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First Garvey, Now Rose: Say It Ain’t So

I am numb. I really don’t believe it. I feel like that little kid who stood outside the grand jury room at the Black Sox scandal and plucked at the sleeve of Shoeless Joe Jackson and begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Say it ain’t so, Pete. Say it ain’t so, Steve.

I mean, Pete Rose and Steve Garvey! Git outta here! Are you kidding me?! Anybody but them! What are you, a Communist!?

There are more than 600 guys in the major leagues at any given time. I would make Pete Rose and/or Steve Garvey about 598th to be caught at conduct detrimental to the best interests of baseball.

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More than 13,000 have played the game since its beginning. I would figure Rose or Garvey to be about 12,980th to be mixed up in these kinds of headlines.

We’re talking the personification of boyhood ideals here. I mean, Pete Rose. He was America’s Team. The 45-year-old 12-year-old. The original dirty-faced little kid. I mean, this is not Arnold Rothstein. Pete was baseball. Take-two-and-hit-to-right. Go in headfirst. What’s he doing in the commissioner’s office explaining himself!? What kind of a cockamamie world have we gotten into here?! Let me off!

And Steve Garvey, a womanizer?! St. Steve?! When we called him “Father Garvey,” we meant the Roman-collar type, not the paternity-suit type.

I once wrote that, if you opened the average pro athlete’s head, you would find a six-pack of beer and six naked ladies in there. If you opened Garvey’s, you would find a banana split.

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I’m not sure whether I owe those other guys an apology--or Garvey does. When Garvey first came up to the big leagues, a lot of us weren’t sure he wasn’t God. I mean, real people didn’t act like this. Even-tempered all the time, smiling, obliging, honest, trustworthy, on time, in shape. Happy, even. He never even screamed when he mistakenly signed a multiyear contract for about one-third of his worth. He didn’t sulk, pout, hold out, sue--he just shrugged it off. And served it out.

He always looked as if he was on his way to his first Holy Communion or to serve the 6 o’clock Mass. His shoes were shined, his teeth were cleaned, his hair combed. So far as we knew, he didn’t smoke, drink, chew or swear. He was the most controlled individual I have ever known in my life. He could make the Pope look temperamental.

I always figured the Dodgers got him out of the pages of a Burt L. Standish novel. Or a bulrush. He wasn’t real. They dismantled him and put him in a trunk every night, then put him together the next morning, and he went out and went 3 for 4. He never even got his hair mussed.

His teammates hated him for it. Well, some of them did. They called him Goody Goody Garvey behind his back. They resented the media attention he got. But he got it because he was affably available--and he went out and got 200 hits every year.

He was a cinch for the Hall of Fame. And maybe the Halls of Congress. He reveled in his image. Some athletes rail against being role models. Garvey courted it. “I try to do everything as though there were a little boy or a little girl following me wherever I go,” he once told this writer.

Well, he must have given them the slip. As you know, if you’ve been reading the public prints, our Steve has been accused by two women of making them pregnant and has married a third.

“Honk if you’re carrying Steve Garvey’s baby,” read the bumper stickers in San Diego. Or, “Garvey is really a Padre.”

Pete Rose was never regarded as anybody’s goody-goody. Bawdy, brawling, cocky, profane, Pete was all-ballplayer. Pete was nobody’s candidate to be Secretary of State, or even to take up the collection at Sunday Mass. But Pete loved baseball. He could talk about it endlessly. They’ll have to cut the uniform off Pete, we told each other.

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Well, astonishing as it seems, they may do exactly that. Pete, it would appear, has been betting on ballgames. This is the biggest no-no in the game. It transcends pine tar, cork in the bat, paternity suits. It takes the game back to the dreaded 1919 World Series. It makes commissioners quake in their boots because a commissioner’s first job--the reason their job was created--is to preserve the integrity of the game.

When the integrity of the--certifiably--greatest hitter in the history of the game is brought into question, massive panic ensues. If Pete Rose can come under suspicion, who’s next--Joan of Arc?

Pete has already been tarnished just by the investigation. It seems to me it would behoove baseball to proceed with undeliberate haste before the public begins to get the idea Pete has been selling secrets to the Soviets or clubbing baby seals. The big scary headlines already paint this Red Rose as a Black Rose, as in Sox.

If I know Pete Rose, the thing he always wanted to do most in life was not win a bet but get a hit. Win a game. Play in the Series.

Next to that was make the Hall of Fame. If he gets caught betting on his own team, that goal is in jeopardy.

Baseball should put all its cards on the table. It owes that to the fan. And the player, Rose.

If it’s so--well, like that little kid on the Chicago street, we’ll never be the same. If it’s all an overblown pile of hearsay--well, Pete could always handle a curveball.


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