Posted: Friday January 27, 2006 5:36PM; Updated: Friday January 27, 2006 5:49PM
A Hall of Fame-caliber player in his day, Pete Rose can't catch a break off the field.
Walking to an interview in the Valley the other day and thought I saw someone familiar, sitting in a coffee shop, jawing away. He had on a jaunty-looking ball cap, hair jutting stiffly out beneath it, gold-filigreed glasses and an all-blue track suit. Pete Rose!
We go back a bit and he pretended to recognize me. I knew him from the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the '70s, when I was young writer for the paper there. We were both Cincy kids, from adjacent neighborhoods, and knew our way around a Skyline Chili menu. When the beer man called out, "Get moody with Hude!" we knew what he was talking about. Course, that was a while ago. I don't think they even make Hudepohl any more.
The way I understand it, Pete got in a little scrape with the commissioner since I'd last seen him. In 30 years, lots changed besides consolidation in the recreational beverage industry. Bet on his team, that kind of thing. Became a pariah, I'm told, on account he wouldn't admit to gambling on his team, much less apologize. Got tossed clean out of the game, the one where he had more hits than even Ty Cobb. Subsequently, couldn't hold a job in baseball, couldn't get into the Hall, couldn't do much but annoy pedants and purists by being alive, and sign his name at card shows for everybody else.
And here he was in Southern California, at least enjoying his purgatory in proper track suit weather. I asked him how long it's been, him being a pariah. "Not so long," he said. "Happened when my daughter was born. She's getting her license this year." He thought that was funny. I'm not sufficiently versed in the case to have an opinion but, in this day and age, when redemption is a major theme in our movies of the week, I was a little taken aback by a grudge of such proportions. "That guy that shot the pope?" he said. "They let him out." He laughed some more. Pete's what you call impolitic, which served him well on the way up, when he was a cocky, head-first-sliding punk. Not so much when he's on the outs.
We talked a little more, he showed me an off-color joke some woman had just text-messaged him, and we reminisced about some of the old Cincy scribes. "Old Earl Lawson," he said, "died a year or two ago." I knew old Earl well. "I gave him a gold watch, for seeing all my hits."
Pete can't imagine why all his hits aren't apology enough. Lots of people besides old Earl saw them, enjoyed them. It puzzles him. "Do you know," he asked me, "there are three writers from Dayton in the Hall of Fame." Ritter Collett, Si Burick, Hal McCoy. Burick goes into the Hall of Fame because he wrote the following lede when buxom Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, was being escorted back to the stands by four -- four! -- security officers: "And so they led her off the diamond, two abreast." The others, I can't say why they're in the Hall. I actually don't know why any writer should be in the Hall. For watching Pete's hits, I guess. (Good luck, Earl.)
I said goodbye to Pete after that and kind of forgot about the whole thing. But then I accidentally saw this story about Michelle Kwan, how she was injured for the Olympic trials, but was getting some weird kind of pass to possibly make the team after all. I'm even less versed in Olympic ice skating, if that's in fact what this is about, than Pete's HOF eligibility. But if she does get in, doesn't that mean some other skater was jobbed, some favoritism shown?
I'm not suggesting there are any parallels here. Like I said, I'm not versed. Pete broke the law, Michelle was just unlucky, what I gather. Maybe everyone really is getting what they deserve. What do I know. But it's interesting how frantic the establishment has been to bend the rules in Michelle's case, how steadfastly opposed to any compromise of principles in Pete's. I hope it's not just because she's cuter, unthreatening, young. Because she says the right things. Because she's popular. Because she isn't going to go through life with a bad haircut and even more attitude.
But, for all of us who've ever gone even to grade school, been a bit of an ass, have not quite been the teacher's pet, that sounds about right, doesn't it?