On the heels of Father’s Day, the information surfacing regarding a ledger with details of Pete Rose gambling on baseball during his playing days has stirred some long dormant emotions inside of me. What is the connection between these two events, you ask? Sit back and relax. This may take a few minutes.
Growing up in Northeast Ohio in the late 1970’s and early 80’s wasn’t exactly a lifestyle outsiders would aspire to, but for those of us living it, there was nothing better. We had family, friends and our love of all things sports-related to keep us occupied, and in my youth, baseball was king.
My dad, like many other fathers in our community, was the coach of my little league baseball teams. For this reason, I was afforded the “opportunity” to carry the team gear bags to practices and games. I also got to play all the positions no one else volunteered to play (yes, I became a catcher from a very young age), but it wasn’t all bad.
Along with the aforementioned responsibilities, one major benefit of being the coach’s kid was being given first choice of jersey numbers when uniforms arrived. These jerseys paled in comparison to today’s camp t-shirts given to youth players, but to us, they were the best thing in the world. Opening the boxes was like Christmas morning, and pulling on that jersey for the first time was magical.
Yep, along with his surname, my father instilled in me the understanding that every time I stepped on the field, I was expected to give my very best effort. Just like my idol, Pete Rose. There was absolutely no relation between our families, but I wanted to emulate the best players in the game every chance I could and what better example to follow than that of “Charlie Hustle.” I had scrapes and bruises on the insides of my elbows every summer from head-first slides on the ball diamond.
By this time in his career, Pete Rose was making the rounds in the MLB. His best years were played in Cincinnati as part of the famed Big Red Machine teams that won a World Series championship in 1975, but my best recollection of Rose were his days with the Phillies, Expos and finally a player-manager back with his hometown Reds.
Even though it predated my birth by two years, the one play I will forever remember in Rose’s career was his 1970 All-Star Game collision with Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 12th inning. When asked later about the incident and if he felt he had gone too far in his attempt to score the winning run, Rose responded, “I could never have looked my father in the eye again if I hadn’t hit Fosse that day.”
A son performing, on the biggest stage to the best of his ability, for the approval of his father…
Fast forward to my sophomore year in college. With my days of playing baseball nothing but a distant memory, the fire for my boyhood idol still burned strong inside of me. Two years after Rose ended his career as a manager for the Cincinnati Reds amidst allegations of betting on baseball and months after being voted “permanently ineligible” for the Baseball Hall of Fame, I stood before a classroom full of my peers at the University of Dayton and delivered a persuasive speech entitled “Why Pete Rose Deserves Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.” Nothing but circumstantial evidence, I claimed. Rose was the victim of poor timing, being blackballed by the baseball powers that be (Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who ruled Rose ineligible died in September of 1989, and Giamatti’s close friends Fay Vincent and Bud Selig were honoring Giamatti with their banishment of Rose).
Oh, how I longed for the days of sprinting to first base after earning a ball-four walk and spiking the ball into the turf following an inning-ending double play. Both trademarks of Rose’s passionate play on the baseball field. Baseball was becoming more corporate and players leaned more toward the efforts of Roger Dorn than those of Jake Taylor. If you don’t get that last reference, don’t bother asking. Times were changing for me too.
I was a father now, with a son of my own to teach and mentor. (Side note: When discussing names for our first-born boy, my wife and I entertained the idea of naming him Peter, but knowing that having this name would eliminate him from consideration for the Hall of Fame, we went a different direction.) Who would my son look to as his idol? Was there a player in the game today I could point to with confidence and say, “Play the game that way, every day”? A small concern in the grand scheme of things, but a concern none the less.
In 2006, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary with a weekend trip to Las Vegas. I’m not much of a casino guy, so we spent time checking out the sights and walking through the shops on The Strip. We saw a sign that stated “The Hit King” was signing autographs in a memorabilia store, and we went inside to check it out. We entered to see my boyhood idol, Pete Rose, sitting behind a folding card table chatting with some patrons. The manager of the store informed us that Rose would only sign specific items sold at the store, and the autograph would be like the one on the framed jersey hanging above him on the wall, “I’m sorry I bet on baseball… Pete Rose.”
The best way to categorize my emotional state at that moment was “shock.” I wanted so badly to go over to the table, shake Pete Rose’s hand, explain to him how he had broken my heart, and walk away. However, I decided the best thing for me to do at that point was to leave the store immediately. I never looked back.
As a father, I want my sons to give their best effort in all they do. Lessons are learned as much from failure as they are from success.
Just be honest in all of your dealings…