George Will

Hustle verb. to work or act rapidly or energetically.
-- Webster's New World Dictionary

WASHINGTON -- But ``hustle'' also is a noun: ``A way of making money, esp. a dishonest way.''

Pete Rose, who walked 1,566 times in his major league career but never walked to first base, always sprinting, was called Charlie Hustle. His new hustle is his book, for which he reportedly received a $1 million advance, in anticipation of sales generated by his coming clean about having bet on baseball, which no one seriously interested in the subject doubted. No one, that is, other than professional contrarians, or commentators emancipated from facts by not having read the 1989 report that caused Rose to accept ``permanent'' banishment from baseball.

Rose's coming clean is the most soiled conversion of convenience since ... well, Aug. 17, 1998, when DNA evidence caused Bill Clinton to undergo a memory clarification. On the diamond, no one ever wrung more success from less natural talent than Rose did. But his second autobiography -- which refutes the first -- makes worse the mess he has made.

The supposedly truth-telling book contains this patent lie: ``During the times I gambled as a manager, I never took an unfair advantage. I never bet more or less based on injuries or inside information.'' But he also says -- does he even read his autobiographies?--``I began betting regularly on the sport I knew best -- baseball.'' Managing the Reds, he knew -- he decided -- when a tired or injured star would be played or rested. And the network of bookies handling his bets knew that he knew.

While saying ``it's time to take responsibility,'' he cunningly exploits the Zeitgeist of today's therapeutic society. He is, he insists, a victim.

A victim of an addiction -- gambling while managing the Reds substituted for the ``high'' he had gotten when competing as a player. And he is a victim of a double standard: He would have been treated more leniently -- more therapeutically -- had his problem been drugs rather than gambling. But baseball has especially severe sanctions about gambling because competitive integrity is baseball's raison d'etre.

Americans, a forgiving people, are forever refuting the proposition that there are no second acts in American life. Almost anyone can recover from almost anything by convincingly saying ``I'm sorry.''

Rose lied -- and charmed the gullible -- for 14 years. Now, with the clock running out on his eligibility to election by baseball writers to the Hall of Fame, he pugnaciously says: I lied but ``I'm just not built'' to ``act all sorry or sad or guilty'' about it. ``Act''?


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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