For those of you who don’t know, Pete Rose is the former Cincinnati Reds player who got more hits in his baseball career than anyone else ever has in the history of the game. Twenty-five years ago tonight, he got hit number 4,192 to pass Ty Cobb, and tonight, he’ll revisit Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, where they will recreate that hit.
It’s the first time he’s been in the stadium in 21 years.
Twenty-one years ago, he was banned from baseball for life for gambling on the game.
The older I get, the more I’ve come to appreciate Pete Rose and what he did. I’m only 23, so I was too young to know him back then. Now, I wish I could have seen him.
All those hits….I wonder if anybody will ever catch him. The closest guy out there is Derek Jeter, and he’s hitting .262 this season, at age 36, and is still 1,358 hits behind Rose.
“Man,” Rose told Rick Reilly recently, “those first 3,000 aren’t easy, but they’re nothing compared to those last 1,000. You don’t feel at 41 like you did at 31.”
From Reilly’s column:
I never saw a man enjoy his work more than Pete Rose. He played every game like he’d been let out of solitary confinement for the day. He didn’t read books, never went to college and was unfit for cocktail parties. He was 99-44/100 percent baseball, from that butcher-block head to his endlessly tapping feet.
He would sprint to first on walks, slide face-first into second and slam baseballs into the AstroTurf on third outs…
“He thinks about baseball day and night,” Sparky Anderson once said of him. “He can’t sit five minutes in a chair and talk to you about something else. He’ll get up. Baseball is all he thinks about. He’ll never leave the game.”
Instead, the game left him. Banned from baseball in 1989 for gambling on it, there was never a crueler punishment devised for one person. It was like taking beer from Norm or mirrors from Demi Moore.
Which makes this Saturday night in Cincinnati that much more delicious for him.
I can think of several sportswriters who ridicule guys like Rose. Athletes who “can’t sit five minutes in a chair and talk to you about something else.” Athletes who think only about their game.
But there’s something to be said for that kind of passion and commitment to something. What is there negative about being so in love with a game, anyway? Don’t all of us look for something to love that much? Doesn’t loving something so intensely make life truly full?
Of course. Love and passion are powerful things, and Pete Rose knew them the best of anyone. It doesn’t take a college degree or social know-how to know what love is. Pete Rose knew it. It’s fitting, in a way, that he gambled on it. When you love something the way he loved baseball, you know it better than anyone. Gambling on the game wasn’t wise, but it was smart. If you’re going to risk money, risk it on something you know. People know best the things they love most.
Rose loved — still loves — baseball the most. He told Reilly, “I was absolutely wrong. I wish I could change it, but I can’t.”
So it’s a bitter lesson, the one Rose’s story teaches. Everything always has consequences.
I just wish, for Rose’s sake, the consequences weren’t so unfair. Can you imagine the outrage if a judge sentenced a man to life in prison for stealing? Because the offenses are about the same.
At least Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner now, is doing something to make it right. Oh, there are people giving him heck for it. Former commissioner Fay Vincent emailed the NY Post, saying, “When the keeper of the Rules does not enforce the Rules, there are no Rules…I totally disagree with the Selig position. Either enforce the rules or reinstate him. … I do not believe Selig wants to bring Rose back. But he wants to be loved in Cincinnati.”
I don’t know what Vincent is talking about, really, when he says that Selig just wants to be loved in Cincinnati. This ain’t politics. I don’t think Selig’s playing a game.
I think this is about simply doing what’s right. And while he’s at it, maybe Selig should take Vincent’s other suggestion.
Reinstate Rose. He’s served his time. Let the man live his few remaining years free. Redeemed.