I was listening to a sports talk radio show this morning when they indicated that their next segment would include an interview with Pete Rose. And all I wanted to know was … WHY?!?! There are these stories that never die, these characters that never go away, these matters that never seem to be resolved. And Pete Rose gambling on the game of baseball is one of them.
Almost 100 years ago, the Black Sox scandal in which a number of players on the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series almost ruined the game of baseball. In response and ever since, every clubhouse in major league clubhouse has had the following rule posted prominently:
“Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Pete Rose, during his 24 year career, played in 3,562 games, which means that, at a minimum, he spent 3,562 days in major league clubhouses in which that sign was posted. The reality is that the number is higher because following his playing career he managed the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. And, of course, there were likely days when he didn’t play due to injuries or rest but during which he still was with the team and in the clubhouse.
As a result of skill, longevity, and perseverance, Pete Rose eventually broke the Major League record for hits in a career. It’s one of those hallowed numbers that results in an automatic pass to the sport’s Hall of Fame. The only problem is that the Baseball Hall of Fame has a rule that no player can be admitted until five years after he retires. And what happened during those five years was that it was discovered that Pete Rose, an icon of the game, violated the most fundamental rule of the game. Thou shalt not bet on the game. He was banned from baseball and with that ban came a ban from any possible entry into the Hall of Fame.
Ever since then Pete Rose has tried to rehabilitate his image while selling his autograph and selling his memorabilia to anybody who will pay him. He has applied for reinstatement to baseball and lobbied for admission to the Hall of Fame. And every time the story revives, we find out more. First, it was that he bet on baseball while he was a manager, but never on games his team was involved in. And then, years later we found out he did bet on games that he was involved in as a manager but he only bet on his team to win. And then, finally and most recently, we found out he bet on games while he was a player. If the story continues, I have no doubt that we will eventually learn that he did, in fact, bet against his team.
And there’s a point at which the man no longer deserves any of the oxygen we breath. No more of the air time, no more copy inches in newspapers, no more bits and bytes on websites. His sell by date has long passed. The possibility of rehabilitating his reputation is no more and this all just needs to go away.
And here’s my point. I wish that we could judge people based on the standards of their time and the opinions of their peers who judged them way back when and then let it go. Pete Rose was determined by his peers, the ones who enforced the rules way back when, that he should be banned permanently and forever from the game of baseball. We should not reconsider that decision, particularly when all of the evidence that has developed since then continues to show that the situation is worse than even his peers knew. The story needs to die, Pete Rose needs to go away, and the matter be resolved and not open to debate.
This issue is playing itself out in other arenas as well. There are all sorts of movements afoot to change the name of buildings and parks and landmarks when those names represent individuals who do not meet present day standards.
I have spent more than 50 years in and around the Sacramento area. A park near my childhood home was named after Charles Goethe. Mr. Goethe was an environmentalist; he founded Sacramento State College, an institution that eventually because California State University, Sacramento, where I got my undergraduate degree; and a philanthropist. There was also a middle school in Sacramento named after him. The only problem is that he was also a racist, having founded the Eugenics Society of Northern California and engaged in some pretty offensive actions involving race. There is no sugar coating some of this and I will never defend him for his racist views.
Charles Goethe Middle School is now known as Rosa Parks Middle School. Goethe Park is now known as River Bend Park. There are many other examples of this practice, and I wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice with this constant revisiting of who we name our buildings and landmarks after, thereby burying our history.
There is a new play showing in Sacramento. It is written and produced by Native Americans and the cast also is entirely Native American. The play is about John Sutter — the man who came to Sacramento in the 19th century, built a fort and one day sent James Marshall into the foothills to build a sawmill. James Marshall discovered gold and California was never the same. The point of the play, apparently, is that John Sutter enslaved Native Americans, killed people, and may have been a pedophile. So, I wonder what Sutter’s Fort, the landmark that still exists in Sacramento today and is where John Sutter established himself in Sacramento, will be renamed to — Midtown Fort? And what will Sutter Middle School become? Antonin Scalia Middle School?
Just as Pete Rose should be judged by the opinions of his peers way back when and we shouldn’t keep revisiting the decisions made then, it seems we should judge the “naming conventions” of these places based on the standards of the time the names were selected. Charles Goethe was despicable in some ways, but also a visionary in some respects, contributing significantly to what became modern Sacramento. Why not keep his name on that middle school and on that park and use it to educate people about both his successes and his horrors rather than shoving his name under the rug and hiding the history that is ours — both good and bad. We seem to expect saints and will not accept anything less. A somewhat impossible standard to meet.
I went to an elementary school named after Thomas Jefferson — a Founding Father and our Third President. A man many believe to be one of our greatest Presidents. A great man who achieved some amazing things in his lifetime. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, you know. And apparently didn’t have a problem with impregnating at least one of them.