I had forgotten how manipulative and deceitful Pete Rose can be.
Rose was back on national television the other day attempting to convince everyone he never bet on the outcome of baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
Recently released from Marion Federal Prison, where he served time for income-tax evasion, Rose was making his first appearance on network television with Jane Pauley.
To her credit, Pauley asked Rose several times why anyone should now believe his renewed protestations of innocence.
In answer, Rose said a disturbing thing.
He placed the blame for the belief that he was guilty of gambling on the outcome of baseball games squarely on the shoulders of the late commissioner of major league baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti.
Like most television interviewers, Pauley didn't know enough about the subject under discussion--in this case the protracted war between Commissioner Giamatti and Rose--to press the matter to an effective conclusion.
Her lack of knowledge was a disservice to Giamatti, the former president of Yale University. He was a gifted scholar and a realist whose expertise in Renaissance literature taught him much about human nature. He would not be surprised by Rose's current strategy.
"I'm the one person who didn't come into baseball to make friends with the stars," he once told Roger Angell of the New Yorker. "I already knew a lot of guys that age."
Before taking the job as president of the National League, Giamatti had taught, first at Princeton, then at Yale for twenty years. He was Yale's president for the last eight years he was there.
The fascinating tale of the Rose-Giamatti conflict has now been told by James Reston Jr. in his superb book Collision at Home Plate, published by Edward Burlingame Books.
Reston traces the lives of Rose and Giamatti from childhood through the confrontation that led to Rose's banishment from the major leagues and Giamatti's death by heart attack at 51 years. At the time of his death, Giamatti was just three years older than Rose.
The wit and intelligence of Giamatti lit up baseball's skies during the too-brief period he served, first as president of the National League and then as baseball commissioner.
Following the parallel lives, the reader is drawn ever closer to Giamatti's fascinating character and repulsed by Rose, who turns by degrees into a totally insensitive lout.
Giamatti becomes the victim rather than the stern judge. The six-months' war with Rose takes its toll. Smoking four packs of cigarettes a day and eating rich meals at the 21 Club, he gains eighty pounds. Only days after suspending Rose at an August 23, 1989, press conference, he succumbs to a heart attack.
Giamatti didn't merely suspend Rose. Falling back on his expertise as a Renaissance scholar, he used phrases that implied a punishment much more Biblical and severe.
As Reston writes, "He [Rose] was ostracized, expelled, driven away. He was proclaimed an outcast, an exile, a pariah . . . . He could not participate in an oldtimer's game that was sanctioned by baseball, nor attend dinners that were approved officially, nor could he set foot in a team clubhouse or front office."
Rose's current strategy is clear. Giamatti's moral suasion and conscience have been removed from the scene. By denying his guilt often enough, he can convince baseball people to forget the past. This accomplished, Rose will sooner or later be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York's Hall of Fame. He deserves inclusion only if crass commercialism has become such a part of the game that it's determined a special corner of the Hall must be set aside for convicted felons.
Rose bases his defense on his insistence that he never bet on baseball and certainly never on the team he was managing, the Cincinnati Reds.
Rose conveniently forgets all the evidence that was uncovered by Giamatti's investigator, John Dowd. Some of the records of bets made by Rose are actually in his own handwriting.
From Paul Janszen, the man who served as Rose's runner with the bookies, Dowd learned enough about Rose's betting activities in two days of questioning to make an ironclad case against him.
Reston quotes Janszen:
"`He would call up different managers and ask how certain pitchers' arms were, and if they were going to play certain players that night. He would try to get as much information as he could about a game, so then he could go ahead and either bet the game or not bet the game. Once he called up Sparky Anderson to find out how Jack Morris' pitching arm was.'
"About betting on the Reds, however, Rose was principled. He never bet against them, and he only abstained once from betting for them. There was a time when a declining Mario Soto was slated to pitch and the gambling manager did not like the way his pitcher was throwing in his warm-up, so he did not bet on the game. In fact, Rose was downright mad at Soto; the pitcher had cost him money in the past. Soon enough, Soto was sent down to Triple-A ball."