(Host) Commentator John Morton reflects on the Pete Rose book and whether Rose deserves to be in Cooperstown.
(Morton) I’m not much of a baseball fan, but the recent controversy surrounding Pete Rose’s new book, My Prison Without Bars, emphasizes one of the complex ethical issues in sport. As a major league player, Rose earned the admiration of fans and the respect of his teammates through his fierce determination and legendary, competitive zeal. Although not especially gifted with either size or speed, he remains baseball’s all time hits leader. Sadly, Rose’s accomplishments on the field have been overshadowed by his struggle with compulsive gambling.
Many celebrity athletes have difficulty adjusting to fame and fortune. Pete Rose’s unforgivable transgression was the implication that he bet on Cincinnati Reds games while serving as the team’s manager in 1987, an accusation that he vehemently denied for the past thirteen years, but finally acknowledged in the recent book.
Why the confession now, after thirteen years of denial? Because time is running out for Rose to be reinstated, and thus eligible for nomination into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, a recognition he desperately seeks.
For me, Pete Rose’s predicament highlights an intriguing question. Have we become so enamored with athletic talent that we willingly ignore serious character flaws in our sports heroes?
Pete Rose was undeniably one of the greatest players in baseball, but he also broke one of the games most sacred rules, then lied about it for more than a decade. Should we forgive his human failings now that he has finally confessed, and celebrate his athletic accomplishments by enshrining him in the Hall of Fame?
I don’t think so.
Since our earliest memories of childhood games, we are told by parents and coaches that participation in sports builds character, teaches teamwork, and instills discipline. Sports provide a microcosm of life, the opportunity to learn and grow by experiencing, (to quote ABC’s Wide World of Sport), the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
But our devotion to sport is based upon the assumption of fair play. There is no evidence that he actually influenced the outcome of any ball games on which he had placed bets, but the central issue is still integrity and character.
In my view, our sports heroes should be recognized for more than a specific athletic talent. Those truly worthy of inclusion in a Hall of Fame inspire us with their dedication, their concern for their teammates, and perhaps above all, their sense of fair play. They are worthy, not only because of their prowess on the field, but by how they live their lives.
Sorry, Pete, you don’t make the cut.
This is John Morton.
John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.