The Exile of Pete Rose

Posted: February 9, 2014 by Matt Horan in Uncategorized
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By Matt Horan

As a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I have had the privilege of working with lots of different groups of disciples at various stages of their life with Christ.  Senior citizens, baby boomers, young families, college students, high school students, middle school students, elementary school students… even the kids from our church preschool’s VPK program when I lead “preschool chapel” every Wednesday morning in the sanctuary.

One night recently one of my four-year-old chapel attenders spotted me in a grocery store.  He looked at me with wide eyes and demanded, “Pastor Matt!  Why are you not at the church?”

So, in case you’re like my preschool friend, it’s important to clarify that I sometimes go places other than the church.  I’ve been to airports, the beach, I ate at The Varsity in Atlanta once, and I’ve seen baseball games at Veterans Stadium, Turner Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Tropicana Field, as well as several different Spring Training venues.  In fact, some of my favorite non-church places are baseball fields.

I own several baseball cards that were once my retirement plan, but in the wake of the “steroid era,” they are now a waste of those little plastic screw-down holders sitting in a shoe box in my garage.  Or attic.  I think.

I’ve been in the same fantasy baseball league since 1993, my best finish ever was a 4th place, but I still believe that I’m due to win it any time now.  I teared up a little when the Phillies won the World Series.  Okay, it was no “Curse of the Bambino” or anything, but I had been six the last time it happened, so it was a long wait.  There was crying in baseball.

Anyway, in the event anybody wonders why there’s an article about baseball on the ReEmergent Church blog, well, I’m just saying that sometimes I go places other than church.

Every year there are more essays written about why Pete Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  They mention his 4,256 hits, head-first slides, dirty uniforms, and all-out style.  But now there’s a new argument: He’s not as bad as them.  

Of course, you know who “them” is.  They’re Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, Alex Rodriguez.  The steroid users.  Cheaters.  No way… he’s not as bad as them.

That may be true.  Pete Rose never cheated to find greater success on the field.  He manufactured offense using only natural ingredients: hard work, determination, intensity, and hustle.  4,256 times Rose faced down the best arms the league had to offer, and stood triumphantly on base as a result.  4,256 times.  More than Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial–more than everybody.  Ever.

That’s a career worthy of the Hall.  First ballot worthy.  That’s why it drives people crazy that he’s not in.  So they argue, and now they compare him to them to make the point.  But there’s no comparison.

Performance enhancing drug (PED) users are trying to succeed, trying to win.  They are taking banned drugs in order to artificially improve their abilities to make themselves better.  We can trust that they’re doing everything they can–and some things they can’t–to succeed more often, to win more often.

What Peter Rose did, like Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Black Sox” did before him, is in a different category.  Rose gambled on games he participated in.  The Black Sox took a bribe to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series.  They stood to gain money based on the outcome of games, the outcomes of which they were able to influence.  It’s akin to the singer of the national anthem at the Super Bowl placing a prop bet that the singer of the national anthem would wear a red shirt during the
performance.  It would be awfully tempting for that singer to wear a red shirt that night, don’t you think?

I can trust that players using PED’s are trying to win.  I can trust that players and managers who have placed bets on games they’re participating in are trying to win the bet.  I can trust that players and managers who take bribes on games they’re involved in would face some sort of unseemly consequence if the briber did not get the outcomes they were trying to purchase.

Major League Baseball has survived many things over the years: wars, strikes, PED’s, and even an earthquake at the World Series.  But imagine if fans could no longer trust the outcomes of the games.  What if the seed were planted (and then watered by sports talk radio, sportswriters, and social media) that the outcomes were being manipulated so as to produce more revenue for those on the inside?  Why did our pitcher give up six runs in the first inning?  Why did our cleanup hitter go 0 for 5 with four strikeouts?  Why did the manager leave that pitcher in so long when he was getting shelled?  Did they do it on purpose?  Did they have money riding on the game?

If you think Congress was quick to hold hearings on PED use, can you imagine how fast they’d happen then?  Can you imagine the chants from the stands?  Can you imagine the suspicion, the finger pointing?  Can you imagine how badly the fans and writers would all long for the “steroid era,” back when everyone was just trying to win?

No sport can survive long under the suspicion that the outcomes are being manipulated, which means that no sport can tolerate–even for a second–anything at all that would raise that suspicion.  So if you take a bribe, you’re banned for life.  If you place a bet on a game that you can influence, you’re banned for life.

Is this how it should be?  I’m not sure–the morality of it all is a longer blog article.  What’s crystal clear, however, is that this is how it has to be.

  1. Pastor Matt! Why aren’t you at church?!?!


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