Thursday, March 15, 2007
Not So Sweet Pete
During my early, pre-adolescent, baseball crazy years, I was both fascinated and repulsed by the player they called Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose. A true blue Red Sox kid, I adored Yaz, having fallen in love with the sport during the Impossible Dream season of 1967, but I also rooted for a few players clad in enemy uniforms, like Willie Mays, Sudden Sam McDowell, Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew,Al Kaline,and Bob Gibson. Rose, on the other hand, despite the stories and photos depicting him in perpetual motion, running out walks like his ass was on fire, along with his much vaunted ability to spray the ball virtually anywhere, just didn't look, or act, like my kinda ballplayer. He was built like a fireplug, and with his hair shorn into a tight military crew cut, he seemed like a holdover from the '50's, a Hardy Boy in the Age of Aquarius, a chipmunk scampering around amidst gazelles and thoroughbreds. After the Reds and the Sox met in the fantastic World series of 1975, I began to view Rose altogether differently. His hustle, his multiple abilities, his down and dirty approach, and, most of all, his undeniable appreciation that he was a grown man allowed to make a living playing a kid's game made him particularly endearing during a time period when most of my turned-on and tuning-out peers were rejecting professional sports as uncool, old-fashioned, and yet another tool of the dreaded establishment. I rooted like mad for Rose when he managed his consecutive hits assault against Joe D's record, I loved the fact that he managed to move from second base to third to right field and finally to first, and I clipped a Sports Illustrated cover that featured elder statesman Yaz and Pete smiling stiffly at the camera and posted it in a variety of digs I settled into for the next decade or so. When the great debate began, and the initial revelations of Rose's betting habit came out, I simply thought that one thing mattered---4,256 hits--No doubt about it, that stat alone made him an unquestionable Hall of Famer. As the years progressed,and each and every unsavory tidbit was revealed, Rose's off-field persona became distinctly off-putting--He came across as a low grade hustler, a baseball savant,a social miscreant, and worst of all, an inveterate liar. Today's newest Rose story--that he now admits to betting on the Reds on a daily basis, so as not to give the bookies an edge, is his most idiotic spin yet on his ever-changing tale, making it almost impossible to defend the guy. It isn't so much say it ain't so Pete, it's don't say it at all. I'm still a believer that a player's off the field exploits shouldn't affect the criteria for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, but ol' Charlie Hustle has become a sick and sad joke, and my once cherished images of him sliding hard and dirty into home, or stroking a line drive and popping up on the first base bag like a rabid jack-in-the-box, will be forever displaced by multiple-looks of the corpulent Pete, the sniveling Pete, Pete-as-conniving-interviewee, or Pete with the snaky, squinty, desperate, lyin' eyes.