Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime


The 25th anniversary of Pete Rose’s banishment – if you can call that an “anniversary” – came and went over the weekend, and to commemorate the event I read my 10 bajilllionth Pete Rose story. This one made the case that Rose should be reinstated in baseball and made eligible for the Hall of Fame. No, my mistake, the story I read made the case that Rose broke baseball’s cardinal rule and should never be reinstated because lifetime bans should last a lifetime. No, I’m sorry, right the first time, the story argued that Rose has served his time and that he should be remembered for how he played the game. Or, wait, actually, now that I think of it, the story was more about how Rose knew the punishment for gambling on baseball, and he did it anyway, and he has never really shown any remorse, and if you do the crime you have to do the time.

To be honest, I can’t even remember anymore.

I have long found Pete Rose and his story utterly fascinating. Rose the indomitable player compelled me to write The Machine about the 1975 Reds. Rose the con man motivated me write a hundred pieces through the years and to visit him many times.  I have at different times started writing a one-man play about Rose – the opening scene is of him sitting at a folding table, a “Pete Rose: Hit King” banner behind him, and barkers in the background shouting, “Come see Pete Rose! Come see the Hit King! Come talk to the man who cracked more hits than any man in the history of the game!” The trouble with the play, like the trouble with Rose’s life, is that there’s no second act.

In any case, I read the Rose stories this time like I do every time he pops into the news for some reason or another, but it was different. For the first time, I found myself utterly bored by them. I guess many people (most people?) passed that line years ago, but it took me longer. It occurred to me this time around that we have run out, we have officially passed the point where there’s anything enlightening to say about Pete Rose. Some people think he should be forgiven. Some people think he should not be forgiven. Some people think his gambling did not impact how he played or managed the games. Some people think his gambling did impact the way he played or managed the games. Some people think it doesn’t even matter because gambling on baseball creates dangerous ripples.

[ RELATED: Even if he’s reinstated, would Pete Rose make the Hall? ]

A question for you: Let’s say that 25 years ago, someone did something rotten to you personally. Let’s say they cut you out of a deal or they publicly embarrassed you or they stole your girlfriend/boyfriend. Would you forgive that person? I have friends who would not forgive, could not, no matter how many amends made (were they sincere?), no matter how many apologies offered (were they real?), no matter the history before. I have other friends who would forgive. At some point, the question of forgiveness moves beyond the act itself because the act never changes. At some point, it becomes a simple and very personal question. You would have the right to never forgive. You always have that right. But you also have the right to forgive at any time.

The other day, we were talking about Buck O’Neil and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of forgiveness. I told the story again of the time I was with Buck and a wonderful Negro Leagues player from his era. The question of black hotels came up.

This other player talked how degrading it was to be turned away from the white hotels.

Buck talked about how much better the food was at the black hotels anyway.

The other player talked about how these white hotel clerks would make him feel like less than a man.

Buck talked about how he would run into Joe Louis or Ella Fitzgerald at the black hotels.

The other player talked about the endless and sometimes frightening hours spent looking for places to stay.

Buck talked about they could stop in any black neighborhood and be treated like kings.

They were talking about exactly the same time, exactly the same experiences, but Buck chose to see it the way he saw it. I use the word purposely: Chose. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t easy. You don’t think he felt the bitterness of a lifetime being denied? He was turned away from the white high school in Sarasota. He was not allowed to even try and play in the Major Leagues. He was never given the chance to do the baseball thing he was born to do, manage in the Major Leagues – he was passed over again and again for inferior men.

[ RELATED: Pete Rose: “I’m a firm believer that baseball is a better sport if I’m in it ]

I hear people say, ‘Why should I forgive?” There’s no right answer anyone can give you. Buck CHOSE to see the strides being made. Buck CHOSE to believe in the goodness of people. Buck CHOSE to forgive the people who had treated him cruelly or, worse at times, callously. He remembered that boy in North Dakota, the one who screamed the N word at him from across a street. Buck called that boy over, asked him why he did that, explained to him what that word meant, gave him tickets to the game that night. He CHOSE to forgive because, otherwise, well, he had his reasons. Faith. Hope. The belief that hate eats you from the inside.

I’m certainly not comparing Pete Rose to anything in Buck’s life, I’m only talking about forgiveness here. That impulse to forgive or not forgive now seems at the heart of every single thing anyone says about Rose. One of the stories I read in this latest go-around went into excruciating detail about the terrible evils of gambling on baseball, the calamitous effects Pete Rose had on the game even if he never bet against the Reds. OK. Another story I read delved deep into Rose’s lies, half-truths and unseemly responses the last 25 years. Fine. “If only he had said I’m sorry …” one commenter wrote in agreement, which is not quite right because no human on planet earth has said “I’m sorry” more than Rose – the guy would autograph baseballs with the words. What the commenter meant was that, beyond Rose’s words, he just never SEEMED sorry.

But all of these stories really needed only five words: “I don’t forgive Pete Rose.”  And all the positive stories – the ones I’ve written often about how good a player he was, about how you should look at a whole life, about how he has more than repaid his debt – needed one fewer word: “I forgive Pete Rose.” That’s all any of us are saying at this point. We will explain our positions – I don’t forgive because he’s not remorseful, I do forgive because so much time has gone by, and so on – but more and more I believe the positions come first, then the explanations. I have long ago forgiven Pete Rose. I’m just coming up with arguments for why.

At the beginning, I mentioned the “lifetime ban” that is written about so often. This concept leads some people to say that Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, but only after he is dead. Hey, makes sense, right? There’s just one problem with this. It’s not a “lifetime ban.” It’s a “permanent ban.”

In the matter of Peter Edward Rose Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Agreement and Resolution 5a: Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21 and placed on the Ineligible List.

Permanent. There was a lot written unwritten in that agreement, promises made and not kept, thoughts and plans no doubt carried to the grave by commissioner Bart Giamatti. But let’s be clear: The word “lifetime” does not among the 881 words in the agreement. So why do people keep calling it a lifetime when it’s actually a permanent one? I can’t help but think it keeps coming up because some people are willing to forgive Pete Rose … he just has to die first.

[ Read more from Joe Posnanski ]

2018 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tampa Bay Rays.

A lot of teams start one season looking very different than they did at the end of the previous season. Usually you can see those changes coming as early as August or September. What the Rays look like now, on the eve of the 2018 regular season, however, is very different than the sort of change we assumed as recently as the Winter Meetings.

We knew they’d let Alex Cobb walk in free agency and they did. But we did not expect them to trade Evan Longoria, to designate Corey Dickerson for assignment coming off an All-Star year, to trade 30-homer outfielder Steven Souza, or to trade Jake Odorizzi as spring training was getting underway as opposed to some time later when, perhaps, he could bring more value. The baseball justifications for some of these trades were better than they were for others, but the way they were done and the timing of it all cast a pall on the offseason, appearing as they did to be payroll slashing moves. The certainly didn’t impress the MLBPA, which filed a grievance against Tampa Bay last month, accusing them of pocketing revenue sharing money instead of trying to make the team better.

None of that played well, but if you take a couple of steps back, it’s possible to defend it all by realizing that even with all of those guys, the Rays were an 80-win team last year and would not have had a huge amount of upside this year if they had kept it all together. I’ll leave it to prospect experts, number crunchers to decide whether the Rays did a good job of tearing it down — and I think they could’ve done better than they did with stopgap measures until their minor league talent matures — but it’s at least understandable that they wanted to tear it down and start anew.

Until the fruits of those deals — and the fruits of a minor league system which has been pretty darn good in recent years — are ripe, though, the big league Rays are going to have a lot of question marks.

On offense the biggest question mark is health and durability. Here’s a pretty plausible Opening Day lineup Kevin Cash may send out there:

DH Denard Span
3B Matt Duffy
CF Kevin Kiermaier
RF Carlos Gomez
2B Brad Miller
C Wilson Ramos
1B C.J. Cron
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
LF Mallex Smith

Not terrible, but not durable or, in some cases, consistent. Kiermaier has had some freak injuries, but the nature of his play — hard, fast and diving for stuff — makes that a hazard and, as such, he’s really only played in one full season. Matt Duffy missed all of last year and, let’s face it, has never struck fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Wilson Ramos knows the disabled list like few others. Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron and Brad Miller have had fairly substantial swings in production across recent and within recent seasons. Adeiny Hechavarria and Mallex Smith are not serious offensive threats.

It’s easy to squint and to imagine Span, Kiermaier, Ramos, Gomez and maybe Cron forming the nucleus of a respectable attack, but it’s also easy to see half of that lineup playing in only, like, 107 games, Cash penciling in dudes like Jesus Sucre and Daniel Robertson a lot or putting Denard Span out in the outfield more than he should to cover for whoever. The Rays featured the 14th-best offense in the AL in 2017. I can see a case for it improving a tad, but not by much, and if the injury fairy flies through the window, this could be really bad.

On the upside, most of these guys can pick it pretty well, so the defense should be pretty decent and potentially even superior. The pitching is good on paper too, but there is gonna be some weirdness afoot if Cash sticks with the plan he outlined earlier this month.

Even with the departure of Cobb and Odorizzi — and even with the season-ending surgery to top prospect Brent Honeywell — the Rays have five good starters in Chris Archer, Nate Eovaldi, Blake Snell, Jake Faria and Matt Andriese. Except they’re not going to use all five starters in their rotation. They’re going to go with a four-man rotation and a bullpen game every fifth day. At present it appears that Andriese, who started 17 games last year, is the odd man out and will be part of the all-hands-on-deck crew on day 5, whenever that comes up.

Early on this should not make a difference. There are a lot of off days in the first month of the season, so the need for that bullpen day will be pretty limited. One wonders, though, what this will do to their effectiveness and durability as the temperature rises and the season wears on. Yes, “bullpenning” got a lot of press in the postseason, but the idea that a bullpen can stay fresh with such a high-level of use for 5-6 months with few days off is a questionable one. That’s especially the case when three of the Rays’ four starters — Eovaldi, Faria and Snell — pitched limited innings last year and can’t be expected to go six or seven innings per start in 2018 (who can anymore?). Maybe Archer is a horse, but the rest of your games you’re going to need three relievers to finish things up based on how life works these days. Maybe more.

In light of that, is the bullpen going to be able to handle nine innings once every five days? Color me dubious. I think they’ll be fried by July. At least if they truly do use that fifth day as a true bullpen day and don’t, say, just call up a new fifth starter every week and a half and use that slot to audition organizational depth before ultimately just handing it over to Andriese. Indeed, now that I’m thinking about it, I’d wager that the fifth day plan morphs into that pretty quickly and that we’ll be smiling at the notion of a true bullpen day by the All-Star break.

As for the arms in that bullpen, Alex Colome is the closer, mostly because the Rays couldn’t find anyone to deal him to this past offseason. In support are old hands Daniel Hudson and Sergio Romo, neither of whom have been relief aces in recent years, even if Romo did do well for the Rays after coming over late last season. Dan Jennings, Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek and a cast of similarly anonymous guys will take the ball a lot. Even Johnny Venters, who had three Tommy John surgeries, could be in the mix at some point. The cast will be as big as “Love Actually.” Whether they are as annoying depends on who you’re rooting for.

Where does that leave the Rays? It leaves them with some serious dice rolling in the lineup, some good defense, some respectable pitching but a potentially odd and possibly detrimental approach to its deployment. It leaves them with a still very good farm system and a roster that looks really nice for 2020. I think it leaves them in some pretty serious trouble for 2018, though, especially in a division as top heavy as the AL East.

As far as on-the-fly rebuilds go, it’s not a bad one, but it’s still one that’s gonna leave the Rays in the low-80s win-wise at best, with some pretty serious potential downside.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL East.