Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Free Pete Rose

Danville, Kentucky – The year was 1994, in the city of Danville, in the great state of Kentucky. It was a low-point of my life. Estranged from my sons due to a loud misunderstanding with their baseball coach after their untimely defeat in the semi-finals of the baseball state championship, and fresh off of yet another acrimonious divorce, I had nothing to live or hope for except the dream of 1995 and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A liar from Arkansas was President, and NAFTA had all but shuttered the GM plant that gave Uncle Bert and the rest of the Harts their livelihood. The Big Red Machine had come and gone, and the Reds capped off what was a miserable year for me with a 5th place finish. It was a characteristically cold North Kentucky winter. Given the bleakness of this situation, I did what any reasonable person would do. I turned to the bottle. The ketchup bottle, at Applebee’s to be precise.

The finest place in Danville to watch a game.
I spent most of February of ’94 drinking Margaritas (until the bartender would mercifully cut me off) and eating mozzarella sticks (until my body’s metabolism could no longer keep pace with my appetite). It wasn’t glamorous, but I caught up with the locals and got to reminisce with some other Danville High alums who were also trying to drown their sorrows in ranch dressing and honey mustard. Running into the all familiar faces, the type of folk who like Bill Russell but not Bill James, reminded me of some of the better moments I had at Danville High, particularly my no-hitter. That night, I went back to my apartment and popped an old tape of my no-no into the VHS machine, poured myself some Kentucky Deluxe and let myself take a drive down memory lane more meandering than Vin Scully’s play-by-play. Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity, as though I finally discovered a higher calling; I had to circulate copies of my no-hitter. The good people of Danville had to be educated about the rich baseball heritage of their city. What better place to start than at Applebee’s, which had always been bursting at the seams with good folks who watched the games and also received failing grades in their high school algebra classes? With a confidence I hadn’t felt since ’72, I drove my ’69 Ford to the Applebee’s parking lot, popped the drunk and started selling copies of my no-no for $10 each.

At first, it was beautiful. Economically speaking, the scheme worked out perfectly, and financed my consumption of appetizers for the next few weeks. Then, Clinton’s America struck again. After a particularly aggressive sales pitch to my ex-wife’s new husband, the Boyle County sheriff got involved. “This parking lot isn’t zoned for commercial activity, rendering your operation in violation of municipality code,” they told me. “Loiterer,” they called me.

This was the last straw. I was already several Margaritas deep, and a little ticked off over an under-cooked Quesadilla Burger I had been served that night. After I finally found a job worth working for, the bureaucrats at the Boyle County Planning & Zoning department shut me down and told me to apply for a business license. The red tape that shut down the GM plant had slowly encroached to deny me another employment opportunity. In a fit of blind rage I lost my temper and threw a punch at my ex-wife’s new husband. We brawled and wrestled atop the cold blacktop of the Applebee’s parking lot, and blood ran from my nose like the marinara sauce which I so enjoyed dipping my beloved mozzarella sticks in. I was served with a lifetime ban from Danville’s Applebee’s, and I haven’t been back since – necessitating my daily commute to the Lexington Chili’s during the baseball season.

But enough about me. I’m here to talk about another person who has been unfairly banned and denied entrance into a place of great importance. Somebody who also scaled the heights of baseball glory only to be excommunicated and treated like a criminal. I’m talking about Pete Rose, whose treatment by the MLB and denial of Hall of Fame recognition is every bit as unceremonious as the beating I received from the man who stole my wife and the Boyle County sheriff that February night. There comes a time where the mistakes of the past have to be forgiven. But Pete Rose owes nobody an apology. When you hit 4,000+ baseballs like he did, your worthiness of Hall of Fame status should be as self-evident as the success of Nixon’s trip to China. The Liberals forced the greatest electoral candidate of all-time from the White House -- Richard Nixon -- and by the end of the next decade would ensure the greatest pure hitter of all-time would leave a more important home: the dugout. The Hit King, Charlie Hustle, was guilty of nothing other than believing in his boys – his willingness to put money on the line is testament to the confidence he must have had in his teammates.

The Hall of Fame shouldn’t be a Hall of Goody-Two-Shoes, because baseball is a game played by men who drink, gamble, fight, juice, swear, eat hot dogs between innings, and sometimes kill, if you’re Ty Cobb. Why should the Hall of Fame present a view of baseball’s past more sanitized than the history books at Danville High, which omit any reference to Lyndon Johnson’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination or Hillary’s Whitewater scandal? I would never take my sons Will Hart Jr. and Peter Rose Hart to a Hall of Fame that honored Derek Jeter but not Alex Rodriguez.

According to the New York Times, Ty Cobb once “went into the stands and severely assaulted a heckler who was missing seven fingers, having lost them in a workplace accident, even as surrounding spectators yelled, ‘He has no hands!’” If he is allowed into the Hall of Fame, why not Pete? I would never argue against Mr. Cobb’s inclusion in the Hall, but a Hall of Fame without Pete Rose is more incomplete than the apology letter to my ex-wife’s new husband that I never got around to writing.

Why continue to punish one of the greatest hitters of all time, who brought two World Series championships to the good people of Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky? Hasn’t he been excluded enough? What’s the point in holding a grudge over a few bets in the 80s, or a parking-lot altercation in the 90s? All these years after the fact, the MLB is simply being as vengeful and vindictive as the Applebee’s that was happy to take my money until they found out I acquired it from a questionably-legal video tape distribution enterprise located in their parking lot. I was the face of baseball in Danville in my time. Pete Rose was the face of baseball in the 70s and 80s, just as Barry Bonds defined his era of the game. Yet, you fill find none of us in the places that we truly belong. Shame on you, MLB. Shame on you, Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Shame on you, Applebee’s.