Charlie Hustle Has His Day

My case for letting Pete Rose off the hook

Pete Rose was a childhood hero. I grew up a Pirates fan, but back in the mid-’70s, these iconic ballplayers were huge and transcendent. In my room, I had posters of Willie Stargell and Dave Parker, but also Pete Rose and Johnny Bench (big fan of “The Baseball Bunch”).

That is, until August 1989, when I swore off Rose forever. You see, when one lives in Unicornville (the next town over from Puppydogland), life is black and white. My hero bet on sports. That’s cheating. I now hate him. It hurt deep in the pit of my stomach. It was crushing.

A decade later, I saw him signing autographs in a little gift shop in Vegas and gave him the evil eye. I thought up a bunch of things to shout at him, but chickened out. I think I stuck out my tongue.

But as you get older, things get gray (in more ways than one.) The world looks different now. To be honest, I haven’t thought about Pete Rose in ages, but reading about his induction into the Cincinnati Hall of Fame this weekend caused me to reflect on the situation differently. Don’t get me wrong: The guy made poor decision after poor decision. He denied gambling, then admitted it, but is still wishy-washy about the whole thing. I think he deserved a lot of the punishment that was doled out to him. But upon further reflection, to keep torturing this guy with the “will he/won’t he” Hall of Fame discussion, when there are much larger issues in sports. just kind of seems silly. I think this one deserves to be put to rest. Here’s why:

Pete Rose was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame this weekend amid hometown fanfare, approved by MLB Commish Rob Manfred. It was a small step in removing a bit of tarnish from his reputation — but the story of Charlie Hustle has always been complicated.

Those ready to forgive argue: “He only bet on his team to win! He believed in his team. What’s wrong with that?”

Those who can’t forget say: “Well, if he didn’t bet on his team to win a particular game, wasn’t that a signal to others that he thought the team was going to lose?” And they say: “Didn’t we learn anything from the deeply shameful scandal of the Chicago Black Sox? No one affiliated with any team on the field should be betting! It’s a rule. He broke it. End of story.”

That argument only holds up if the rest of sports is pure. Untouched. Untarnished. C’mon man …

Might I remind you that the Pete Rose story comes on the heels of news that the NHL is expanding to Vegas, after years of a rocky relationship between the city of sin and all professional leagues.

And just a week after #Ayeshagate blew up Twitter, as Ayesha Curry (certainly not close to being the first) had the audacity to mention rigged games. (Have we all forgotten about Tim Donaghy, the disgraced ref who is now gambling’s golden boy?)

What a dope.

Do we need to bring up #deflategate? (Sorry angry Ben & Bill Simmons. I do think that Brady, even being the busy guy that he is, probably had time to tell somebody to deflate the balls just enough to have an impact, but not too much to be detected. Just about 8%. And I’m sure he’s not the only one.) Then we have Al Jazeera’s PED report, just about two minutes after the deified Peyton Manning retired. We have Lance effing Armstrong. Barry g*ddam Bonds*, now the Marlins’ batting coach!? Michael Jordan’s gambling!? NASCAR?! Tennis?! FIFA?! State-sponsored doping in Russia and China?! And the Olympics themselves!?

[On that note, are we all just collectively turning our heads despite the many authoritative voices saying that this year’s Olympics in Rio is very likely to exacerbate this world health crisis — but no one will make a move to postpone or move the location of the Games because too much money is at stake?! (Sorry, I seem to be having my own angry Ben moment.)]

But I will say this: In the 27 years that have passed, with the current state of the sports world, Pete Rose’s transgressions seem kind of trivial. A sad relic from days gone by. According to today’s standards, maybe his biggest mistake was that he didn’t give anyone in a powerful position a cut?

As I write this, don’t think it’s lost on me that I’m an accessory to this crime. I’m an enabler. I still remain a fan, as long as I don’t think too much about what is going on. I think that’s probably a coping mechanism we all have perfected in order to make it through life in general. (We all saw “The Big Short,” right?)

But when I look back at the 1976 Big Red Machine— with that deeply loved team, including Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey, Davy Concepcion, my favorite, Johnny Bench, manager Sparky Anderson and, yes, Pete Rose — I start looking at this man as a human being. A flawed man who used horrible judgment again and again, and has not fully owned up to everything he did. But I start looking at how this hypocritical decision, and the statement by Manfred last year that Rose “has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life” is vague and slightly unfair.

His numbers as a player still stand (Rose’s 4,256 hits are still considered untouchable and there’s no evidence that he was pumping himself full of steroids, like some other people we know) — yet the baseball ban has defined this man’s life.

The naive, idealistic, hopeful sports fan in me (I still have a summer home in Unicornville) says, “Give this guy his day. Put this scandal to bed. Sure, you can include an asterisk and tell his story, as you pretend that the rest of the sports world is pure. But don’t let this guy suffer any longer.”

Erica Boeke is the co-founder and Chief Content Officer of The Relish — a fresh new weekly newsletter for female sports fans. Erica bleeds black and gold and plans to name her first-born child Franco Harris-Boeke. She interviewed for her first job as a writer for the SF Giants in the dugout at Candlestick Park, wearing a parka, of course. Erica co-wrote GameFace, a book for women who love pro sports, and is currently working on her next book about the summer she and her dad ushered for a minor league baseball team. She takes her hot dog with ketchup and onions (sorry Chicagoland).

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.