March 20, 2007

Pete Rose is not a "scheming degenerate"

Pete Rose never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

He now says he bet on the Cincinnati Reds “every night” while he was manager in the late 1980s.

Jeff Passan, writing about Rose in a column called “Liar, Liar” in Yahoo! Sports on March 14, calls Rose a “scheming degenerate”. This is not an atypical response by journalists and columnists to this example and previous Rose utterances. I am fond of Passan’s writings and only quote him because I am a regular reader.

Pete Rose is not a scheming degenerate. At least he is not a degenerate - and if he is a schemer, he is a poor schemer at best.

Pete Rose is a narcissist and likely, a chronic liar.

The Reds have a team museum and Hall of Fame in their four-year old ballpark in Cincinnati, Great American Ball Park. Pete Rose is the most accomplished Reds player in history. He is number one lifetime for the Reds in at-bats, hits, and doubles, fourth in RBIs, and was an All-Star in 12 of his 19 seasons with the club. He is from the region and remains popular among Cincinnati fans. On Saturday, the Reds opened a new exhibit celebrating Rose’s playing-career and his Major League Baseball record for career hits.

The exhibit is appropriate given Rose’s achievements as a player with the Reds. Simultaneously, it is delicate opening such an exhibit because Rose is banned for life from Major League Baseball. As manager of the Reds in the late 1980s, Rose bet on the club and was expelled from MLB by the Commissioner in 1989. The Reds had to receive permission from the Office of the Commissioner for the exhibit.

Last Tuesday, March 13, Rose appeared in Cincinnati to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. Most individuals, including retired athletes, would appear, be gracious about being celebrated, smile for the camera, and leave with everyone feeling good. Rose can not do this.

In an interview on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, reported by the Associated Press on March 14, Rose claims that as manager he bet on the Reds “every night”. As if he had not put a sufficient portion of his foot in his mouth right there, Rose justified doing so “because I love my team, I believe in my team.”

Let us set aside for the moment the poor marketing judgment shown by Rose in claiming something that makes him look bad and then offering a sorry explanation which he would have justify the poor choice.

Let us back up and consider the history of Rose’s admission to having bet on the Reds. John Dowd wrote the report in 1989 that collected the evidence against Rose and supported his ban. Dowd found that Rose bet on Reds games except when certain Reds pitchers were starting. Rose denied the veracity of the report. He attacked Dowd and denied having bet on baseball. Rose did this for 15 years. Then, in 2004, Rose published My Prison Without Bars in which he admitted that he had bet on the Reds. Dowd had been correct; Rose had been lying for the fifteen years.

So long as he is on the Commissioner’s no-fly list, Rose is ineligible to manage a ML team, which he would like to do, and to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose is 65 years old and can still petition the Commissioner for reinstatement. In this sense, he is on perpetual probation. His actions and words are the content now of his relationship with the game and his opportunities for a major league rehabilitation.

This is classic Pete Rose.

When the Atlanta Braves ended his 44-game hitting streak in 1978, Rose lashed-out at the team. He could have followed the lead of previous record-setters like Roger Maris in 1961 and Hank Aaron in 1974. But Rose could not be gracious. After all, he had just set the longest National League hit-streak. No, Pete verbally attacked the Braves and Atlanta pitcher Gene Garber for playing tough. Rose gratuitously attacked Phil Niekro, the veterans Braves pitcher and future Hall of Famer. Niekro is not exactly on any baseball bad-boy list.

As the Reds manager in 1988, Rose scratched umpire Dave Pallone during a manager-umpire argument. Rather than say ‘mea culpa’ and take his lashes for physically touching an umpire – a standard baseball no-no - Rose said that it was Pallone who had provoked him. Umpires make mistakes and are fallible and the need for umpire authority in baseball dictates that the umpire and League have the final word.

Jim Gray interviewed Rose on NBC at the 1999 World Series prior to Game Two when Rose appeared as part of the All-Century Team, Gray, being the journalist that he is and paid to be, asked the question that was on everyone’s mind. Gray asked Rose if he was prepared to admit that he had bet on baseball. Five years later, Rose would admit this in exchange for a lucrative book deal, but on national television, Rose attacked Gray for asking a “prosecutor’s question”.

Listen to Rose’s statements from Monday, March 13. These are the statements of one self-obsessed who believes he does only good: “I believe I’m the best ambassador baseball has”; “my name is synonymous with baseball”; fans would be “elevated” if MLB reinstated him. There is another word by which to describe this notion of self: Narcissism.

Even now, admitting that he did bet on baseball, Rose is not playing the part of the contrite penitent. This would be to eat even the slightest morsel of humble-pie. Ever self-indulgent, Rose now autographs baseballs with the inscription “I bet on baseball”. (Yours for the low low price of $350!). Last Tuesday, his tone was almost to gloat about having bet on games making himself a paradigm of managerial belief in one’s players. Rather than say “I bet on the team and I am sorry I did”, Rose celebrates it.

Pete Rose is a narcissist.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV, which is the clinical authority on the subject, divides personality disorders into three clusters based on symptom similarities. Narcissism is part of Cluster B. It is exhibited in grandiosity, obsessive self-interest, and the primary pursuit of selfish goals. It is estimated that this disorder is exhibited in 1% of the general population.

As Casey Stengel would say, “You could look it up!”

I am suggesting that Pete Rose is not a degenerate schemer but rather that he is mentally troubled. We know that he has struggled with a gambling addiction. We know that he shows himself to be a liar.

It is time for the media and for baseball to stop expecting Pete Rose to be someone he is not. Pete Rose is Pete Rose and that means he will continue to lie, that he will continue to consider himself bigger than he is, and that he will attack anyone who questions this self-perception.

Rose is troubled and there is nothing to suggest that this will change. What can change is our understanding of mental illness and the place out of which Pete is acting. When we do this, we might move beyond calling him names and begin making sense of his reputation-destructive behavior and words.


Anonymous Adam Taxin said...

Bravo, Morris. I'm not quite so harsh on the 2007 version of Charley Hustle as you might be, perhaps because I sensed some contriteness during the recent interview he did with WIP's Howard Eskin. (And, it should be noted, Rose made the point that he bet the SAME AMOUNT on the Reds each night, which makes what he did slightly less egregious than merely betting on the Reds each night.)

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