Pete Rose’s birthday is April 14. He wore number fourteen for his entire career, and then for fourteen years he lied and lied and lied about breaking Rule 21. You know, that rule they post big as life next to the door of every single Major League clubhouse in North America. The no-gambling one.
“Players don’t read the fine print,” he said in a recent interview when Charles "Don't Call Me Charlie No More, For Some Reason" Gibson asked him about this annoyance. Rose wore a tiny 14 stitched on his collar, because this serves as a bodily reminder of who he once was, and who he wants to be again, and also because he is acting like an asshat.
We Cincinnatians love our baseball and we love our own, and Pete Rose was both. He poured himself out to us, there along the thin white lines, and we poured ourselves out to him, our Pete. He then proceeded to humiliate us, first when the accusations surfaced, then when the denials continued, and now—now that he has a book to sell—with a tacit admission, minus an apology.
You really have to know what you're doing, to humiliate Cincinnati. We gave the world both Jerry Springer and the Bengals. And yet here we sit alongside Kentucky, humiliated.
Understand, I grew up with this. The gambling allegations broke when I was twelve years old, that crux between makeup and make believe. Just as the issue seemed to tuck itself away, here came Pete again, sniffling. The latest: Pete would like to manage again. While owning racehorces. With his players. Horses named Dumbass, by Doesn'tGetIt, out of HeChargesFourHundredBucksAnAutograph.
Does Pete deserve admission to the Hall of Fame on the basis of his performance as a player? Absolutely. He's there already, big as the Big Red Machine in a lifesize cutout. There sits the bat he used to break Ty Cobb's record. He flung himself at the bases, embraced the game to his very self. “See that?” dads would say to sons, pointing from the upper echelons of Riverfront Stadium. “That is how you play baseball.”
And should he be punished for breaking the rules of the game? Yeah. Maybe we should consider a plaque of Pete in the Hall, hair and all, enshrining his flying leaps and his power-mad swing and his West Side lumbering run. And on that plaque I want engraved the fact that he was banned from baseball for betting on it as a manager of the very team from the very city that loved and nurtured him, so that what he did for baseball as a young man will never be remembered without what he did to baseball as an older one.
I used to work in downtown Cincinnati, and every single day I'd drive past Bold Face Park, where young Pete learned to hit and field and fly. It's overgrown now, seedy and crumbling in an increasingly sketchy part of town.
Perpetually angry as I am with Pete, the Prodigal Grandfather, often as I shake my head and say, “He did this to himself,” the intensity, the pain in his eyes gives me pause. In The Talking Head to the Talking Head Formerly Known As Charlie, he expresses his utter agony at seeing a brand-new, state of the art, half-empty stadium on the banks of the Ohio. “Seats are for asses,” he said fervently.
Well-- yeah, Pete. That’s why your involvement with baseball has been confined to one for half my life.
January 12, 2004