I don't deserve this thing that's happened to me. I'm going to meet the greatest umpire of all - and he knows I'm innocent. The good Lord will know I'm innocent. Goodbye, good buddy. This is it.
-Shoeless Joe Jackson's last words
Pete Rose should be in the Promised Land of baseball, otherwise known as the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. After he's dead.
If God is a baseball fan, that's the way he wants it. Just ask Moses.
A lot of people call him Charlie Hustle, but by any other name, Pete Rose, the man, still stinks.
Rose's banishment from baseball is in the sports pages again, in no small part due to a poorly-timed interrogation about Rose's gambling by NBC's Jim Gray before Game 2 of the World Series. Gray probably should have used the moment to celebrate the presence of Ted Williams, Willie Mays or any one of the other All-Century team honorees. Any one but this one. A gathering of magic as this one was shouldn't have clouded by the dark side of human character.
But it was. Shades of Gray are the talk of baseball fans right now, and have led to a renewed call for baseball to call Rose back from exile. According to polls, the majority of the Pete Rose at-large parole board believes he should take his place at Cooperstown.
It isn't that these supporters view the ex-Pride of the Cincinnati Reds through rose-colored glasses. The usual sentiment expressed is that his record and accomplishments outweigh his character flaws.
After all, this is forgive and forget America. If it wasn't, a different guy would be President.
Just in case anyone hasn't heard the story, Rose was kicked out of baseball for illegal gambling, including betting on games in which he was involved. Rose agreed to the banishment without admitting guilt and with the carrot that he could apply for reinstatement.
The evidence against Rose consisted mostly of the testimony of his own cronies, a bunch of wiseguy-types who were all involved in felonies like gambling rugs, and tax evasion themselves. There were apparently enough of these dubious characters willing to canary Rose down the river, that the report was very credible. It's not exactly like you can get this stuff from clergymen.
Gambling is baseball's cardinal (and perhaps original) sin. Shoeless Joe Jackson, he of the .356 lifetime average and one of the best ever, is still banished, 80 years after the World Series of which he was accused of throwing was played.
Football is more lenient with its greats. Paul Hornung (gambling), Lawrence Taylor (drugs --lots of 'em) and O.J. Simpson ('nuff said) all have their bronze busts on display in Canton, Ohio.
And a lot of folks think it's time to give old Pete a break and give him his due. Even ex-President Jimmy Carter weighed in a few years ago with a piece entitled "It's Time to Forgive Pete Rose" in which he supports giving Charlie Hustle the "opportunity for redemption."
Ty Cobb, the player whose record Rose surpassed, wasn't exactly what you might callwell-liked. Some even thought he was a dirty player. After baseball, Cobb became a wealthy man. History has redeemed Cobb's reputation somewhat, as certain details of his life have had time to settle in our consciousness. His mother accidentally shot and killed his father who, suspecting his wife of an affair, tried to sneak in a bedroom window. Cobb anonymously provided for down-on-their-luck ex-players or their widows. Still, when the Georgia Peach died, just three people from baseball attended his funeral.
When Rose goes to that big diamond in the sky, they probably won't have to bring out the extra folding chairs for the mourners.
Rose is doing okay for himself, traveling around selling his signature to collectors. And he's even in cyberspace - go to peterose.com and he'll happily ship you an autographed jersey for $275. But no one seems to have heard anything about a Pete Rose wing of a children's hospital being built somewhere.
The man lived up to his monikers. Charlie Hustle hustled and was a hustler. Pete Rose's career bloomed long and successful, but in matters of character he was a prickly thorn. It is impossible to separate the two personalities.
Moses slogged his way through the desert for forty years leading his people to the Promised Land. But he had a few transgressions along the way and the Almighty didn't think his behavior warranted entrance. So He showed Moses the place from afar and allowed him to die knowing he had accomplished what he set out to do.
As for Pete Rose, who played the game with a determination we have yet to see again, he deserves that much. He should find his peace knowing that he will someday reach the ultimate destination for a ballplayer. But no more. And if he goes up and not down, he can argue the call with that greatest umpire of them all.