Will he, won’t he, should he be in the Hall of Fame? Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By EDWARD ACHORN
Do we really need another book about Pete Rose?
I’m not so sure. Anyone who watched him play baseball already knows he was a marvel of hustle and intensity—a joy to study in action. Anyone who consults his records recognizes instantly that if play on the field were the only criterion, baseball’s all-time leader in hits would belong in the Hall of Fame. Anyone who knows anything about his personality understands that he was his own worst enemy: an impulsive gambler, a compulsive womanizer, a self-aggrandizing liar and meat-headed man of the people, devoid of prejudice and snobbery, but boisterous with sixth-grade witticisms about body parts and bodily functions.
Kostya Kennedy brings the story of this character up to date, and wraps it in a glossy package of highfalutin writing and literary artifice. We get plenty of jerking the reader back and forth in time, probably because a straight narrative would seem boring. We get some injections of historical context, particularly about Rose’s hometown of Cincinnati and race relations in the 1960s, when he was becoming a star. We get friends and relatives in abundance, because Rose himself either charges too much to talk or doesn’t have much to say that is interesting or trustworthy. We get painstaking descriptions of the places Rose signs his autograph for big bucks, and a protracted dissertation on the origin of the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. We get splashes of clever writing: “He bounded into the big leagues like a golf ball on hot concrete,” for example. The dialogue between two of Rose’s thuggish acquaintances is described as “a dash of salted Runyon, a heap of Paulie Walnuts.”
But at the heart of this latest treatment is the nearly unbelievable hollowness of its central character, a man so swinish and self-centered that he almost seems inscrutable. Trudging down these familiar hallways, no matter how dazzlingly they are decorated, feels like a dreary journey, because we know exactly where they lead: to Rose’s callous and despicable betrayal of the game he loved passionately and did so much to serve as a player. His gambling on his own team’s games as a manager of the Cincinnati Reds is the primal crime against baseball, and his lying about it for years before fessing up in a transparent bid to win a place in the Hall of Fame makes him seem even worse. How many times must we revisit this American dilemma?
To be sure, Kennedy brings the man to life, bouncing us in and out of Rose’s career. As an 18-year-old at Boston College, I managed to see all four games of the classic 1975 World Series played at Fenway Park—albeit from the last row on the third-base side, deep under the roof—and the baseball played on those hallowed grounds (especially by Rose) was so compelling that I was able to forgive the Red Sox their heartbreaking loss. “This is the greatest game I ever played in,” Rose told Carl Yastrzemski, arriving at first base during Game Six. “You’d want the World Series to go on for 30 games if it could,” he later added, even after Carlton Fisk launched his legendary shot, waving his home run fair in the 12th inning, and the Reds lost. But as Kennedy deftly explains, it was Pete Rose who turned it around in Game Seven, breaking up a double play when the Red Sox were leading 3-0, thus shifting the momentum and leading to a Reds triumph.
With his eye for detail, Kennedy also introduces some classic Pete Rose moments from his post-baseball career: So greedy is he for cash that he is willing to autograph copies of Major League Baseball’s official report on his gambling—something that, I admit, made me laugh and feel a kind of fondness for the fallen hero. For his part, Kennedy remains agnostic about the central question of whether Rose deserves forgiveness and a place in the Hall of Fame.
After steroids-stuffed players have ruined the record books that made baseball so special, it is tempting to think that Pete Rose wasn’t so bad. Kennedy does fume about a rule change that kept those barred from baseball (namely Rose) out of the Hall of Fame, calling it an assault on the “democratic process” and “a direct rebuff to the spirit and intentions of the Hall of Fame’s founders.” Maybe. But gambling in baseball was understood to be a fearfully malignant cancer long before the Hall of Fame came into existence, even before the Chicago “Black Sox” threw the 1919 World Series. We don’t know if Pete Rose changed his managerial decisions because of the bets he had placed on games, but if baseball should draw a bright line on anything, it is gambling.
12:28 PM, Apr 9, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
As the Boston Red Sox collected their World Series rings last Friday, Boston faithful had much to be thankful for. And among those to whom they owed more than a little thanks was Bill James, the team's official analytical guru, who enjoyed an increased role in team decision-making after the team fell to pieces in 2012.
3:49 PM, Mar 31, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
In The Great Debate and elsewhere, Yuval Levin describes the fundamental difference between conservatives and progressives, rooted in the debates of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine:
1:27 PM, Nov 27, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Everyone could use a nice government subsidy and bailouts aren’t just for broke car companies and derelict banks anymore. Baseball teams need that same kind of taxpayer love. No surprise then, as Mark Segraves of NBC’s channel 4 in Washington reports:
Sep 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
What if everything we think we know about the history of baseball is wrong? What if despite the carefully cultivated image of its manly origins—long mustachios and tobacco-juice-stained vests—it was a game played by women as well as men? What if the game was invented 100 years before Abner Double-day allegedly took bat to ball? And, perhaps most astonishing, what if our national pastime was first played in England?
Is the Atlanta Braves' Andrelton Simmons the best ever?3:36 PM, Sep 16, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
Of the 39 most awesome jobs in America, only the nine members of the Supreme Court have lifetime tenure. Major League Baseball’s 30 shortstops, on the other hand, are always looking over their shoulder. Every ground ball in the hole, every slow roller dribbling past the mound, every relay throw from the outfield is another test, another risk to be replaced by some slick-fielding Dominican phenom lighting up Double-A ball. Still, it’s safe to say that Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons’s job is his for some time to come, for the 24-year-old has established himself as the best defensive shortstop in the game. Indeed, some are already wondering if, in only his second year of big league ball, Simmons has entered the pantheon of baseball’s greatest glovemen, taking his place among the likes of Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, and Mark Belanger.
Dead trees, junk cars, and dim, dim streetlights.11:06 AM, Sep 4, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Tom Walsh of the Detroit Free Press, writes about some of the obstacles in Detroit's way if it is to show its best face come the "invasion by the nation’s media in October for baseball playoffs and, hopefully, a World Series."
How one national pastime (baseball) has been injured by another (the law).Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By EDWARD ACHORN
For decades, the lords of big-league baseball scrambled to protect their antitrust exemption, warning that the professional game would fall apart if the owners could not conspire against free markets to run it their way. Most of all, they wanted to protect the reserve clause, under which a player was bound to one club as long as that club wanted him rather than permitted to sell his services to the highest bidder.
1:58 PM, Aug 6, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
Monday night, Alex Rodriguez singled in his first at-bat of the season—which for Rodriguez may end as early as Thursday, when Major League baseball intends to enforce its 211-game suspension of him that will include the remainder of the 2013 campaign and all of 2014. With the 12-time All-Star third-baseman turning 38 on Saturday, it may be that a ballplayer once believed capable of breaking many of the game’s most famous records has now entered his last week of big-league baseball.
12:31 PM, Jul 14, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Baseball has a way of distracting us, at least momentarily, from the routine stuff. Both the boring and the distressing. Santiago found it easier to bear all those fishless days by reading about the "Great DiMaggio" who, as all fans know, was famous for going so many days hitting safely.
10:21 AM, Jul 6, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
"Because of the way in which baseball links the generations it has been a channel through which vital traits of American character are instilled. The health of baseball concerns all of America, and the health of America — perhaps especially the American family — finds itself reflected in the state of our national pastime. Baseball is a mirror of American liberty and of the virtues necessary to sustain it."
—Diana Schaub, "America at the Bat," National Affairs, Winter 2010.