I know what you’re thinking: I’m tired of talking about Pete Rose. The Queen City has had an obsession with Rose for fifty years, and even though it has developed into a nice little love-hate relationship, it shows no signs of abating. (Note how many times Rose shows up in Steve’s great pieces on Reds history; there’s just no avoiding the guy. He’s a huge part of this franchise’s past.)
With the 25th anniversary of Rose’s legendary hit number 4,192 coming up Saturday, and the attendant ceremony on the field at Great American Ballpark, I fully expected some Rose discussion in the national media. I’m not sure if Huffington Post* counts, but here you go:
Rose is guilty of betting on baseball and received a lifetime ban from baseball, the most severe punishment the game can mete out. As a culture that prides itself on administering justice from a more civilized perspective than we see in other parts of the world, America has much at stake in the way we treat Pete Rose. This is not because Pete Rose is innocent, but because he is guilty. In this respect, we are on trial, not Pete Rose.
Does Rose’s punishment fit the crime?
That’s the primary question addressed in the piece, and it’s one that all Reds fans have argued about for years and years and years. You may be surprised to read that the author, Bryant Welch, has concluded that, no, Rose’s punishment is excessive. As he puts it:
Viewed in the context of the other baseball “crimes” of our times, baseball has a hideously warped sense of justice. By punishing Rose in such a harsh and public way, baseball can avoid appearing morally lax and unwilling to confront the serious problem steroids have created for baseball.
Rose broke an important rule, and he deserves punishment. The excess nature of Pete Rose’s punishment, however, makes Pete Rose more of a scapegoat for baseball’s own moral drift.
Read the entire piece for yourself; it’s long and well-thought out, even if I don’t agree with parts of it. Welch predictably delves into the steroid issue, which is tiresome. Either way, it’s worth your time, whether or not you agree with him that Rose deserves to be “set free.”
My opinions on the whole matter are somewhat muddled. I’m not sure I’ve really written them down here at RN, but I’m probably typical of many Reds fans. I grew up idolizing Rose, and when he returned to Cincinnati as player-manager, it was one of the most exciting things that had happened to me as a fan.
During Rose’s chase for 4,192, I remember attending a couple of the games within the “final twenty” of the record. I was an 11 year-old who thought it was the coolest thing ever. Rose wasn’t my favorite player — at that time, I wanted to be Mario Soto, though I was neither Dominican nor even a mediocre pitcher — but as far as I was concerned, Rose was the Cincinnati Reds.
Later, after all the gambling and tax evasion nonsense, and after the unrelated national media unpleasantness over Marge Schott, I became really tired of Reds baseball being a sideshow to the circus act off the field. Even the brilliant Wire to Wire season was marred by the Rose hangover (“That was Rose’s team!”) and the Schott/Eric Davis kidney laceration fiasco. I had been a fierce advocate for Rose, but in the mid-nineties, I got tired of defending the guy. He continued to act boorishly (actually, it was the same way he acted as a player, when he was celebrated for it), and evidenced none of the behavior you’d expect from someone who was genuinely interested in getting reinstated. Heck, he has probably done every single thing I would have cautioned him not to do over the last twenty years, if I were advising him. Including those garish Reds caps he continues to sport.
Mostly, however, I just got tired of being forced to discuss Pete Rose all the time.
What do you think about Pete Rose? Should he be in the Hall of Fame?
I know all of you have probably gotten that question from someone after they find out that you are a Reds fan. I’m sick of that question. Here’s my opinion: yes, Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Baseball should do whatever is necessary to allow Rose to appear on the ballot. He should never hold a job within the game, but what’s the harm in letting Rose into the Hall of Fame? Put something about the banishment on his plaque, tattoo a scarlet G on his forehead, do whatever. But let the guy in the Hall of Fame, so I can quit talking about it.
There is one other thing.
My grandmother was a big fan of the Big Red Machine. Her husband, my grandfather, is largely responsible for my baseball obsession, but he passed away when I was nine. My grandmother, however, collected baseball cards with me — only the Reds! — and she was almost as excited as I was when Rose broke the record. During that chase in 1985, she made me promise that I would take her to Cooperstown to see Pete Rose get inducted into the Hall of Fame when that day came.
She will turn 83 next month. She is still going strong; I hope I’m that active when I’m her age. Meanwhile, Rose remains on the outside of the Hall of Fame, looking in. Pete Rose does not deserve anyone’s sympathy; he is responsible for this mess.
While Rose probably doesn’t deserve it, I have a personal reason for hoping baseball does an about-turn and figures out some way to get him in the Hall of Fame.
I want to take my grandmother to Cooperstown for the ceremony.
*Just a note…I generally don’t link to places like Huffington Post, not because of their merit — or lack thereof, depending on your perspective — but rather because they publish way too much political opinion and editorializing. Redleg Nation is a strictly no-politics zone, and I appreciate the fact that our Loyal Citizens respect that. As a sitting judge, in fact, I’m barred by the Canons of Judicial Conduct from expressing any political opinions whatsoever, at least in a public forum.
I don’t know why I felt it necessary to include this disclaimer, but I did.