Friday, November 6, 2015

Own It

As published in The St. Mary's/Calvert Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

He was, initially, just the long-locked first baseman on the Philadelphia Phillies team that lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series. Quite a fuss was made of this active icon but his mediocre play didn’t seem to match the verbal accolades. I suppose when you’re a kid, it’s all about the moment. There’s no concept of careers or the passage the time. And in 1983, there was no Google machine to confirm or deny the legend. So…history, schmistory.

I didn’t set eyes on Pete Rose until that ’83 Series. I was 10. He was 42. In the years to come I’d learn about his “Charlie Hustle” moniker (a hard-nosed style reminiscent of the old Rocking Chair softball league), his bulldozing of Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game and The Big Red Machine. I witnessed his astonishing MLB record 4,192nd hit in 1985 and came to understand - even appreciate - the obvious chip on his shoulder and the wealth of Donald Trump-like arrogance that made it all possible.

In 1989, Rose was infamously banned from baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on the game. Despite his fervent denial and appeals to two subsequent Commissioners (Fay Vincent and Bud Selig), the ban remains. I believed Rose for a long time. I read his book My Story and shook the man’s hand after he autographed it in the early 1990s. The 10-year-old child in us doesn’t die easily.
He was, as is now known, a spectacular liar, one fueled by the same pride that made him MLB’s “Hit King”. In 2004, Rose admitted to betting on the Reds to win while he was manager; earlier this year, evidence indicated that he bet on baseball as an active player. Yet Rose, robbed of his baseball identity and no doubt driven by the need for Hall of Fame immortality, continues his quest for reinstatement. Rose met with new Commissioner Rob Manfred last week; a decision is anticipated by year’s end.

Let him in. Why not? Yeah, he’s unethical. A liar. A violator of baseball’s golden rule. But isn’t a 25-year penance enough? And frankly, MLB applying a Puritan code on Rose wreaks of hypocrisy. Its “sacred” Hall of Fame is already filled with miscreants. Cap Anson helped establish the color barrier by refusing to play with African Americans. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis perpetuated baseball’s segregation for decades (Jackie Robinson finally integrated the sport three years after Landis’s death). Orlando Cepeda was incarcerated for drug smuggling. Gaylord Perry made a career out of doctoring the baseball. Babe Ruth was a drunk and a womanizer. And Willie McCovey pleaded guilty to tax evasion. All are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Where was baseball’s high moral standard, its reverence for the sanctity of the game, during the steroid era? Comparing crimes is difficult, but isn’t gambling – Rose’s sin – abhorred because it compromises competition? Doesn’t the presence of hulked up players capable of artificially-enhanced performance do the same thing? Why not let them all in? Excluded, Rose and the juicers are pariahs. With Hall of Fame passes, their baseball accomplishments and sins can be properly documented. Tattoo their baseball immortality with well-earned scarlet letters: “S” for steroid users, “G” for Rose the gambler. 

How will Manfred rule at Rose’s parole hearing? The bet (pardon the pun) is he remains banned. Regardless, Rose’s predicament is his own doing, the byproduct of pervasive, ego-fueled deceit. For decades Rose clung to his act, admitting the truth only after hard evidence exposed his charade. The purposeful concealment compounded the transgression and didn’t allow America to indulge its compulsive need to forgive (particularly the sins of its favorite sons). Had Rose just owned his error in 1989 and overturned every uncomfortable stone in his checkered past, he’d be back in the public’s good graces and would likely be a member of the Hall of Fame.

Despite all his on-field accomplishments, that – the brutal consequences from his lack of personal ownership and genuine remorse - is what the “Hit King” has taught that 10-year-old boy in the 32 years since their introduction. A melancholy “thanks” to you, Mr. Rose.

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