Quote of the Day territory from the All Time Hit King. Pete Rose went on a radio show and talked about his lifetime bad for gambling compared to the PED guys’ suspensions for drugs and ballplayers with other vices. He came out here:
And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance. They haven’t given too many gamblers a second chances in the world of baseball,” Rose said.
There is a pretty common talking point among those who, like me, tend to defend the PED guys, and that’s that it’s rather perverse that baseball punishes PED use so severely but doesn’t seem to care if players get DUIs, have a history of domestic violence or find themselves in other sorts of trouble. I think this often gets misstated, however, and I think Rose is misstating it here too.
I don’t think it’s so clear a case that the league itself is messed up on this subject. Practically speaking it is hard for Major League Baseball to police conduct that does not directly relate to the game. If it were to suspend guys who engaged in criminal conduct or other sorts of moral deviancy it would have to figure out whether to do so upon arrest or conviction, which can often be separated by years. And what to do if there is a plea to a lesser charge. It would have to decide when, if ever, to interview the players involved in such a way as they don’t violate 5th Amendment rights. It would have to decide how to distinguish varying degrees of off-field misconduct. It seems easy to suspend a player who robs a liquor store, but what do you do if he’s, say, accused of tax evasion? And what if he’s just a miserable drunk?
This doesn’t mean the league can’t or shouldn’t at least think about wading into this world — at times I think it should, other times I’m not so sure — but there is no denying the hundreds of thorny issues involved. There are a lot of hard questions and tough choices to be made, all while law enforcement is doing its own thing. It makes the “why suspend Player X for ‘roids when Player Y is a drunk driver?!” rhetoric kind of beside the point, even if it feels satisfying to say it. They are different issues and only one of which is squarely within Major League Baseball’s jurisdiction, at least in the first instance.
Where I do believe that the comparison of PEDs and other bad conduct is apt is when we — usually we in the media — are talking about a player’s character in general.
There have been far more angry words written about Alex Rodriguez being a liar and a cheat, a narcissist and an all-around awful person than there have been sober words talking about the nature of his offense within the context of baseball’s rules. In contrast, we never hear too much said about the character of a player who has done truly awful things in an absolute sense instead of a baseball sense. Not many writers want to condemn the drunk drivers, wife beaters and rapists among the ballplaying class, even if they consider it their sacred duty to question the character of PED users and those players who are up for election to the Hall of Fame. That is where perspective is utterly lost in my view. They freak out about something that is major within the game but minor in life while simultaneously ignoring the transgressions that are major in life. Which is fine if they want to get out of the character assessment business altogether — I’d love it! — but they have no desire to. They still want to say some guys are saints and others are bums. They just don’t want to play fair when they do it.
Back to Rose: no, Pete. You shouldn’t have picked alcohol or drugs or beating your wife. That you didn’t speaks well of you. You were a fantastic baseball player who screwed up royally in a lot of ways, but you’re not worse off for gambling on baseball than you would have been had you been awful in other ways. There are offenses to baseball and offenses to society. Yours to baseball are way worse than anything you’ve done in society, and you should be satisfied that you only fell so far.
(thanks to Rickset for the heads up)