's competitive credibility. Yet Rose, in this damning attempt at rationalization, shows how the mind of an egotist and amoralist works. Rose set up a completely different code -- in his own mind -- so that he could get around the rules that apply to everybody else in baseball.

This isn't how you get reinstated. This is how, without knowing it, you make the case against reinstatement. Mercy should always be the order of the day. But, in this case, balanced against enormous skepticism.

I very grudgingly find myself defending Rose as a ballplayer -- there is no question in my mind that he was a fabulous player; that he is the all-time hits leader is not open for debate, something that illustrates not only talent but also durability dedication. And at the same time, as Boswell points out, gambling is baseball's original sin, and you have to be very stupid or very crass to commit it. Or you have to have no respect for the institution of baseball, which is bigger than any individual component of it.

There's a scene in Bull Durham where Nuke asks Crash why he doesn't like him. Crash says, "Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem." Most of us can agree that Rose's gambling problem was his way of not respecting himself, and I think everyone can get behind the idea that betting on baseball is not respecting the game. And if you don't respect the game.. shouldn't that take away from what you accomplish in the game?

Giamatti said, back in 1989,

I believe baseball is a beautiful and exciting game, loved by millions -- I among them -- and I believe baseball is an important, enduring American institution. It must assert and aspire to the highest principles -- of integrity, of professionalism of performance, of fair play within its rules. It will come as no surprise that like any institution composed of human beings, this institution will not always fulfill its highest aspirations. I know of no earthly institution that does. But this one, because it is so much a part of our history as a people and because it has such a purchase on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played -- to its fans and well-wishers -- to strive for excellence in all things and to promote the highest ideals.

I will be told that I am an idealist. I hope so. I will continue to locate ideals I hold for myself and for my country in the national game as well as in other of our national institutions. And while there will be debate and dissent about this or that or another occurrence on or off the field, and while the game's nobler parts will always be enmeshed in the human frailties of those who, whatever their role, have stewardship of this game, let there be no doubt or dissent about our goals for baseball or our dedication to it. Nor about our vigilance and vigor -- and patience -- in protecting the game from blemish or stain or disgrace.

And that seems about right. If protecting the game from blemish or stain or disgrace means we have to keep the all-time hits leader out of the Hall of Fame ("as a warning to the next ten generations that some things come at too high a price").. well, that will be sad, and maybe a little unfair. Many things in life are. But the game is bigger than Pete, and is more deserving of respect than Pete, and if he can't show the game the respect it deserves, I have a hard time seeing why Pete deserves its respect and admiration.

Still, that's a lot of hits.

Update: Doug Pappas checks in.

Epilogue: I miss Doug Pappas.