“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” — Pete Rose
Pete Rose said it, and I believed it. I was a kid. Kids believe a lot of stuff. Not only did I believe it, I felt it. When I first read it, I thought about it, which is something I didn’t do a lot as a kid. I thought about the things I cared about – my baseball cards. And I truly understood that Pete Rose cared about playing baseball even more than I cared about my cards.
The funny thing is, after all these years and all he’s done, I still believe Pete Rose. Maybe it’s the kid in me? I don’t know. I believe the game was just as important to him as he said, and probably still is.
With that out of the way, I’m not really sure what this post is about. It’s about Pete, for sure. And it’s about the Hall of Fame. And it’s kind of about depression. I don’t know. Enjoy?
A Lesson in Argument
If you make an argument by analogy, there are two principles you must adhere to in order for your analogy to hold up. First, the similarities between the two items must matter. Second, the differences between the two items must not matter. For example, one of the most overused and worst analogies in the gun debate succeeds on the first of these principles but fails miserably on the second. It goes something like this, “The Japanese don’t allow guns and have hardly any gun violence, so if we ban guns in the United States, we will have hardly any gun violence.” Something like that.
Yes, the United States and Japan are quite similar in that they’re advanced economies, that they’re world leaders, that they have reasonably fair legal systems, etc. However, there are huge differences between the two countries. And one of them matters a ton! Many Americans believe, they truly believe, that they have a right, almost a responsibility, to carry a gun. Whether those folks are right or wrong isn’t important. By changing a law, we won’t change beliefs, and it’s that belief, something not remotely analogous to the Japanese mindset, that makes this argument fall apart.
Pete Rose and Joe Jackson
Okay, I admit it. I listen to sports talk radio. And Pete Rose has been in the news again this year for a couple of reasons. Seeking ratings, I imagine, he was hired as a studio analyst by Fox Sports. And the second reason is because it was found that he bet on baseball games as a player. Yeah, Pete’s been in the news. So we talk about him. That’s what happens. And frankly, the only thing most discuss about Pete is whether or not he should be in the Hall of Fame.What really irks me is when the discussion of Rose brings about comparisons to Joe Jackson. Let me say one thing for certain. The situations of Pete Rose and Joe Jackson ARE NOT!!!!! analogous.
Can you sense I’m angry about something?
Did they both involve betting on games? Yes. Are both banned for life? Yes. Are both deserving of Hall induction based only on their statistics? Yes. And that’s where the comparisons end.
Joe Jackson almost certainly agreed to throw games in the 1919 World Series in exchange for money. But the evidence seems to me that he didn’t fulfill his end of the deal. I believe he played his best. Around 1919, gambling wasn’t entirely uncommon in baseball, and it was certainly more common then than it is today or was during Rose’s time. After Jackson and his mates did what they did, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis believed that, on some level, they needed to be made examples of. At that time baseball wasn’t as secure as it is today. There was real fear that organized crime could possibly infiltrate the game. Thus, this greatest penalty, the death penalty for baseballers, if you will, was created.
Let me explain how the situations between Jackson and Rose differ.
Joe Jackson broke a rule that didn’t exist in the way it does today. He knew nothing of a lifetime ban. The Hall of Fame didn’t even exist during Jackson’s career. Further, we have to agree that it’s not close to as bad to agree to do something wrong (Jackson) as it is to actually do the wrong thing (Rose).
Unlike Jackson, Rose knew about a rule, a very specific one. Unlike Jackson, Rose knew about a lifetime ban. Unlike Jackson, so I believe, Rose actually followed-through on doing the wrong thing. Unlike Jackson, Rose broke the same rule many times. Over. And over. And over.
Inducting or reinstating one should have nothing at all to do with inducting or reinstating the other. Nothing!
You’ve heard the story of the kid outside the Chicago courtroom in 1920. “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Well, that’s probably not exactly what happened. But it seems the kid was real. In 1986, older and perhaps a little jaded, that same kid, now 75ish and retired, perhaps standing outside a Las Vegas casino might have said to Pete Rose, “Say you ain’t that stupid, Pete.”
Is Pete that stupid?
The easy answer is that he is. After all, he’d have to be that stupid to give up something he loved so much just to bet on a few games. Right? The thing is, I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he’s an addict. I think he’s likely a little arrogant (okay, a lot). And I think he’s a really troubled person.
The National Institutes of Health tells us that somewhere between 2% and 4% of Americans have an issue with what they call problem gambling. They go on to say that such problem gambling could progress to a psychiatric condition known as pathological gambling, something Americans suffer from at a rate of 0.4% to 2%. While I’m not even close to an expert, I’d suggest that Rose has a pathological gambling problem.
So my answer is that he’s not stupid, far from it. But he just can’t help himself. I feel badly for Rose. I think he’s probably suffering on a day-to-day basis more than the average person. Maybe a lot more.
Yeah, this blog is meandering. Just indulge me for a moment.
My mom died a number of years ago, and one of the lasting memories I have about that time is how people judged the manner in which other people mourned. “How can she be laughing at a time like this?” “Won’t he just stop sobbing for three minutes?!?” There’s no place for drinking at a moment like this.” “Susan never would have approved of that.”
Well, let me tell ya, Susan sure would have approved of just about any that that existed. I don’t think she understood people much better than the next person. And her high school diploma didn’t give her the insight into the human condition that, say, a cognitive psychologist might have. But she did understand that people respond to the exact same situations in very different ways. Not only did she understand that, she was good with it.
I learned a lot from my mom. One thing is that people are different. Just as people mourn in all sorts of ways, people suffer in all sorts of ways.
The National Institute of Mental Health tells us that in 2012 6.9% of all American adults suffered from a Major Depressive Episode. Women suffer more than men, younger more than older. Lots of people suffer.
More than a month ago now former major leaguer Darryl Hamilton was killed by his girlfriend, Monica Jordan, as part of a murder/suicide. I assume that Jordan suffered from some sort of depression. Some of the more judgmental among us might suggest that Hamilton, a man who earned in excess of $22 million during his playing days, might have been able to find a more stable person to date. Well, Jordan was an attorney who had worked for some of the country’s most powerful companies. On one level, that sounds pretty stable to me. On another, it’s clear that money and intelligence don’t equate to stability. And they don’t mean a particular person isn’t depressed.
Lots of people, from all walks of life, have lots of problems. I think society could likely do more to help the depressed and pathological gamblers. And maybe we will one day. Nevertheless, we are all still responsible for our actions.
And that bring us back to Pete Rose.
Rose Bet on Baseball
And according to ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “…Rose bet extensively on baseball – and on the Cincinnati Reds – as he racked up the last hits of a record-smashing career in 1986.” He couldn’t help it. That’s what I think, anyway. Still, he’s responsible for what he did.
Rule 21 says that “Any player…who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.” Such is the legacy of Shoeless Joe, Judge Landis, and the Black Sox.
Rose knew this rule. He’d seen it in the clubhouse every day of his career. And he didn’t care. Or he couldn’t help himself.
It is very clear to me that Rose should be permanently ineligible, and thus banned from induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
So the questions we have today are about Rose and the HoME.
Should Rose be thrown out of the HoME?
At the risk of contradicting myself within just a few paragraphs, there are two players we might consider when trying to answer this question. The first is Joe Jackson. Wait. Just wait.
We should consider him and almost immediately realize that he and Rose are different. Jackson is in the HoME because we don’t believe his actions rose to the level to exclude someone. We judged Jackson on his merits and found him worthy. Before the revelation that Rose bet while playing for the Reds, Rose was also in the HoME based on his merits.
Do Rose’s actions now rise to the level to exclude someone, or should he continue to be judged on his merits?
This is where we consider one other player — Eddie Cicotte. Cicotte played with Jackson on the Black Sox. And he actually did throw games. The fix was confirmed with the very first batter in the very first game when Cicotte hit Morrie Rath. In short, Cicotte made a deal with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. And unlike Jackson, he actually threw it. He was the key guy. Without him, the gamblers had much less of a chance to succeed. He helped to destroy the World Series. He lost on purpose. For me, that’s why he’s not in the Hall of Miller and Eric.
To be clear, the reason I decided not to vote for Cicotte is that the wrong he did to his 1919 Chicago White Sox was so great that it eclipsed all of the good he contributed before throwing the World Series.
I would place Rose somewhere in between Cicotte and Jackson on the baseball badness scale. But that’s not really the point. For me, the HoME is about what players did in Major League Baseball. Jackson might have done something to harm the game, but I don’t think he ever did anything to harm his team. Cicotte absolutely did something to harm the game. And he also very clearly did something to harm his team.
Rose, though not analogous to Jackson in the Hall of Fame discussion, stands a lot closer to Jackson than he does to Cicotte, at least for me. Rose’s actions have, without question, been harmful to the game. However, I don’t believe his actions did anything to intentionally harm his teams. For me, that’s the reason Rose should remain in the HoME.
Conclusions (as if I have any)
I’ve been working on this post for over a month, since the day Hamilton was murdered and the day it was revealed that Rose bet on baseball. It’s not done yet. I can’t imagine it ever will be. I put off and put off and put off posting it. I probably should have just trashed it. I don’t know.
Nor do I know why it’s taken me so long. To be honest, my writing should be a lot stronger and a lot less meandering with the number of revisions this post has received.
Of course, lots of things should happen.
One of the characteristics that keeps both baseball and life so interesting and disappointing is that things don’t always happen in the way they should.
The tragedy of Darryl Hamilton quite obviously never should have happened. The Rose “tragedy” is different. Some people might find it easy enough to avoid. I disagree. It involves so many layers of suffering and human complexity. His is not a story that ever should have happened either.
For a guy I truly believe would walk through hell in a gasoline suit, his decisions have been at the same time unfathomable and all-too-easy to understand.