Pete’s in my Hall of Fame

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Pete Rose
Pete Rose

I’ll be up front here. If it were up to me, I would have lifted Major League Baseball’s ban on Pete Rose in a minute.

I know that he broke the rules. I know he bet on baseball. I know he even bet on games when he was managing the Reds. I know he continues to bet. I know he promised to quit even after his ban in 1989.

On the surface it looks like Pete was banned for his gambling. That’s a cardinal sin if you want to be associated with the majors or the minors of baseball. It should be a cardinal sin.

It’s true that other greats of MLB have been banned for less – Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and many others.

I have to say poor Pete. Even recently, when he met with Commissioner Rob Manfred, he changed his story. Yes, he got his facts mixed up. No doubt, his attorney had him rehearse his account many times before the Manfred meeting.

The truth is that Pete’s 1989 ban isn’t being continued because he can’t get his story straight. I’m not sure I’d agree that he’s still out of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for getting fuzzy with details. After all, he is 74.

I think Pete remains banned for life mainly for having an serious addiction. I believe that you’d have to call a gambling addiction a mental illness. I do. I’d guess Pete has been self-medicating by placing bets. Of course, it doesn’t help that he apparently lacks even a thimble of common sense.

Nevertheless, his behavior even after the ban appears simply irrational. Only an affliction with mental illness accounts for it.

For me, here’s the real story. This guy’s career record of 4,256 hits puts him in a class of his own. It’s a shame the commissioner couldn’t see fit to bend the rules in honor of this champion without peer.

In the early 1960s, when I was in graduate school in Cincinnati, I often saw Pete sitting at the counter with his coffee at Frisch’s restaurant on Glenway Avenue, near my apartment. He grew up in that neighborhood. He graduated from nearby Western Hills High School where I did student teaching in one of my early careers.

Pete got his haircuts at Bob’s Barbershop on 8th Avenue. Bob was my barber.

So yes, I do feel a connection to this baseball star. I not only admired his hitting prowess. I don’t think I ever witnessed another big leaguer dive so often into second base to stretch a single into a double. They didn’t call him “Charlie Hustle” just for taking to the field running. Which he did.

Personal feelings aside, though, his record of hits is not my imagination. His 26 years now into the ban surely is punishment enough. He deserves to be reinstated to a place of honor. If anybody deserves to have a plaque in Baseball’s Hall of Fame it’s Pete Rose.

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Spring training

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Hal Newhouser
Hal Newhouser (source: Wikipedia)

It’s snowing pretty good now. Besides, it’s a school day. So even if the weather were clear, there would be no kids at the ball fields in Foster Park when I jogged by.

Saturday was a different story. There were kids at both ball fields and plenty of action. Adults batted grounders and flies. Moms and younger brothers and sisters sat in the family cars parked along side the ball fields.

As I stopped to observe, I thought the ball players didn’t seem to mind the 50 degree temperature. Yet I know from long ago experience that it really stings your hand when you catch the ball this early in the season.

I didn’t complain, though, when I was on the high school team for Blue Creek, a consolidated high school in northwest Ohio I attend part of my sophomore and junior high school years. Coach Ned Jay would have made fun of you if you complained.

He sure was a fine geometry teacher, though.

Watching the young ball players Saturday brought to mind so many baseball memories. When my son John played in the Little League near our Fort Wayne home, I found myself coaching the kids. I gave them batting practice and engaged in pitch and catch for hours on end. John and I even played catch daily in our side yard on South Anthony.

Years later, we’d drive to Cincinnati to see a Reds’ home game. One year, on opening day, we were in the stands to witness the home plate umpire suffer a fatal heart attack. Owner Marge Schott called off the game and we got tickets for a later game.

The only Big League game I saw growing up was in Detroit. My friend Dave’s parents drove us from Defiance, Ohio, to Briggs Stadium to see the Cleveland Indians, Dave’s favorite team, play the Tigers, my favorite team.

My hero Hal Newhouser pitched a nearly flawless game against the Indians’ Bob Feller. Needless to say, it was a quiet ride back home to Defiance. Still, I really appreciated the treat of seeing a real big league game.

My grandparents, Mom and Tom, in Latty, Ohio, listened to all the Tiger games on the radio. I’m sure they must have heard the game I witnessed. If there was a rain delay, Mom Hayes would switch her Crosley table radio dial from CKLW to WLW to the hear a play-by-play by Waite Hoyte for the Cincinnati Reds.

More recently, after I retired from writing editorials at The Journal Gazette, a guy in Defiance stopped by the main library there where I was signing books for visitors. He wanted to trade me a large black-bound book he had for one I had written.

It turned out the book contained the history of Defiance Little League games in the 1940s. His father, who had organized the league, compiled it. The box standings included the roster of my games, “L.Hayes, pitcher.” at the bottom of the list of names, names which I had long forgotten. Let the record show that while I didn’t get many hits myself, I did win a few games for my team, Schatz Motors.

I can’t say I watch ball games on TV any more. During the season, I do check the standings to see how the Tigers and Reds are doing in their separate leagues. At various high school reunions, I have enjoyed sharing ball playing memories with old friends, one a neighbor of my grandparents and another, my Little League catcher who became a doctor in Detroit.

I think that playing and, later, coaching baseball taught me valuable lessons about team playing and how to be a good loser. I learned something about the limits of my athletic prowess. I know the game had enriched Dad’s life. He often talked about driving to St. Louis to see World Series games one fall in the 1930s. Playing catch with him sure gave me quality time with a parent, time I might not otherwise have enjoyed.

Maybe by this coming Saturday, the snow will be gone and the Little Leaguers will be back in Foster Park getting practice in before the season commences later in the spring. When I see the line of cars and vans and hear the kids yelling, I’ll stop at the fence and watch the kids pitching, catching and taking a healthy cut at the ball. And remember.

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Grace for Pete Rose

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Pete Rose
Pete Rose

I forgave Pete Rose years ago. Forgiveness can be such a cleansing experience.

I remember him not only from watching him dive head-first into second base at the old Crosley Field. I also observed him often at Frisch’s restaurant on Glenway Avenue. He was always glad to visit with other customers at the counter.

I lived in Cincinnati at the time, attending graduate school and teaching.

Pete and I shared the same barber in Price Hill, Bob’s Barber Shop on 8th Avenue, although I never ran into Pete at the shop.

No doubt he gambled on baseball – including Cincinnati Reds’ games when he was the Reds’ manager.

For years he lied about the betting. Then, with sales of his 2004 autobiography riding on it, he finally admitted to the repeated lying.

Pete, to be sure, is no saint. But neither was Babe Ruth or DiMaggio or certainly not the racist Ty Cobb. What distinguished them all was the statistics in that great record book of Major League Baseball.

Pete Rose belongs right up there with those immortals. He got more career hits than anybody else in the majors – 4,256. That includes a whole bunch of guys who are in the Hall of Fame and whose admission has never been open to debate.

Now, despite banned from baseball for life, he has made a few public appearances. He showed up at the Reds’ Great American Ballpark on the 25th anniversary of his hitting record. Last year, he was there when they unveiled a bronze sculpture of Hall of Fame member and long-time Rose teammate, Joe Morgan.

Outgoing baseball Commissioner Bud Selig never has ruled on Pete’s application for re-instatement. I suppose most Reds fans would welcome it. But I’m not sure about other die-hard fans of Major League baseball.

Nothing will ever expunge the humiliation of the exposure and Pete’s ban from baseball. Re-instating him wouldn’t change that. But I’ve always assumed Pete’s gambling was an addiction – a serious illness. People have lost fortunes to the gambling addiction. Pete has lost a great deal more than that.

He’s 73 now. I hope Selig will do the decent thing and welcome Pete back into baseball. Next year’s All-Star game is in Cincinnati. Pete belongs there. Forgiveness doesn’t cost a thing.

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