As a youngster in New Castle with a diehard Cincinnati Reds grandmother, some of my earliest memories are being in her kitchen listening to Marty and Joe broadcasting Reds action on The Big One, 700 WLW.
I was only five when Pete Rose, by far my favorite player, joined the Phillies in 1978. It marked the beginning of a long on-field struggle for the Reds, who traded or let go most of their Big Red Machine cogs in the late 70s.
But I followed Charlie Hustle religiously, rooting when he won a World Series with the Phillies in 1980, keeping watch during his brief stop in Montreal and exulting his homecoming as player-manager of the Reds in 1984.
Upon Rose’s lifetime banishment from baseball in 1989 for gambling on the sport — four years after he set the MLB all-time hits record — I was a teenager, not quite as prone to unquestioned fandom. Disappointed that Rose broke baseball’s cardinal sin, certainly. But it didn’t kill me.
In the 25 years since Peter Edward’s diamond exit, I’ve begrudgingly agreed with MLB’s ban and the subsequent decision by the baseball writers to keep him off the Hall of Fame ballot, which continues to list performance enhancing drug users as eligible for enshrinement.
But I’d rather watch a lineup full of steroid users try to smash longballs than view a game wondering if Player X is on the take, willing to strike out for some cash.
And, yeah, I know most evidence indicates that Rose only bet on his team to win. But it’s a slippery moral slope. If a gambling player/manager gets down a few hundred thousand dollars to a bookie, betting against your team or against yourself is an easier fix. At least a juicer is always trying to gain the upper hand.
Still, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are bozos. If I had a Hall of Fame vote, they wouldn’t get it without some sort of sincere, contrite confession. Which, from those idiots, seems impossible.
No one likes being played for a fool, but I’m all about second chances. And all I ever really wanted from Rose was that heartfelt admission, some sign that he finally “got it.” Rose has confessed plenty since finally coming clean in 2004, but it’s been more of the “yeah, so what?” variety.
The Hit King is on the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated, which contains an excerpt of a new Rose biography, “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma” by Kostya Kennedy. One specific story in the excerpt has me thinking differently on the Rose matter.
The book details a September, 2010, roast of Rose at a Lawrenceburg, Ind., casino in which the always-defiant Rose broke character and broke down and cried in front of 500 guests, including former teammates Tom Browning, George Foster, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr. and others who were nearby on stage.
From the book:
Rose told the room that he finally understood what it meant to “reconfigure” his life. He said, “I disrespected baseball.” He looked at Perez — calling him, “like a brother to me” — and apologized directly, and also apologized to the other teammates from the Big Red Machine. “I’m a hardheaded guy,” Rose choked out. “But I’m a lot better guy standing here tonight. .... I guarantee everyone in this room I will never disrespect you again.” As he fought to get his composure, he added, “I love the fans, I love the game of baseball, and I love Cincinnati baseball.”
It was an “unscripted” and “powerful” moment different from anything seen from Rose in a quarter-century of being around the man, Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Erardi, who was covering the event, remarks in the book.
Rose, it seems, has lived long enough to finally understand the true meaning of his actions. At 25 years and counting — 25 years that Rose could have continued managing or simply stepped on a baseball field without seeking special permission from the commissioner’s office — the man has been punished adequately.
A player or manager who considers betting on baseball today would certainly see Pete’s 25-year sentence as a detriment, and isn’t detriment to others one of the key tenets of punishment?
Rose remains the only celebrity — and only human being outside of my immediate family — of which I’ve memorized their birthday. Rose was born on April 14, 1941 — 4/14/41. Easy to remember, especially when you spent your formative years overseeing a vast baseball card collection, pouring over the minutiae of detail that each card possessed (Rose was listed at 5-foot-10, sometimes 5-11, and 200 or 205 pounds).
My grandmother passed away a few years ago. Life is short. Punishing the man until the day he dies seems cold-hearted at this point, but letting Pete back into baseball would make a lot of people happy.
“Pete Rose: An American Dilemma” by Kostya Kennedy will be released March 11. It’s available online now for pre-orders.
Brian Harmon is The Greenfield Daily Reporter sports editor. Contact him at (317) 477-3227 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.