Burton on the Bay:
Why Pick on Rose?
He's No Worse than the Next Guy

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

  -"Sacred Emily," Gertrude Stein

And such is the case whether the rose is the one in my back yard or a rose that once flourished in a stadium, say Pete Rose, at one time of the Cincinnati Reds. Which brings up one of the two most who-cares controversies in the current World of Sports.

Pete appears a likable enough guy, certainly he was a hustler on the diamond - and it's highly rumored he was also one in the World of Gambling. But the big question is whether he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., which incidentally is in close proximity to the origin of the Susquehanna River.

Pete, who handled balls aggressively both with glove and bat, was banned from baseball a decade ago for betting on the game as well as betting on anything else. The evidence was overwhelming. He seems to be the only one who considers himself innocent, and has maintained his hustle (or is it arrogance?) in efforts to once again be a part of baseball.

Thus far, he has struck out, a big K, three swings, and he's still out. And it probably would, or at least could, have stayed that way, had it not been for the fans of "America's sport," who still consider him one of the greatest athletes to walk on a diamond. And this is where it gets sticky.


Pete at the Plate

The fans were asked to ballot for the team of the century, and Pete was a big winner. Baseball went along with the decision of the fans in extending an invitation for him to participate in an introduction of the players selected for the All-Century Team.

It was in Atlanta during the World Series, and Pete Rose got the biggest ovation of the night - of the Yankees-Braves game as well as the intros of the Team of the Century. It might not have gone any further had not some TV sportscaster been as aggressive with his mike as Pete was with his bat and glove.

NBC sports announcer Jim Gray, obviously trying to make as big a name for himself as Rose had on the diamond, relentlessly questioned Pete following his introduction about whether he would now admit to gambling. A good question, one we'd all like an answer to, but the wrong time, so why relentlessly repeat it?

This once again stirred up baseball fans, who wanted no sour notes in the melody of the extravaganza. Muddled into again was the quagmire surrounding Pete's banishment from major league stadiums and from the Hall of Fame.

Gray's tasteless approach merits him a slot covering Little League baseball in some 500-watt station in Idaho, but - though it did arouse more support for Pete's enshrinement in both the Hall of Fame and possibly as manager of a major league team - it plays no part in the bottom line.

Is Pete Rose worthy of baseball?


The I-Word

Methinks there's a basic question of the integrity - not just of baseball, but of all sports, possibly all facets of American life - involved here. Certainly the greatest of the great baseball players deserve recognition. But should there not be limits to help preserve what's left of the integrity of the game itself?

Maybe Rose should be allowed to come back to his sport as a manager hired by Peter Angelos: They deserve each other. His tenure would be short, like that of his predecessors, in piloting the Orioles, and once again he could return to welcoming visitors to big-name casinos where opportunities abound for friendly wagers.

That would handle the question of his place in baseball.

So now to the Hall of Fame.

Why not give in and acknowledge that he belongs there, then put a big asterisk alongside his chiseled bust somewhere in a corner of the shrine?

Rose fans could search out his nook in some obscure and dank corner at Cooperstown, pay homage, and that controversy would fade away. After all, in the pre-Mark McGwire era, baseball used an asterisk to resolve the Roger Maris/Babe Ruth home run record controversy involving how many games each played in their record seasons.

What's basically important in the Pete Rose dilemma is the integrity of the sport, also the importance of role models in an era when heroes literally spit in the face of umpires and legal accommodations are made to allow players, both college and pros, to avoid missing games because of convictions for theft, assault and a multitude of other crimes.

Consider the record sheets of some players, especially in basketball, the many drug convictions, and they're still playing. One basketball hero wrote of bedding 20,000 women, and he's in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., - though one wonders how he had the time or energy for a game of hoops.

Winning has become what it's all about. Winners make money, and the bottom line is money. That's what it's all about. Some blame Vince Lombardi, known best for coaching the Green Bay Packers, but also for his saying: Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

Truth is, if one looks it up, football coach Red Sanders shares credit for that remark.

Sanders and Lombardi were winners, but the big monetary winners are the owners of pro sports teams or the big name colleges that field perennial championship teams. Sanders and Lombardi just wanted their teams to win; the owners and the colleges insist on that, though with an eye to the turnstiles


Boxing's Bursting Bubble

Look at boxing, a sport in which Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis and probably Rocky Marciano, Gene Tunney and a host of others could make mincemeat of Mike Tyson as quick as Pete Rose could round the bases. But who's making the money and getting all the attention? And has the only criminal record of those mentioned.

Not-so-Marvelous Iron Mike - a convicted rapist, veteran of courts on assault charges and a fellow who before packed boxing arenas took a big bite out of one opponent's ear, then blatantly slugged his latest foe after the bell - is the biggest draw in what has become not only a seedy sport but also an endangered one.

Yet he's a hero to many and brings in the money, so boxing will always find a place for him to make more millions for himself and, of course, for the promoters. Why, he made $8.7 million for the one round against unknown Orlin Norris (whose paycheck was only $201,000) in Las Vegas last month - though the purse was held up for a few days to let the ire of the minority fair-fight fans cool off.

Thugs of his ilk pretty much dominate the contemporary World of Boxing, which is obviously on its way out. So, one day - hopefully not too far distant - boxing will be a long gone sport like tossing people to the lions.

Unless the other sports clean up their acts, one day the bubble will burst for them as well. There aren't enough suckers born every minute to pay the inflated freight. Enough said.

| Issue 44 |

Volume VII Number 44
November 4-10, 1999
New Bay Times

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