Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Pete Rose's Scarlet Letter

I was thrilled to read over at Off the Kuff that a deal may finally have been struck to lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose that has prevented his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Of course, I also couldn't help but notice that Charles is not too happy about all of this. Charles runs what I believe to be just about the best web log in Texas and I generally agree with him about 99 percent of the time. But it looks like on this one issue we are going to diverge rather sharply.

I am unabashedly a huge Pete Rose fan and have been so since I first picked up a baseball glove. The Cinncinnatti Reds were my team when I was growing up and Johnny Bench and Pete Rose baseball cards were the Holy Grail of my youth. So I was deeply disappointed when the whole Rose scandal broke out in the late '80s, but I also felt at the time as I do now that Rose paid for his mistake. I'll go over it again... he lost his job as manager of the Reds, he had to pay a sizable fine, he served time in jail, he suffered the humiliation of having his name forever associated with gambling on baseball, he suffered the indignity of being banned from baseball.... All of these things I could understand at the time, because gambling is a serious problem for professional sports and should be dealt with harshly whenever it is rooted out. However, the lifetime ban that has prevented Rose from inclusion in the Hall of Fame was and is over the top.

Charles points to a couple of essays by baseball writers to make the argument about why Rose still requires further punishment. One of these folks is Derek Zumsteg, an author of Baseball Prospectus. But the thing that struck me most about Zumsteg's writing is just how obsessed he seems to be with punishing Rose. Here is Zumsteg summarizing his take on Rose:

“Pete Rose is scum. His actions threatened the integrity of the game that he professed to love. He betrayed the trust of every fan who appreciated him, and he especially betrayed those still in denial, those now fighting his battles for him and voting in goofy online polls. Baseball should have continued the investigations, forced him to cough up more bank records, more checks, and refused to let him plea out. They should have banned him from baseball, sued him into bankruptcy, bought his house for pennies, burned it to the ground and salted the earth so nothing could grow there. Instead of trying to play the issue down, they should have made it entirely public, showing everyone that baseball takes gambling seriously, that it would aggressively pursue those who did it, and would grant them no quarter.
Fans should spit at Rose when they see him on the street, and boo him when he hangs around stadiums. His autographed items should repel people in shock and horror. When Rose walks the street in shame, we should shake our heads and say "what kind of man would do that?"

Wow! That's pretty nasty. Sounds a lot like Ann Coulter describing how the U.S. should deal with Muslim nations (Bomb their cities, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity). It also sounds like the kind of obsessive hatred that was leveled against Bill Clinton for so many years. In fact, I might even say that Derek Zumsteg is to Pete Rose as Christopher Ruddy is to Bill Clinton. And John Dowd is Pete Rose's own Ken Starr.

Perhaps when Rose "walks the street in shame," he should be forced to wear a big scarlet letter 'G' on his breast.

Charles also points to ESPN sports columnist Rob Neyer who has this observation about Pete Rose:

“...what's truly puzzling to me is the public love for a man who's firmly established himself as one of the more despicable people to wear a major-league uniform. Peter Edward Rose Sr. is a convicted tax cheat and a crummy husband and father who has, for many years, surrounded himself with drug dealers and various other unsavory types. Granted, none of us are perfect, but it seems to me that Pete Rose is significantly farther from perfection than just about anybody you would want to know.”

So there you go. Pete Rose - "scum" "despicable" "convicted tax cheat" (So much for that liberal, namby-pamby business about the rehabilitation of criminals - Once a convict, always a convict, I guess) and what's more, he was a "crummy husband and father"...

Hmmmm. Here is Pete Rose Jr. when asked about what Bud Selig should do about his "crummy father":

"Let's get some closure to this and put my dad back in baseball, where he belongs."

Doesn't sound like Pete Jr. would go along with Rob's "crummy father" argument for keeping Pete Sr. out of the Hall of Fame.

Another problem I have with this never ending vendetta that people have against Pete Rose is their insistence that he must publicly acknolwledge his guilt and apologize before they will consider bestowing their forgiveness upon the lowly sinner. What do they think this is anyway? George Orwell's "1984" where Winston Smith is forced to admit his "thought crimes" to the satisfaction of Big Brother at the end of the novel? That is the kind of thing that happens in China today, not the U.S. I'm sorry for those folks who feel that they need that kind of a spectacle to give themselves "closure," but it is fortunately not something that our justice system today requires.

Like I have said before, the integrity of baseball is no longer the issue. The integrity of baseball was preserved by Bart Giammatti's initial actions when the scandal first came to light. What is at stake now is the integrity of the Hall of Fame which some folks would like to see turned into the Hall of Saints where tests for moral purity take precedent over a player's accomplishments on the field.

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