As all of baseball returns to the diamonds across America today to commence the races for division titles and wild cards and the playoffs that will lead us to the World Series, I’d like to take one more deep All-Star Break breath and ponder Pete Rose with you all.
Yeah, the American League team will once again have the home-field advantage, thanks to Tuesday night’s victory over the NL squad, a beat-down that’s become all too familiar to fans of National League squads. (But, oh, how great my New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom looked striking out all three batters on 10 pitches in his lone sixth inning of work in the 6-3 defeat.)
The fans in Cincinnati cheered through the night nevertheless, for their hometown Reds, steady starting third baseman Todd Frazier, who had won the Home Run Derby the night prior, and dizzying relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman, a lefty who brought it to the stunned AL batters in the ninth at more than 100 mph. And they witnessed more good plays for the AL, from Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout’s leadoff solo homer to right off Dodgers’ starter Zack Greinke to Minnesota Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier’s eighth inning insurance solo shot in the eighth off Pirates’ closer Mark Melancon.
Before the game, the fans were introduced to baseball living legends. Baseball honchos brought out whom they consider their sport’s big four: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench. I saluted them on the flat screen from my recliner in the Little Bitty in the Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood, for each gave this 57-year-old lifelong baseball fan a thrill, from little kid to young adult.
All franchises were able to introduce their own four greatest living players.
One of the Reds’ choices was Pete Rose.
Many reports say that Rose received the biggest ovation of the night.
That bothers me.
I understand that Pete Rose is Major Leage Baseball’s all-time hit leader, and the majority of those hits came in front of these Cincinnati Reds fans or previous generations of said passionate followers. I know how important he was to the The Big Red Machine, the World Series titles, the glory, the fun, the thrill, the success. He played like no other, running to to first base after drawing a walk. His nickname was Charlie Hustle. Swagger? If an opposing player had a chip on his shoulder, Pete would just knock it off somehow, because his chip was way bigger, even though he wasn’t a tall man.
He managed the Reds, too, even while he still played.
That love I get.
But there’s the flip side of Pete Rose, the gambling scandal that’s kept him out of the Hall of Fame down the road from me here in Cooperstown. That ugly mess is well chronicled. A guy named Dowd made a report for a Commissioner named Giamatti. Pete denied the findings.
Then he said he only bet for his team, never against it. Then he said he never bet when he was a player-manager, only a manager.
Evidence over the years kept coming out pointing otherwise, right down to a month or so ago, and Pete keeps wiggling and changing his story.
Now, that’s what makes me sad.
If all those decades ago he just would have said, yeah, I had a problem, I did it, I’m sorry. Well … A manager who bets for his squad … That’s bad, but nobody’s perfect … America’s forgiving. A commissioner probably would have pardoned Pete Rose by now and let the voters decide if he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not.
Pete, though, he chose to stick to his story until he couldn’t. And even though he wasn’t eligile to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, well, he could go there induction weekend each summer and set up a table in a souvenir stand and sell his autograph and make money off his name and his fame and maybe thumb his nose at authority in the process.
A couple of decades ago, my father Frank was up from Long Island visiting me, his step-grandson Michael in tow. We drove the 50 or so miles from my house in Morrisville to Cooperstown, so father and son could relive some New York Mets baseball glory together, and, oh, 10-year-old Michael could soak up some of the glow, too.
Our stroll outside the official Hall of Fame took us to that store where Pete Rose had his table set up, and my father and I mentioned his name and looked over at the guy.
Pete Rose! Michael shouted and jumped. That was the autograph he wanted. My father peeled off a twenty, Michael went up to the table and handed it over, and Pete scrawled his name on a pre-printed photo and completed the transaction. Not a word. Hardly looked up. Oh, but I heard what Pete Rose said after Michael ran back to my father. What a funny-looking kid, he declared to his young and pretty female assistant at the table. That’s another twenty. Or words to those affects.
That makes me angry. Still.
I directed a dirty look toward Pete Rose, shook my head and made my way back to my father and Michael. I asked the kid what made Pete Rose special to him, feeling him out, hoping he hadn’t heard the aside.
Well, Michael said, what a cool name! Turned out, Michael had never heard of Pete Rose before that day. I wish Pete had caught that exchange. Might have done him some good. Ah, probably not.
Do you think Pete Rose should or should not be in the Hall of Fame, and why? Have you ever paid for an autograph, and why? Who are you rooting for as baseball begins again, and why?