I’m claiming my roots for this post, with context.
I am the youngest of four and the only daughter. Two of my three brothers dedicated their first 18 +/- years to baseball. They still occasionally go to the batting cages, although each visit seems to serve mostly as a reminder of the onward march of time. At least it’s so in the retelling. They are well past that 18 year mark, but like a lot of us, apparently need regular reminders of that fact.
My other brother remains a loyal baseball fan, even after the rest of the city seems turned off after the Great Player Strike of 1980- or 1990-whatever.
But the roots don’t end there.
My parents met in a bar after an Opening Day game in 1959.
From that sentence you can pretty much extrapolate my entire childhood.
But wait! There’s More!
My father was a sports writer for our hometown paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, for his entire career. In the 1970s, he covered The Cincinnati Reds, almost certainly the heyday days for the team, the era of the Big Red Machine.
As was bound to happen, I suppose, I came to define myself as the anti-hero of the family. The one who rejects sports in general; baseball in particular. Well, all of them actually, the family just really liked baseball. As one of my brothers recently said to me, “It’s no wonder you hate sports, given the way we tried to jam it down your throat when you were a kid.”
Although I have my suspicions that my dad secretly agreed with me.
Now with age, I’ve mellowed my harsh stance on sports, mostly in an attempt to get along with people better. I save my outrage for the pink over the red now. I like to take my kids to games and I think it’s great fun to end up on the Jumbotron dancing like an idiot.
While I still don’t care much about content of sports, I do care about justice across context, thus finally bringing me to my point. I heard an essay by Frank Deford on Morning Edition yesterday. Apparently some guy is on track to beat Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. Just in case you’re not a Cincinnatian obsessed with Pete Rose, here’s a rundown. Rose was a manager after his stellar playing career ended. He’s a colorful guy with a history of doing a lot of dumb stuff, but he was a heckuva homegrown baseball player who earned the nickname Charlie Hustle.
As a manager for the Reds, he bet on baseball and even his own team which is admittedly not a good thing. He denied it for years and was banned from baseball in what is popularly known in Cincinnati as a “witch hunt” by uber-villan and then-MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti. Giamatti banned him in 1989 then promptly died of a heart attack. Because of that ban, he cannot be recognized by Major League Baseball or have his hit king title enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Nowadays, Pete keeps coming back into our conversation in light of the athletic juicing scandals. It makes Rose’s character flaws seem quaint in comparison, since what he did never actually affected his performance.
I’ll never argue that Rose should be made a saint, but it does seem inherently unfair that Rose, now 72 years old, should be held to such a harsh punishment while people like Barry Bonds are eligible for the Hall of Fame despite being found guilty of obstruction of justice by providing false testimony to a grand jury regarding steroid use.
Pete Rose’s ban has not been lifted and Deford commented yesterday that it’s time. We tend to be rabidly passionate about this issue in Cincinnati, and I could not agree more with Deford’s assessment.
It would also be so appropriate at that time for baseball to finally show some mercy to Pete Rose and let him enter the shrine with Suzuki. The drug cheats have put Rose’s offense in perspective. He did not damage baseball one iota as a player, and his misdeed as a manager now appears as small beer alongside how those druggies dishonored the game, distorted history and robbed their fellow players.
It’s become a rather hackneyed mantra how the United States is the land of the second chance. Only the Second Amendment gets more lip service. Notwithstanding, if anyone deserves a pardon after all these years, before the petals fall, it is Rose, and for him and Suzuki to go together through that curtain –– that noren –– would be both proper and lovely.
And that, dear reader, is almost certainly the last time you’ll ever read about sports on this blog.
NB: I had to look up noren. Well done, Mr. Deford.