It is not difficult to get an interview with Pete Rose. I’m sorry to pull back the curtain on one of sportswriting’s recent tricks, but it’s true. People assume that Rose, one of sports’ all-time controversial figures, must be a tough get, but the sheer volume of articles published in recent years based on one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hustle belie that assumption. I’m reasonably confident ALDLAND could secure a sit-down interview with Rose. He seemingly wants to talk to anybody and everybody– the more he’s in the news, the more likely a public clamor for MLB to reverse course and allow him to stand for a Hall of Fame vote– and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Think what you want about Rose, but Sparky Anderson made his peace with his former player before he died, so you probably should too.
The latest entry into that glut of Rose prose is a book by Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. The March 10 issue of the magazine carries an excerpt, available online here. The magazine cover teases a central– and magazine-cover-worthy– quotation: “Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”
Again, I like Rose, I think he belongs in baseball, and I think the PED-user analogy can be illustrative. Few people love an illustrative analogy more than me, probably. But here, Kennedy takes the wind out of his own quotation’s sails, and rightly so. We cannot now be sure of the precise effect Rose’s baseball gambling had on his playing and managing. Kennedy is straightforward about this, and, just paragraphs before his money line, he set out in detail how, even if Rose only bet on his Reds, his managing decisions could have been impaired by his collateral financial interest in the outcome of his team’s games. For example, Kennedy suggests that Rose might have utilized his players to achieve short-term results in a way that impaired long-term effectiveness. A baseball season, to say nothing of a baseball career, is a marathon. Kennedy points out that Rose appeared to overuse a lefty reliever, Rob Murphy, in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Murphy fairly denied the charge to Kennedy, but the writer still put the following tag on this section, which immediately precedes the highlighted quotation above: “There’s no indication, either through game logs or player testimony, that Rose’s betting influenced how he managed. But it could have. speculation, sure. Evidence? Not yet.”
Kennedy seems to miss the point with his “Rose has been banished for the . . .damage he might have done” line, the point he himself just finished making: that Rose’s gambling damaged the game, but we simply don’t yet have the evidence to show exactly how. The same is true of the PED users, for whom evidence has been perhaps the central issue. How many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he not used PEDs? (He did use PEDs, right?) How many fewer hits for finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro? How many fewer strikeouts for Roger Clemens? Why pretend like the damage is any more or less obvious for one or the other?
I hope baseball allows Rose back into the game, to stand for election to the Hall of Fame (a privilege Kennedy notes Bonds and Clemens and their lot enjoy). While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has hinted at some easing of Rose’s ban, this is an all-or-nothing issue. I’m not sure what, if anything, will tip the scales in Rose’s favor, but a false dichotomy like the one Kennedy presents doesn’t help anyone’s cause on this issue.