Know which image I cannot purge from my mind? Pete Rose bumping that ump. When it happened, I considered it nothing more than an isolated, spontaneous, interesting yet not particularly world-shaking outbreak of violence, sort of like Zsa Zsa Gabor slapping that Beverly Hills cop. But now . . .
Remember the night Rose thumped that umpire, Dave Pallone? Come on. Sure you do. Pallone made a call at first base, with which Rose vehemently disagreed. The Cincinnati manager came bounding out of the dugout, did his best Billy Martin imitation right in Pallone's face, then gave the guy a forecheck with both folded arms.
At the time, all I thought was that Rose ought to feel ashamed of himself. He objected to the length of his suspension, but, truth is, ballplayers and their bosses are always attempting to feed us that malarkey about how they want to be a good influence on children, then they abuse umpires and fling helmets and incite brawls and attribute it all to being intense.
It is human to feel anger, sure. The thing about Rose's ump-bump, though, was that if a man is so out of control that he cannot resist striking an umpire, then why is he so much under control that he strikes him with his arms? Why didn't Pete Rose haul off and belt Dave Pallone in the chops? Because Rose knew exactly what he was doing, that's why.
Pete Rose knows what he can do and what he cannot do, particularly in the dominion of baseball. With regard to betting on baseball games--or, even worse, on your own team--only an imbecile would do such a thing and truly believe he could never be caught. As Jim Palmer pointed out on national television, no clubhouse in baseball has failed to prominently post a printed warning pertaining to the penalties for wagering on the game.
That is the trouble with this ongoing scandal as to whether or not the great Charlie Hustle had any sort of off-field hustle going. With even his pretrial hearings being aired live, coast to coast, Rose is fast becoming an Ollie North in short pants.
There are many reasons I wish Pete Rose had never gotten himself into this fix, among them the aforementioned run-in with that umpire. Why was Rose so vicious, so tactless, so volcanic as to make bodily contact with an umpire? Who understood the laws of baseball better than Pete? Why did this one call set him off the way it did? It wasn't a World Series, wasn't a September stretch drive. Could it be--dare we think it--that Rose had other motives for wanting so badly to win that one game?
See, that's the trouble with all this. It sets our minds racing. We can barely look at a guy anymore without wondering. It's like Wade Boggs, who probably cannot over-tip a waitress nowadays without her wondering whether he is coming on to her. We watch Pete Rose with new eyes. We go back to box scores of certain games in question and wonder about every pitching change, every pinch-hitter sent up, every managerial move.
In a recent informal poll of some of the people who vote on players eligible for the Hall of Fame, the result seemed to be Rose was in no danger of being left out, come 1992, his first year on the ballot, even if he is suspended or even banned from baseball after this gambling mess is settled. The consensus seemed to be Rose's achievements on the field outweighed everything, as long as he never bet against the Reds.
There is another movement afoot, meantime, to posthumously induct poor old Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the "Eight Men Out" who was accused of tanking the 1919 World Series. Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox were acquitted in a court of law, but the commissioner of baseball banned them from the game for life, regardless, because it was in his power to do so.
Pete Rose has been attempting, through his attorneys, to avoid having history repeat. He does not want the commissioner to determine his fate. He wants a judge or jury to do so. There are those who support both sides of this issue, and, surprisingly, one of Rose's nearest and dearest former teammates, Joe Morgan, went public Thursday with the opinion that Pete should be judged solely by the commissioner.
As the evidence stacks up against him, Pete Rose is up to his hips in deep dip, sliding headfirst. We nearly stood and cheered the other day when he finally stated aloud that he never bet on baseball in his life, because why would he compound his mistake by lying when he simply could have continued waiting for a verdict to be passed down? Well, perhaps Pete could no longer resist saying what we so much wanted to hear him say.
Ben Johnson scored points, in a peculiar sort of way, by 'fessing up to his misdeeds. Honesty still seems to be the best policy, even when one is being honest about one's dishonesty.
Somehow I have faith that the general public will stay by Pete Rose's side, even if he serves a year's suspension for betting on baseball, because gambling has become more disease than sin. Even if Gamblin' Rose did bet on the Reds, as long as the bet was on them to win, many Americans would be forgiving.
Unfortunately, if Pete Rose did bet on the Reds, to win or lose, he is going to be the ninth man out. I can hardly bear to look. He is going. He is going. He is almost gone.