PETE ROSE ... LOVEABLE? WELL, SORT OF ...


There isn't much to like these days about Pete Rose. His admission, after 14 years, of betting on baseball, has backfired. He grabbed the attention from new Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley. His contrition has appeared minimal.

As his popularity drops and his fight to get reinstated continues, Robert Lipsyte writes on why there is still a reason to love Pete Rose.

The dark side in all us | From Robert Lipsyte

I love Pete Rose, and you should, too.

This doesn't mean I want him in the Hall of Fame, or even in my house. But he's in my heart.

Pete Rose is my dark side, the desires I struggle against, the man chasing me in my recurring nightmare. Jung would call him my shadow. (Freud was unavailable for comment.) Pete Rose is that part of me that screams, "I want," and unlike me he makes no apologies for that. In a SportsWorld crammed with elaborately costumed, over-age adolescents making fists, Pete Rose is a naked two-year-old with both hands open.

I felt the same way about Jimmy Connors, who I also loved without liking. Jimmy was out there bawling and swinging and grabbing. His great rival, John McEnroe, who hated Jimmy, was an uptight artist fueled by rage. They stood at opposite emotional poles. McEnroe snarled, "Drop dead!," to the world and tried to climb up by stepping on people's faces. Jimmy, like Pete, screamed, "I want!" as he climbed, unaware, heedless of who he was stepping on, and where.

Pete Rose
Pete's dark side helped him break Ty Cobb's record for career hits.

Pete has always been an embarrassment. When city-slick Whitey Ford and country-slick Mickey Mantle dubbed him "Charlie Hustle" more than 40 years ago, they were at least as offended by his lack of cool as the pressure he exerted on them to perform more ostentatiously. It's not that they had less drive (or fewer demons), but as early adaptors to the coming Age of Irony, they knew how to mask their hungers. They weren't going to let us see them sweat or crave.

Pete let us see him sweat, crave, bleed, leak hormones. I wonder if he was mindless or if he instinctively sensed we would love him for his seeming vulnerability. He's not as vulnerable as one might think. While we agonize over whether or not to allow him into our precious Hall of Fame -- as if that's all he really cares about -- Pete is once again getting what he wants: our attention.

He was always good at that. In my notebook, Pete ranked with Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King as media-friendly superstars, even though his importance to the cosmos was hardly comparable. And Pete wasn't just available for visiting columnists and network correspondents; in both capacities, some 15 years apart, I waited, admiringly and impatiently, while he gave long, thoughtful answers to local high school sportswriters. I'd love to think he was doing it to play me, knowing how sensitive and shrink-wrapped I am, but I think he was just wallowing in the attention. Two-year-olds are manipulative, but they can always be counted on to turn toward what TV lighting experts call "the warm."

Pete left a trail of stories, cat fights between girl friends, between wife and girlfriend, the traveling ankle bracelet that went each season to "My Rookie of the Year" (in conservative Cincinnati, no less, the city that also showcased Owner Marge Schott and Mayor Jerry Springer), not to mention his domestic messes and, of course, his gambling, which, among star athletes, is usually rationalized as an aspect of "competitive spirit" or "a need for action," rather than a disease for which a person needs to take some personal responsibility.

Most of the stories written about Pete were disguised paeans to that part of our Jungian shadows that would like to get undressed and show the world just how much we really, really care. No one hits safely 4,256 times without a dedication that borders on obsession, without an unprotected heart. And we like to believe that great entertainers really, really care because they want to make us love them. And do we ever love that!

We have seen glimpses of such passion in other great athletes. Michael and Tiger have mostly kept it guarded. Ray Lewis expresses it so extravagantly it's hard to read as real. Mike Tyson long ago lost control of it. African-American athletes come out of a history where speaking in codes was safer, and many still do, through clothing, tattoos, hair or lack of it, hip-hop, blandness. We haven't given enough attention to great women athletes to gauge their responses. Martina Navratilova probably came closest to Pete's "I want" scream, but it came out in ways we couldn't always handle -- my favorite being her declaration that she was equally interested in going to bed with men and women, but preferred waking up with a woman.

Did Pete Rose ever say anything that interesting? Was he ever as good to look at as Michael or Tiger, as exciting as Ray Lewis, as much a guilty pleasure as Tyson?

Face it, Pete Rose was a long-running singles hitter who slid hard. If he wasn't so noisy and demanding, if he hadn't insinuated himself into our hearts, he would eventually be as memorable as Rabbit Maranville.

But here he is, once again capering half-naked in our living rooms, a Pamper full of poop, making adult conversation impossible, demanding we look at him because he wants it so badly.

Which is why I love Pete Rose, and you should, too.


Ralph Wiley
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: Pete Rose

Myself, personally, my love is far too precious a commodity to bestow it on a guy. Especially a guy like Pete Rose. I'd want some reciprocity, at least in the beauty of the form, the integrity of the form. From the writer Paul Horgan: "The artist studies all form, including that of the performing athlete, where energy usually [my word, my italics] precisely meets need."

Pete's form was mostly an act. Besides, too many of my ex-wives would be royally pissed that I could love at all something or someone who did not at least have the beautiful form of Doc Gooden, Stan the Man or Mays. If I'm gonna love somebody, it'll be the Hammer. Or, preferably, the Halle. It sure as hell ain't gonna be Pete Rose.

One thing Lipsyte can get out of this is that there are not many things in life you can be sure of; except rain falls from the sky, sun lights up the night, hummingbirds do fly -- and his "love" will go spectacularly unrequited.



Robert Lipsyte
To: Ralph Wiley
Subject: Pete Rose

Unrequited I know and expect, Dog. That's the beauty of the Rose. He's never gonna give back.


Chuck Hirshberg
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: Pete Rose

I don't know, Lip. I'll always love Pete Rose the ballplayer, but Pete Rose the two-year-old evokes only pity. Two-year-olds are lovable when they're two, but when they get to be Pete's age well, those loaded Pampers you mention are just a bit too much to take. In fact, most of the time when I look at him, that's all I see: a stinkin' waste.

But right now, as I type, I'm remembering the first time I saw him, in 1970 or '71, I reckon, from a seat high-and-away, up along the left-field line in Candlestick Park, where the visiting Reds were spanking the hell out of my beloved Giants. I didn't know anything about him, because, in those days, I despised anybody who didn't play for the locals. All I knew was that he always ran to first base on a walk. He got one that day -- I think everybody on the Reds got at least one -- and even though I knew what to expect, it was a revelation to see it happen. "Ball four!" and he hurled his stick toward the on-deck circle, exploded out of the box and sprinted full-out, head down, fists pumping and elbows flying. I don't think Manny Ramirez has ever run out a hit as hard as Pete use to run out bases-on-balls. Anyway, when I got older, I used to watch him with such satisfaction and think: "I love that double-tough bastard because he deserves to succeed."

Honestly, Lip, I wish I could look at him now as a two-year-old and feel something like love. But all I feel is disappointment and pity.


Peter Keating
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: Pete Rose

I sure as hell don't need to love Pete Rose just because he's maintained his ability to throw tantrums.

Easily distractable as I am, I'm fascinated by unbelievably single-minded talents like Rose. And I have never thought it unfair to indulge at least a little in sports figures or anyone else whose passion burns so white-hot that it blows out the little fuse of embarrassment that protects the rest of us from always calling attention to ourselves.

But if someone demands that you look at them, they better show you something worth seeing. And it's not Rose's passion for baseball that his fans, no less than his gambling and drug-dealing buddies, have indulged over the past 15 years, it's his self-destructive behavior.

Back in 1988, the Elias Sports Bureau calculated which batter in all of baseball hit the highest ratio of flyballs to groundballs. Just for fun, they asked Rose, then managing the Reds, who he thought it was.

"Gary Redus," he answered instantly, and he was right.

Well, that's all gone know. The talent Rose had as a player and the knowledge he had as a manager don't drive his life anymore, and haven't for a long time. They've been utterly devoured by his bad habits and his lies. His desperate quests for the Hall of Fame, unconditional acceptance, publicity and winning bets at the dog track are all that's left. Maybe they're worthy of my pity, but not my sustained interest.

Pete Rose has a lot more hair and a lot less money than Paris Hilton. He also has 40 years of extra life experience and apparently zero extra wisdom. That's the difference between a reality show that might catch your attention for 15 minutes and one that's no longer worth a look.


Steve Wulf
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: Pete Rose

I just want to thank Bob for giving me another Reason To Like Pete Rose. The other two are 1) He helped me out on the first baseball story I ever wrote for Sports Illustrated, back in 1979 (I asked him if he thought he could pass Ty Cobb in hits, and he shook his head no); and 2) In the tell-all book written by the first Mrs. Rose, she revealed that he liked to sleep at night with a pillow between his legs -- kind of touching, don't you think?

So right now, the score is 87-3 in favor of the Reasons To Hate Pete Rose.





ALSO SEE:


Stark: Slipping away?

SportsNation finds Rose not so sweet

Writers' Bloc: Vote them in!

Writers' Bloc: Vote them out!

Writers' Bloc: Pure Genius





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