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Where Is Pete Rose Headed, to the Hall of Fame or Shame?

It’s no picnic, this business of being a moral watchdog of sports.

Today is baseball’s opening day and the public is clamoring for a ruling on Pete Rose. Should Rose be sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame or to the Black Hole of Calcutta?

Was Charlie Hustle guilty of flashing betting signals from the Cincinnati Reds’ dugout, or was that just the normal baseball scratching? If Rose is hit with a lifetime suspension, will Bart Giamatti flip a coin with Pete, double-or-nothing?

In order to arrive at a judgment on Rose, I must attempt to place his alleged crimes into the context of sports society in general and baseball in particular.

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For instance, if Rose is to be punished, what do we do about Dominique Wilkins? He certainly deserves someday to be enshrined in--or hovering over--the Basketball Hall of Fame. But Dominique has reportedly admitted to accepting $30,000 from a sports agent while still a college student-athlete.

Does this make Dominique a bad guy or a good businessman? What will the IRS have to say about Wilkins’ declaration? Is it better to associate with sleazy, cheating sports agents than with big-time illegal bookmakers, or is there any real difference? To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a broken leg is a broken leg is a broken leg.

And what about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a convicted criminal? Big Fella recently was found guilty of pushing a camera into the face of an Italian tourist in a Phoenix mall and was ordered to pay $1,340.35. Financially, Kareem can break even by counter-suing, demanding AFTRA scale for starring in the man’s home movies.

But Kareem’s record is marred. On moral grounds, can we in good conscience vote into the Basketball Hall of Fame a convicted camera swatter?

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In baseball, the court’s docket is crowded with future Hall of Fame candidates awaiting moral judgment.

Steve Garvey, the game’s Mr. Clean, is in trouble for not being Mr. Careful. Garvey figured to be a close call for Hall of Fame consideration, and his recent alleged misadventures in paternity will hurt his chances. His image has suffered. Only a few of us old-timers remember when, if you talked about Garvey’s amazing consecutive streak, you were referring to games played.

And what about Wade Boggs, the incredible slinking man? One wife for home, one for the road. If we go by batting stats, Wade is a cinch for the Hall of Fame after he retires, but what about this cloud of scandal he pulled over the game this off-season?

In a piece of muckraking journalism that Upton Sinclair would be proud of, Boggs mistress Margo Adams revealed that the superstitious Boggs ordered her to wear no underwear when attending ballgames, in order to bring him luck. She claims it worked, that Wade got lucky a lot.

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There is evidence that Boston’s fans are willing to forgive. In fact, if Boggs goes into this season’s final game needing three or four hits to win another batting crown, Red Sox management might promote a “No Underwear Night.” For 30,000 Fenway faithful, nothing would come between them and their Calvins.

Yet the cloud hovers. After all the heartbreak and scandal, Boggs said, “I still expect to be regarded as a role model.”

By whom? Secretariat?

Still, can we keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame for leading an unconventional love life? Unfortunately, yes.

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The objection here is that it’s too damn tough to judge personal lives and weigh them into the equation when we vote for Hall of Famers. Babe Ruth was no Eagle Scout. You can walk through the halls of Cooperstown and pick an incredible All-Star team from among the alcohol abusers, including Mickey Mantle. And they would have their hands full against a Cooperstown All-Philanderer Team.

Ah, but then there’s gambling. Bad stuff. We can’t leave Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame, though, unless someone produces reasonable proof he bet on the Reds or their opponents, therefore sacrificing his baseball integrity.

Rose has been a heavy sports gambler for years, and his hobby was no secret. Upper management in the Reds’ organization was aware of his massive gambling debts at least 11 years ago. Why didn’t the Reds intervene, as a club would in the case of a suspected drug abuser? Why didn’t no-nonsense Peter Ueberroth, who should have been aware of the situation, take Rose by the scruff of the neck and drag him away from the action?

Why did baseball sit back and let Rose dig himself so deep in the box that he buried himself? A manager and heavy-breathing bookies are a bad mix, and baseball should have been in Rose’s face long ago.

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Meanwhile, I’ve heard that many baseball writers with Hall of Fame votes have already scratched Rose off their lists even before he’s eligible. Maybe they should wait to see exactly what the man is guilty of, if anything.

Except for misdeeds that reflect directly on the team and the game, we should rate ballplayers on their ballplaying, and leave the character judgment to qualified people like Barbara Walters.

Right now, all we know about Pete Rose, all that should matter, is that he came to play every day, and that he always wore underwear.


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