In 25 years, the fans of Pete Rose who were so surprised and hurt by his betting on baseball, and specifically the Cincinnati Reds, have overwhelmingly agreed that while it may never be time to forget what he did, he deserves to be in Cooperstown.
Since Pete Rose was banned by MLB 25 years ago on Aug. 24, 1989, how we view our sports heroes has evolved from can-do-no-wrong icons to fatally flawed human beings. Society has always loved celebrities, but now we no longer expect them to be the image of perfection they are TV or the big screen.
We know now the images are edited, cut, clipped, manicured and PhotoShopped.
We expect them to be screwups, and we are OK with it. To indict them often means we are indicting ourselves, or a loved one. Pete Rose was a great baseball player, and an overly-enabled yet charming screwup incapable of admitting error.
When Pete was in his prime playing for the Reds in the '60s, '70s and '80s, pro jocks enjoyed a level of privacy they do not have today. Their flaws were often invisible; there was no 24-hour media hoping/looking for their latest indiscretion to be splashed on Twitter, or TMZ.
Although I had never met Pete Rose, the man was my favorite player on my favorite team. He had the entire Reds' fan-base, which back then was much larger than it is today, in his hands and he knew it. Pete did whatever he wanted, and people let him because they wanted to be around Pete Rose.
I vividly recall learning of Pete's banishment; sitting in my bedroom, on the brink of tears hearing that he was no longer a Red. For fans of Pete there was a sliver of hope - his agreement with MLB stated that there was no admission that he bet on baseball, and that one year later he could apply for reinstatement.
At the time we thought that in 1990 he would be back, managing the Reds. We learned later the evidence was overwhelming that he had bet on the Reds, which he later admitted it in a book. About the only saving grace was that Pete never bet against the Reds.
He said: "To this day I have no idea I have no idea why my lawyer's let me accept a lifetime suspension."
Why would anybody not read the fine print on such an agreement? Decades later we know Pete Rose can be rather not smart. That he is simply a ballplayer.
Decades later we know Pete Rose is one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. The man lived and breathed his sport in a way few men ever have. He still does.
We also know that Pete Rose is ball player that, by many accounts, is kind of a dirt bag who just wants your money.
"Pete will want a $1,000 from you just to cross the street," a former long time beat writer of the Cincinnati Reds once told me.
Pete served jail time for failing to pay his taxes, and it took him decades to admit he was wrong to have lied so passionately about not betting on baseball.
I met Pete one time, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1996. It was sad to see him sitting at a blackjack table, older and tired, but there he was. This was my childhood hero - being human. How crushing.
I told him I was from Cincinnati, was a big fan, and if he could sign my MGM parlay card I would be most grateful. He signed it, nodded, and that was it. It is one of the few autographed items I own and it sits in a closet.
Many things can, and should change, in 25 years. If you have lived that long, chances are good how you viewed something then is not how you view it today.
Today, Pete Rose is 73, an old man living with regret at his bedside table. It is easy to see that age has changed him, and how we view this polarizing man full of BS and charisma. Now we look at our sports heroes differently because we are aware, in real time, of their mistakes.
Pete Rose the ballplayer deserves to have a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that it should come with an asterisk explaining his timeline.
Nothing we do will ever absolve Pete from his complicated past that is narcissistic, dirty, and brilliant. It's all there. Pete did a lot of good. Pete did a lot of bad.
Twenty five years ago, we thought the ability to play baseball exceptionally well correlated to the type of person he was. Now we know better.
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