Pete, Your Greatest Moment Still Awaits

All right, Miss B., do me a favor. Take a letter to my friend, Pete Rose, the ex-baseball manager. I don't know where to send it--but not to Riverfront Stadium. Pete doesn't live there anymore:

Dear Pete,

First of all, let me apologize for my colleagues, the knights of the keyboard, the poets of the press box. All the guys who laughed at all your jokes, filled their notebooks, chuckled at your swagger over the years. I know you're as shocked as I am at the way they've turned on you. You probably always thought it was un-American to kick a man when he was down.

Hah!

But don't worry. I don't belong to that he-had-it-coming clique. We participated in making you what you are today, Pete, a bloody media icon. But we're a vindictive society, Pete, and don't let anybody tell you different. Now we're criticizing the way you raised your family, the way you cut your hair. It's an American industry--build up and tear down heroes.

I can think of a hundred guys I'd rather find in your predicament, guys who never did me or the game five minutes good, but you're the one on the gibbet, Pete. Your neck's in the rope.

We're a nation of front-runners, Pete, and you're a loser. Bart Giamatti is the guy on the white horse now. He has saved baseball, it says here. He has preserved the integrity of the game. The office of the commissioner was instituted precisely to take care of situations like this. There's no other reason for it.

But you're no threat to baseball. You were a threat only to Pete Rose. Him, you cobbled up good.

You have to know, Pete, that society puts higher standards on its heroes, its celebrities, its successful. Someone called Watergate a third-rate burglary. And so it was. Only it had the President's fingerprints on it. And look what happened to him.

I don't know who got you, Pete. Perhaps the bookies ratted on you because you owed them all that money or the word leaked out on the street. But, ultimately, it was Pete Rose who got you. I'd get rid of that guy if I were you, that gambling, swaggering, cocky, I-can-do-no-wrong guy. He's big trouble.

You have denied you're a compulsive gambler, Pete. Like a lot of people, it is hard for you to perceive addiction in what seems like just a simple pastime. It is hard for some people to think of it as an addiction. I mean, it's not a chemical dependency--on alcohol, heroin, cocaine, nicotine. That, they can understand. But a bet is just a bet. It's not a disease. Or so they think.

Well, lots of things are addictions, Pete. For instance--and the boys down on the corner will get a laugh at this one--did you know that sex can be an addiction? Eating can be an addiction. I'm not a doctor, but any kind of destructive compulsive behavior can be an addiction.

You know, when they ask you a series of questions to spot alcohol or hard drug addiction, the first thing they ask you is if your usage has gotten you in trouble with the law, a drunk-driving arrest, a fight in a bar.

The second thing they ask you is if it interfered with your work--absenteeism, shoddy work, warnings from the boss. Has it interfered with your career?

The third thing they ask is whether it brought trouble to your home life--divorce, separation, domestic squabbles.

Then, they ask if you've taken to lying to protect your addiction ("Honey, I just had one beer," or "Honey, I was at the office all day, I didn't go to the track, I swear."). Then they want to know if you've been selling family possessions or raiding bank accounts to support your addiction.

Sound like anyone you know, Pete?

If I were you, Pete, I'd be worried. Gambling has brought the law down on you. Gambling has not only interfered with your work, it has cost you a job. I don't know about your home life, but if devotion to alcohol or drugs can lead to neglect of wife, children and families, I would have to think devotion to betting could, too.

People in the throes of addiction get money to feed it any way they can. Usually, they steal. But also, they hock things. Isn't that what you're doing at all these memorabilia sales, flying 900 miles to sell your autographs, your World Series bats, anything but the family refrigerator?

I once knew a guy who went home and got his wife's fur coat and drove back to the golf course with it to cover a bet. I've known guys who sold $6,000 automobiles for $800 to get quick fixes. In both cases, they were addicts.

I heard a guy on television say gambling was a greater high than any chemical addictions. I don't know about that. But I do know that Nick the Greek once said that the next-best thing to gambling and winning was gambling and losing. He also said that when he wasn't in action--i.e., betting on something--he felt as if he were dead.

Pete, look at yourself. They tell me you're next to broke. I don't know about that--but you act like it. Pete, you made $2 million a year in your heyday. You could have bought railroads, office buildings, rare coins. Instead, you collected betting slips.

Never mind baseball, the Hall of Fame and Bart Giamatti. The hell with them. You got to take care of Pete Rose.

You need a confrontation, Pete. And I don't mean with another ex-bookie on the witness stand producing your fingerprints on a betting slip. I mean with a bunch of guys who know what it was like to be locked in the lovesick embrace of a gambling addiction.

Wives can't do it. Families can't do it. I can't do it. You'd convince us we were blowing the situation way out of proportion. Addicts are good at that. They lie to themselves principally. After that, lying to the world is easy.

You and I have been pals for a long time, Pete. Goes back to Hutch, when he was manager, and I used to hang around the batting cages at Vero Beach or Tampa. A lot of guys acted like baseball was 10 hours at a lathe, but you acted as if it were a day at the circus.

I remember your saying things like, "Well, three things are going to happen this summer--the grass is going to get green, the trees are going to leaf, and Pete Rose is going to get 200 hits." Then you'd say to Joe Morgan or Tony Perez, "I may not be the best hitter in this league, but I'm the best white hitter."

And do you remember the time I said to you, "Aren't you glad this game of baseball is around for you to make all this money doing something you like?" and you looked at me and said, "Yeah, aren't you?"

I remember the World Series when they had the rainouts and we writers were starving for copy and you came down to the mid-town hotel in Boston or wherever and we had all the copy we could use.

That's the Pete Rose I like to remember, Pete. I don't like to see you stood up against a wall and shot. I don't want to see you become a non-person.

But never mind saving baseball or the Hall of Fame. You've got to save Pete Rose. Go into one of those gambler-anonymous centers and let them hold a mirror up in front of you and your compulsions and show you what they are and what they have done to that American hero who played 24 seasons and five World Series with the purity and dedication of a dirty-faced kid on a sandlot.

The count is 0-2, Pete, but you always were a good two-strike hitter. Besides, how tough can that be for a guy who beat out Ty Cobb?

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