Thursday, January 08, 2004

Defending Pete Rose

So far one of the best articles defending Pete Rose has appeared in the right wing journal National Review.

"Should Rose be in the Hall of Fame? Well, he has more hits than anyone, the most singles, he's second in doubles, fifth in runs scored, was rookie of the year, a 17-time All Star, and probably has as much of the requisite fame as any living baseball player. Fan polls regularly give him overwhelming approval margins, and when he appeared before Game 4 of the 2002 Series at a ceremony honoring to his record-breaking 4,192nd career hit as #6 on the list of the 10 most-memorable baseball moments, the crowd went wild. But Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has sat on Rose's 1997 application for reinstatement to eligibility. Reading some of the recent editorials on Rose you get the sense that baseball is not so much a sport as a brotherhood established to protect a rarefied morality. Witness Rose's horrible crime — he gambled. He committed the ultimate sin. He attacked the game's integrity; he "called into question the moral core of an entire industry."

Man, get over it. So he gambled. So what? Betting is synonymous with sports, and has been since ancient times. It is often a crime — increasingly less so these days — but also socially acceptable, within reason. For spectators, betting makes the game more interesting. It gives the outsider a chance to participate, to have more riding on the outcome than local bragging rights....

This is what has always bothered me about the Pete Rose case. He was suspended for gambling on his team — but there is no evidence to suggest, nor has it been charged, that he ever bet against his team or himself. Given Rose's personality, his dogged pursuit of achievement, his legendary single-minded focus on the game, it is impossible to believe that he ever would. It is true that a manager could change the way his team won in order to win a bet, but Rose has not been charged even with that. His bookie Ron Peters, stated that "Every time [Rose] called, he'd bet on the Reds if they were playing," which suggests that Rose was not betting on the Reds strategically and manipulating victories, but doing so all the time as a matter of course. This was his team, and he wagered his money in the same way he wagered his skill. For him, betting was just another arena of competition, another test of his ability and manhood. It was an act of arrogance, the monetizing of hubris. It was not particularly admirable behavior, and probably illegal, but it did not affect the game.

The standard anti-Rose line is that he is being kept out for the good of baseball, that his actions were an insult to the integrity of the game. Integrity? At these ticket prices? You're kidding me. Endorsements, free agency, television markets, licensed souvenirs and trinkets, skyboxes, not to mention multimillion-dollar contract negotiations and players strikes — the game is all about money. I have nothing against the profit motive, but let's not pretend baseball is some kind of morality play enacted for the benefit of a needy society. It is a business. And if MLB really wants to cleanse itself, I'd like to see some proof that no current Hall of Famer ever placed a bet of any kind that violated rule 21(d). Perhaps a full-scale investigation would restore the moral core of the industry. Or maybe the commissioner could just admit that Rule 21(d) is outdated and its punishment provisions are disproportionate. A lifetime ban? The average sentence for murder is 15 years."

I would have thought that defenders of Pete Rose would more likely come from the left since they tend to be more forgiving as a rule. But so far that hasn't been the case. Rose is being bashed on the left for lying about gambling just as hard as Clinton was bashed on the right for lying about sex. And in each case the punishment that is being foistered on them is far disproportionate to the crime - lifetime banishment/impeachment.

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