You Can Depend on Pete Rose
There’s a wonderful line in one of my all-time favorite movies, “My Favorite Year,” when the legendary movie star Alan Swann has skipped out on the television show he was supposed to guest star in. Benji Stone, who idolizes Swann, walks down to the car and sees his hero so drunk that he drops the bottle and it shatters on the sidewalk.
“That’s a sad sight,” Swann says, looking at the broken glass.
“You’re a sadder sight,” Benji says. “All you end up doing is making anyone who cares about you unhappy.”
“Well, you know what they say about me, Stoneberg,” Swann says. “You can depend on Alan Swann. He will always let you down.”
Yes. You can depend on Pete Rose.
He will always let you down.
It isn’t exactly clear why the Philadelphia Phillies thought it a good idea to invite Pete out to their celebration of the 1980 World Series championship team. Well, it wasn’t even clear why they were HAVING a celebration of the 1980 World Series champion team now — it’s like the 42nd anniversary. Who goes out of their way to celebrate their 42nd anniversary?
It is — I just looked it up — the Jasper Anniversary.
I mean, can there be a less interesting anniversary than the Jasper Anniversary? Heck, what even IS Jasper?*
*Ed. note: Brilliant reader Matt E. points out that this celebration was because the 40th anniversary was postponed for COVID, which does make it more reasonable.
But, OK, they decided to have the anniversary. And Pete Rose was a key player on that 1980 Phillies team — maybe even THE key player on that team. Right? That’s certainly how it has been told through the years.
Well, actually, not so much. Rose, believe it or not, had a negative WAR for that season. It is a season unique in baseball history — nobody else has had 735 plate appearances in a season and still had a negative WAR.
But wait, Rose led the league in doubles in 1980? How can you lead the league in doubles and still have a negative WAR?
Well, yeah, he had 42 doubles in 739 plate appearances … but he only had a total of 44 extra-base hits. That’s right. He hit one triple and one home run. That’s right, he led the league in doubles but still had a .354 slugging percentage. Then you add that he was abysmal defensively at first base and at age 39 had lost all of his speed on the bases, yeah, you get a player who ain’t helping the ballclub.
But, of course, Rose more than a player, was a larger-than-life figure on the field, a rip-roaring ballplayer who constantly hustled … in every definition of that word “hustle.” He hit .400 in the NLCS (all eight of his hits were singles) and in the World Series he made that memorable catch of a foul ball that had bounced off Bob Boone’s glove, and when it ended he got the lion’s share of the credit for turning the underachieving Phillies into winners once and for all.
The Phillies asked the players from that 1980 championship team if they wanted Rose at the anniversary celebration. The players apparently said yes. So the Phillies asked the commissioner’s office if Rose could be there. The commissioner said yes.
And so it came to pass that Pete Rose was there to embarrass all of them on Sunday.
“What would you say to people who say that your presence here sends a negative message to women?” Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Alex Coffey asked Rose, the most easily anticipated question in the history of the world.
“No, I’m not here to talk about that,” Rose said. “Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, babe.”
He later qualified the timing to the AP by saying, “Who cares about what happened 50 years ago?” He reportedly did not call the AP reporter, “babe.”
See, Rose was NOT there to talk about something that happened 50 years ago.
He was there to talk about something that happened 42 years ago. And don’t you forget it.
The amazing thing about Pete Rose’s corrupt life is that nobody cares about the jail time for tax evasion or his close association with a steroid and cocaine dealer or his admission to using amphetamines or the paternity suit he was involved with or the reports that he corked his bats. Heck, few people even care about the gambling stuff anymore. You will remember that it’s the gambling — and the lying about it — that got him thrown out of baseball in the first place and has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. It’s the gambling that people had been arguing about for 30 years. How bad was it? Did he bet on his own team to lose? Did he adjust his managing style to cover his bets? Did he actually try to throw games?
And as baseball has grown comfier and comfier with the gambling world, Rose’s gambling offenses felt less and less egregious. When you have Joe Buck and John Smoltz offering gambling advice during the World Series, let’s be honest, it gets harder and harder to maintain the same righteous indignation toward Rose, even if what he did was entirely different.
But in 2017, a much more unseemly part of Rose’s life went public. Two years earlier, John Dowd — who has been Rose’s Inspector Javert — had gone on a radio station in West Chester (just 45 minutes West of Philadelphia) and said that Rose’s former bookie Michael Bertoloni didn’t just make bets for Rose.
“[He] told us that not only did he run bets, but he ran young girls for him down in spring training, ages 12 to 14,” Dowd said. “Isn’t that lovely? So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.”
Rose and Bertoloni both immediately called Dowd a dirty liar, and Rose made the ill-fated decision to sue Dowd for defamation. Dowd was ready with testimony from a woman who said that she had a relationship with Rose before she turned 16, the age of consent in Ohio at the time. Rose’s feeble response was that he felt fairly sure she was 16.
He was 34.
The lawsuit was dismissed not long after that.
And the Philadelphia Phillies, who had intended to put Rose on their Wall of Fame that very year, changed their minds and canceled the whole thing.
As for those who might wonder why the Phillies changed their minds again and invited Rose in 2022, their explanation is, see, the Wall of Fame thing was an INDIVIDUAL award while this was a TEAM celebration, and you can see how that’s totally different, and blah blah blah. I’m sure they invited him because they knew many Philly fans would get a huge kick out of seeing Rose (he does have his fans) and they thought he wouldn’t turn the whole thing into an ungodly mess, with the Phillies being forced to apologize, with Rose being forced to apologize, with the whole celebration getting overshadowed.
The thing that amazes me is how many people fell for it. There has never a more foreseeable fiasco. The Phillies should have known he would make them look bad. His old teammates should have known that the celebration would soon become about Pete Rose’s troubling life and nothing else. The commissioner’s office should have stepped in before this embarrassed baseball. There were flashing red lights at every turn.*
*And then NBC Sports Philadelphia decided to let Rose on the broadcast to let loose a couple of expletives for a dumb story that entertained him, if no one else.
Heck, even Pete Rose should have known that this was a disaster waiting to happen, that he would get asked questions to which there are no good answers.
But everybody just let it happen, somehow thinking that it would turn out OK. Pete Rose was a great baseball player — not in 1980, but over his career — and many people will always love him for that and will always forgive him for anything he did and will always hope that this time he will rise to the moment.
But he never will. You can depend on Pete Rose. He will always let you down.