Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Pete Rose. Again. And Again.

Because it is that point in the season, and because we have reached a nice round number since he agreed to a lifetime ban from the game, it is time for us to talk about Pete Rose, and why he should be reinstated, and such moral huggermugger as to make those of us who just want to watch some baseball quietly ill.

Make no mistake, the facts in Rose's case remain clear. Read the Dowd Report. There's the damning phone calls. The betting slips in Rose's handwriting, with his fingerprints - that he kept insisting weren't his. The associations with small-time hoods and steroid-dealing gym rats. The general bad behavior prohibited by baseball's rules, rules that are posted in every clubhouse, rules that Rose walked past every day for 24 years in the game.

In short, he did it. He lied about doing it. He twisted and turned and evaded and dodged until he finally was pinned down by the weight of the evidence against him, and then he signed the document saying baseball was done with him. 

25 years ago.

Now, there are those who say that Rose didn't understand what he was signing. Or that it only was a ban on playing or managing, or a million other tortured explanations for why "lifetime ban" wasn't really a "lifetime ban" and Pete shouldn't be held to it.

To which I say, I've got a different reading on the situation, and it's a simple one. Pete Rose is a hustler, pure and simple. On the field, it's generally an admirable quality - he went after every advantage he could find, up to and including bits of Ray Fosse's anatomy. Off the field, not so much. It means he's always looking for an angle, an advantage, a loophole. He signed the lifetime ban and then immediately started agitating to be let back in. He swore up and down he never bet on baseball, until he had a book to sell and suddenly he admitted it. He sold multiple copies of the bat he used to get his most famous hit with. He lied, and lied, and lied again, and got away with it because he was Charlie Hustle. 

You see the same behavior in five year olds trying to dodge responsibility for using crayons on the dining room wall, or in drug addicts bargaining for just one more hit before trying to get sober. 

And with that in mind, I think Rose signed that document thinking that there was no way "lifetime ban" meant "lifetime ban". That there'd be some big PR flap, and then he'd find a way to weasel out of it, the same way he always had, the same way he always would. That in his mind, he already had the rap beat. 

Think Jake Blues, down in the tunnels with Carrie Fisher pointing an automatic rifle at him.
And of course, it didn't turn out that way. 25 years on, and still out of the game - though that doesn't keep him from setting up shop in Cooperstown and selling his autograph on everything imaginable.

There are two groups who want to get Pete Rose reinstated. The former consists of Pete himself, and the latter is a cabal of greying sportswriter types who look at Pete and see the baseball of their youth, filled with hustle and grit and the players they fell in love with. The motivation of the former is obvious; get reinstated and Pete's going to get paid. You can charge a lot more for an autograph that reads "Pete Rose: Hall of Famer" than you can for one that just says "Pete Rose".

As for the other guys, well, one gets the sense they're not really about Pete Rose. They're about the way he made them feel when they were younger, before they learned that Daddy was Santa Claus and all that went with it. This, too, may be why some of the loudest advocates for leniency for Rose are some of the most strident PED scolds - witness Keith Olberman's "If I Were Commisioner" rant if you want evidence. Stanozolol and all its buddies are another assault on that remembered childhood dream, the one where hustle - as personified by Charlie Hustle - and hard work and desire trumped everything else on the field, even God-given talent. 

It's a lovely dream.

But it's a dream, and fighting for it is not the same thing as genuinely believing that Pete Rose - drug user, gambler, liar, and general schnorrer - is a good guy who has paid his dues and been punished enough. Those who honestly believe Rose got the shaft and want him back in the game, as deluded as they may be, I can respect. Those who are using Rose's selfish fight as a proxy for the battle we all lose against memory and time? I wish they'd find another place to make a stand. 
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