In posts on Joe Jackson and Hal Chase I mentioned Pete Rose in passing. I was asked what I thought of Rose. Being dumb enough to walk into an ongoing fight, here goes.
Let me start with an important caveat. I never watched either Jackson or Chase play (Even I’m not that old!). I did see Rose play. I also saw his teams perform. That’s something, again, I can’t say about either Jackson’s White Sox or the various teams Chase graced (Graced? Did I actually type “graced”?). That means I can’t look at Rose as dispassionately as I do the other two. I have memories of him that are real and not simply still shots or grainy newsreels. For me Rose is in color and the other two in black and white. I have distinct opinions about the Big Red Machine (it’s been overrated because its pitching wasn’t very good) and Rose’s postion on it (he was at best the 3rd finest player on the team after Bench and Morgan and depending on the year behind Perez and/or Foster). I’m saying this so you know that I come to Rose with a bias I don’t have toward the other two.
Having got that off my chest, Rose is a first rate slug. Baseball has a lot of rules, some in a thick book, others posted on the clubhouse wall. No gambling is one of those. It goes back to the 1920′s and the Black Sox scare. I’m not a huge fan of Judge Landis and his views of race, but he got the gambling one right. Simply no gambling on baseball in any way, shape, or form. It may be brutal and arbitrary, but it cuts out nuiances that make lawyers necessary. As far as I know, Pete Rose can read, so I want no excuses from him to the effect that “Well, geez guys, I didn’t know that.” Rose got himself banned for gambling and he now admits it. To me that’s case closed and I don’t want to hear about “Poor ole Charlie Hustle.”
Dante told us there were various levels of hell. I think there are also various degrees of bending the rules in baseball. I’ve noticed a number of people arguing that cheating is so common to the game that Rose breaking the gambling rules is no big deal. Well, yes it is. There’s a wide gulf between Derek Jeter’s phantom hit by pitch (“Oh,agony, Oh pain, Oh I”m dying.”) and Chick Gandil trying to lose the 1919 World Series on purpose. To compare them is just plain silly. And Rose fits somewhere in between them
In some ways that’s my great problem with Rose, the “somewhere in between” part. As far as I can tell (and as I’ve said before, the trials and tribulations of Pete Rose aren’t my specialty) Rose is supposed to have bet on his team to win while he was a manager. Nothing in that impunes his character as a player. If he was betting on games as a player, then there’s a different problem, but I don’t feel I need to address that unless it’s true. It’s his character as a manager that’s in question. And again I find myself somewhat ambivalent about Rose here. Betting on your team to win is still gambling, but in a sense isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? Doesn’t he want to have his team win and placing a bet on them to do so shows a certain confidence in the team (and, yes, I understand the dilemma caused by not betting on a particular game). I’m not defending doing it. It’s banned as well as any other kind of gambling on baseball, but it seems to me that it isn’t quite the same circle of hell as throwing a game or betting on your team to lose. It doesn’t attack the very integrity of the game like the Black Sox did.
In his Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James did a long essay on Rose. Some of it turned out to be wrong, but he did do one thing I find instructive. He set up a list of criteria to determine the level of the crime of gambling on baseball. Level one was “associating casually with known (illegal) gamblers.” Level 10 was “actually participating in the fixing of a championship.” The entire list is on page 787 in my copy if you want to see the whole thing. I’m not sure I agree with the entire list, with the exact order, or if maybe there ought to be more levels, but it’s a good start and certainly good enough for the purpose of this posting. Level 6 in James’ list is “placing large bets on baseball with a bookie.” That seems to me to be the top rung of Rose’s guilt based on the levels James proposes. Level 7 is “being complicit in the fixing of a game or other outcome, or betting against one’s own team.” As I stated above, as far as I know, Rose’s sin never reached this level.
Level 9 of James’ list is “being complicit in the fixing of a championship.” It’s here that we find Jackson. Does he rise to level 10? I think so, but other’s don’t. Chase never played on a pennant winner, so never got the chance to reach levels 9 and 10, although I’m sure, given the chance, he’d have manfully gutted it up and gone right for level 10. This may sound like I’m being tough on Jackson and Chase and giving Rose a break. I’m not really. I mean here to imply that Rose isn’t quite the nefarious lout that the others are, but that doesn’t mean he’s some sort of misunderstood innocent either. To me the entire lot deserves a place in Dante’s hell. I just think Rose ought to be a little higher up the food chain. Maybe only ten shackles instead of twenty.