Not nearly enough from good old Charlie Hustle

Posted: Jan 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Pete Rose is doing what he always did: ducking his head and burrowing forward. As a player this made him great. As a former athlete, it makes him a laugh, a joke and a shame.

The joke and the shame started in 1989. That's when investigator John Dowd found that Rose placed 412 baseball bets in three months. It didn't matter. Rose denied the report, ducked his head and burrowed forward. This is who he is - a hustler who never gives an inch.

For the next 14 years, one gambling story after another surfaced. Here's my favorite - a lawyer friend of mine was representing a client in Cincinnati who grew up worshipping Pete Rose. This client eventually purchased the bat Rose used to break Ty Cobb's all-time hit record, the red Corvette that the Cincinnati Reds gave Rose when he left the organization, and boxes of other memorabilia. In all, he bought $220,000 worth of merchandise directly from Rose. When he got the canceled check back, it was made out to an Ohio racetrack, where Rose had accumulated a six-figure debt.

All the while, Charlie Hustle looked us in the eyes and demanded that he had no gambling problem. Never was there a moment of introspection. Never was there a spark of recognition that he had a problem so pervasive that it drained his account, tainted his legacy and threatened the integrity of the game he loved.

Even now that he's finally admitted to gambling on baseball, Rose still doesn't get it. Every admission comes with a qualifier, a justification. Yes, he bet on baseball, but never on his own team, Rose tells us. So what? Gambling nearly destroyed baseball in 1919. Betting on games - even if its not on your team - is the cardinal sin of sport because the game is ruined if fans have to wonder whether a routine error was a simple mistake or a fix.

On his own gambling problem, Rose writes, "Yes, I continued to visit the racetrack, but I went only three or four times a month - not every day like I used to do. And I always stayed within my means." This is how much of his book reads. He talks about how he made mistakes, but offers virtually nothing in terms of genuine mea culpa. Basically, Rose is doing what he was told he needs to do to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame - admit he bet on baseball. So he published his admission and made some money.

But in typical fashion, he offers no spark of introspection. Nowhere is there a genuine "I'm sorry." As close as he gets is when he writes, "I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way. Sure, there's probably some real emotion buried somewhere deep inside. And maybe I'd be a better person if I let that side of my personality come out. But it just doesn't surface too often. So let's leave it like this: I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

This is perhaps the least sincere apology ever. Charlie Hustle is just doing what he became famous for - burrowing blindly ahead. This was enough to make him a great ballplayer, but until he lifts his head long enough to realize what he did was a crime against the sport he loves, he should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame.