Pete Rose: An American Dilemma
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
In Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, Kostya Kennedy authors a damning profile of baseball’s exiled Hit King. He crafts an exquisitely detailed portrait of a crude, self-absorbed, money-obsessed, low life who shamed the game and whose mandated exclusion from the Hall of Fame is more than justified.
At the same time, with the precision of a top-notch defense attorney, he builds an artful case for why Rose should join baseball’s immortals in Cooperstown. In this rendering, he is a winner whose presence lifted his teammates. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get product of his environment whose sin — betting on his own team to win — is no worse than steroid cheats and whose punishment — being placed on the permanently ineligible list — far exceeds that given to those who have violated gambling rules in other sports.
Make no mistake, this is an exhaustively-researched book-length examination of whether or not the player with more base hits than any player in history should be enshrined among the best who ever lived. It’s an argument that, even a quarter of a century after then-commissioner Bart Giamatti banished him for life, still raises hackles on both sides of the issue.
Both depictions are utterly convincing, and that’s where the dilemma that the title refers to comes in. Should Rose be in the Hall of Fame or not? Spoiler alert: Kennedy ultimately offers no opinion. He lays out the facts and lets the reader decide.
It’s an impressive array of facts, too, and toggles effortlessly back and forth between the pro and the ex-con; Rose did prison time for income tax evasion.
Rose was an unrepentant womanizer. In fact, he was unrepentant about just about every tawdry facet of his life. But he was also a regular, down-to-earth guy who would run across an elementary school classmate at a restaurant and think nothing of inviting him to sit with him and two members of the Cincinnati Bengals.
His single-minded devotion to the game made him a great player who frequently neglected his family.
Kennedy charts the rise of Rose’s sense of entitlement. Early in his career he was arrested for running a red light in Newport, Kentucky at 4:35 a.m. He worried about being booed by the Crosley Field fans and receiving a hefty fine from the team. The fine was half what he expected and the fans gave him a standing ovation for being the Reds’ top vote-getter in the All-Star balloting. The suggestion was clear. As long as he performed well on the field, whatever he did away from the diamond would be winked at.
By the time he was neck-deep in the Dowd investigation, his lawyer, Reuven Katz, was able to tell a high-ranking baseball official without a trace of irony, “Pete sees himself as a national treasure, and we agree.” It was that sort of self-delusional thinking that led Rose and his advisors to dig in their heels and sink deeper and deeper into a swamp of denials, passing on several olive branches offered by Major League Baseball.
While the book pulls no punches in listing Rose’s faults, it also raises valid points in his favor. NFL stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, for example, were each suspended for the 1963 season for gambling on pro football games and hanging out with unsavory characters. Both were reinstated the following season and went on to have several more productive seasons. Hornung eventually was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Kennedy also makes the point that in the course of baseball’s exhaustive investigation, there’s not a hint of a suggestion that the player ever did anything less than his best. “Rose [never was] charged or even suspected of giving anything less than full effort with full intent to win in every one of the 3,562. . .games in which he played,” he wrote.
In the end, this is an exceptionally well-written book that lays out both sides of what remains a highly-charged issue. And no matter which side one ultimately lands on in the end, a shared emotion is likely to be sadness. Sadness that, largely due to Rose’s hubris, it came to this in the first place.