[This Commentary originally appeared as Rose vs. Wright in the May 18, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
I spent my formative years growing up in Buffalo, home of the original Buffalo Bisons and an upstart American Football League team. By the end of the 60’s, football had taken hold of the city. The Bisons, who had been a farm club for the Cincinnati Reds, were on their way out. Naturally, then, I became a football fan prior to becoming a baseball fan.
The first baseball game I remember watching – the 1970 World Series – featured the Baltimore Orioles against the Cincinnati Reds. Without a favorite, I put my allegiance with the Orioles – the American League team – and that’s where it’s been ever since.
I never really got enthusiastic about Pete Rose until many years later. Then, still a young teenager, I found myself pitted against the adult world in the baseball card dealing business. Everyone desired a Pete Rose rookie card (it’s rare and costs a lot). In a round of astute trading, I successfully bargained for the card. I didn’t do it for the money, though, (its value has gone up more than 20 times since I traded for it). I did it for my collection.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Charlie Hustle. In particular, I savor his on-the-field gusto, (while I remain reticent to his lifestyle). I have come to appreciate his zest even more while he has led the Reds as manager.
The old fashioned American Horatio Alger story attracted me and most of our countryman to Pete Rose’s playing career. He represented the traditional work ethic – you work hard and you get ahead. Everyone likes that spirit and we’ve all been raised to practice it. Pete Rose did it. A small, scrappy man, he used all his talents when playing on the diamond. An informally educated skipper, he relies on all his real world experience to command his team. In both cases, he started disadvantaged. In both cases, he exceled above those packing a better resume.
Pete Rose is the underdog. America loves the underdog. America worships the underdog who wins. Pete Rose is a winner.
Part of the Reds’ manager’s success comes in his willingness to take a chance. Sure, you’ve got to run a little harder to squeeze a triple out of a single, but the first requirement is the willingness to fail – to risk being thrown out – in attempting to spark your team. Unfortunately for Pete, he apparently likes to wager off the field just as much as he gambles on the field.
America loves to mourn a soured hero almost as much as it enjoys ordaining new champions. Pete Rose may be on his way down, and the prospect of this fate confuses people. Can they still venerate a man who leads by example, who toppled so many Goliaths, who really tried hard to help his team (to the point of personal injury) and yet who suffers from an unhealthy and (maybe) irresponsible addiction?
It’s really a tough question and it’s up to each of you how best to decide the answer. Yet, despite the philosophical import of Pete Rose’s dilemma, it probably has no practical impact on your life. Pete Rose can’t get you a raise, he can’t improve our nation’s economy and he doesn’t negotiate with the Soviets.
It’s funny, then, to see the results of a Washington Post survey: More Americans follow the trials and tribulations of Pete Rose than follow the trial of Jim Wright.
Mr. Wright, as Speaker of the House, is second behind the Vice President in line to succeed the President. Also, in his role as speaker, he sets the legislative agenda for the House. In other words, he controls the bills which Congress debates; therefore, he governs which laws Congress may pass.
Needless to say, it’s a pretty powerful position. It can and does affect each and every one of us. Here’s a guy who, in spite of our constitution, rebuffed President Reagan and decided to negotiate unilaterally with Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista horde. Major league stuff, sports fans.
So, why are more people interested in Pete Rose than Jim Wright? Simple, we all have at least an ounce of respect for the spirited ballplayer. The politician, on the other hand, is, well, a politician. Plus, he’s from Texas, the one state non-Texans generally love to hate. We never expected much from him anyway, so who cares what ethical violations he may have involved himself with.
The sad part is, Pete Rose might lose his job and be banned from the sport he spent his whole life in. Jim Wright, sure to come out ahead in any partisan battle, will probably only be given the assignment to write “I will be a good congressman” 100 times. And he’ll get his congressional page to do it. No loss in rank, no loss in pay, no loss in prestige (was there any to being with?).
I remember something my grandparents always told me. “Chris,” they said, “we came to America because if you work hard enough, you’ll always come out on top.”
America. What a country.
Last Week #8: Coke versus Pepsi (originally published May 11, 1989)
Next Week #10: Mendon’s Secret (originally published May 25, 1989)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]