Pete Rose demonstrates why nearly 75-year old men shouldn't bare their tattoos...or anything else, for that matter.
I should preface this with a warning: the topic of today's post isn't likely to be popular back East in my old stomping grounds. That said, here 'tis: I'm glad Pete Rose is still banned from baseball. There, I said it. After 26 years of defending him - granted, with less and less enthusiasm as each year passed - I've come to the conclusion that it is good and it is right that Rose should be banned from baseball.
We need Pete Rose banned from baseball. At least I do.
We need it because - at least for those of my generation, particularly those who played baseball or softball as youngsters in the Greater Philadelphia-area - Pete Rose was, at one time, God. I wanted to play like Pete; I wanted to hit like Pete; I wanted to win like Pete; I wanted a young blonde wife like Pete....uh, is this thing still on? Sorry. You get the point.
By 1989, Pete was retired and back with the Reds as manager, but he remained - for me and countless others - the pinnacle of our childhood, the man who brought that World Series title to the Phillies. The Savior. Sure he was looking more and more like Moe Howard every day; sure, he largely dismissed his Phillies' years in interviews, focusing on his past and present Reds. He was still Pete. He was everything that was good and decent about our childhoods.
Then he wasn't.
The news came - seemingly out of nowhere - from a man who more resembled a troll than even Rose did (Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti), telling us that Pete had to step off that pedestal - and stay off, you bastard! The details were all there for anyone who wanted to read them [I didn't] in John Dowd's famous report about how, as manager of the Reds, Rose placed bets on baseball in clear violation of Baseball's Rule 21, which calls for a lifetime ban for betting on any game "with which the bettor has a duty to perform."
It turned out Pete wasn't a Savior. He was a monster. He cheated on his taxes [and that blonde wife]; consorted with half the cast of The Sopranos ['Carm?! Whadd'ya want?! It's my busy season!"], and was just a rotten human being in complete denial as to his own awfulness.
At first, like most, I didn't believe it. Then, I didn't care if it was true. Even if it was all true, I reasoned, the gambling occurred after Pete played. Just because he was a degenerate gambler as a manager shouldn't deny him his rightful place in my childhood bank of heroes [not to mention the Hall of Fame]. Dowd - the lawyer who wrote that report - always suspected there was more: that Pete had bet while still a player. But he could never find the evidence to prove it. That changed once MLB, during the last year, finally unearthed the betting slips kept by Rose associate Michael Bertolini - long thought destroyed - proving that Rose did, indeed, bet on the Reds while playing for the Reds.
But that's not why I'm glad Rose is still banned. I'm glad because Pete Rose was the hardest and most jarring lesson in my transition from child-to-adulthood. Starting with Rose's downfall, I slowly began questioning other aspects of my childhood. Some of them ended in even more jarring - and much more shattering - discoveries that destroyed many golden images I'd held of large swaths of my childhood. Religion. Friends, Family. My entire belief system came under question over the next few years, and it started with the ban on Pete Rose.
Dealing with Pete's downfall made me more skeptical, more discerning but - surprisingly - less judgmental. While that may seem counterintuitive, remember Pete never said he was a Savior. I did. That's my fault, not his. I learned not to judge people for failing to meet expectations that I placed on them - as opposed to expectations based on promises made to me.
Those life lessons continued [and continue] into my 40s as I learned that sometimes a memory of a beloved childhood figure really turns out to be a monster. That is devastating to learn at nearly 40 years of age; but it puts into proper perspective the supposed "devastation" I felt about Pete Rose at 20 years of age. The banning of Pete Rose prepared me in some ways for the shocks I've had about other aspects of my childhood that were far more egregious.
As long as Pete is banned, then I know that things are not always as they seem. That I need to better-manage my expectations of others. That there are no Earthly saviors. You can idolize and emulate how a guy hits a baseball.
Just don't expect him to walk on water as he heads down the first base line.