Rose's decision to sign confession balls ... brilliant
Sure, it's easy to be offended at Pete Rose retroactively, for having once upon a time signed "I'm sorry" to a bunch of baseballs in a desperate bid to create yet another revenue stream from the controversy that is his Rose-ness.
I said impressed, not pleased. By any measure, this latest revelation lands squarely in the dark-comedy corner of the sports universe. Still, you have to give Rose this much: He might just have created the business template for an entire generation of accused cheaters, finger-pointees and otherwise maligned athletes in the public eye.
The template: (1) Deny while it is imperative; (2) Confess when it becomes optional; (3) Turn a profit on both ends of the deal.
The latest on Rose, reported by the New York Daily News, is that at about the time his I-confess autobiography came out in 2004, he signed as many as 300 baseballs with the inscription, "I'm sorry I bet on baseball -- Pete Rose" as part of a coordinated effort to make money from the story.
Roughly 30 of those balls have turned up in the collection of the late Barry Halper, whose family has contracted with an auction house to sell them at an expected $1,000 a pop. (Halper was the one to whom Rose turned to hatch the idea in the first place.) It is not yet clear what Pete's cut of the action amounts to, nor where the other baseballs are, if they exist. But fear not -- Charlie Hustle always gets paid.
And that's the thing. Rose now has parlayed the tragic downfall of his career into its own cottage industry, and he has done so in at least four distinct -- and, let's say it again, impressive -- ways.
First, there was the book in which Rose flatly declared his innocence, saying he never bet on baseball as the late commissioner Bart Giamatti said he did in banning Rose for life in 1989. Next came his annual memorabilia cash cow in Cooperstown, where on induction weekend Rose sat down the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame, signing stuff for money and serving as a not-so-silent reminder that the Hall continued to stiff the game's all-time hits leader.
Then, in 2004, Rose went for the dough again, reversing himself in stunning fashion by admitting he bet on baseball both as a player and as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds -- but doing so in a book, "My Prison Without Bars." It seemed like the most soulless act imaginable, a guy 'fessing up to one of sports' great modern scandals for the price of a hardcover. But that was before this week.
Now, you figure the table has been set for a future generation of accused jocks. There might be times when it is either legally or competitively advisable to deny everything, be it steroid use or human growth hormone injections or blood doping or whatever. But just as possibly, the Rose case suggests, there will come a moment when confession proves both good for the soul and great for the bank account.
The next revelation is almost bound to take a less traditional route than did Rose's, or, say, Jose Canseco's. A book alone won't do it, and nobody confesses for TV or Congress anymore. There has to be a way to capitalize via the Internet, either by selling urine-sample results on eBay or going with a full-fledged Web site: ididitafterall.com; cheatedthegame.net, something like that.
The lesson of Rose, after all, is that business is business, that it is possible to spiral down into the worst moments of one's professional (or personal) life and still figure the money angle along the way. You might even find yourself, on the way down, in the company of people willing to ignore your moral cluelessness and continue to argue for the credibility of your career.
That's sports in America, and sports without the money factor is like well, like anything without the money factor. Rose's professional dignity disappeared long ago, which actually gives him something in common with today's group of serial-denial athletes. Maybe they won't admit that development as fast as Pete did, nor figure out how good for business it could be. It sure won't be Rose's fault. He put the template right there.
Mark Kreidler's book, "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland," is available from HarperCollins and may be pre-ordered on amazon.com. A writer for the Sacramento Bee, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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