Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pete Rose, the Anti-Goethe

Anna Quindlen said recently that one of the most remarkable things about being a parent is the way in which it allows you to re-experience elements of your own childhood, this time in a much richer, more profound way.

Such is the case with me and baseball. My two boys, ages 10 and 7, were on the point of discovering it late last season. In October, while my wife, Diane, was in Tanzania, Micah, Luke, and I listened to the radio broadcast of the Twins’ one-game playoff with the Detroit Tigers for the A.L. Central title. It was a thrilling game — all the more so because of the radio medium — and the boys were hooked.

As the winter of 2010 wore on, I found myself experiencing baseball fever like I never had before. Keeping the hot stove league hot was a given for two reasons.

First, Micah and Luke were using their allowance money virtually every week to stock up on Topps baseball cards. And second, the Twins’ front office was making moves designed to strengthen the team for a deep postseason run in its first season at our new outdoor Field of Dreams — known, thanks to the corporate naming rights, as Target Field.

(The construction was made possible, by the way, by a tax increase approved by a 4 to 3 vote of the Hennepin County Board, with the 4 boys outvoting the 3 girls. That story, in itself, would merit a post.)

All this is by way of explanation for why, a few days ago, I found myself at the public library, checking out an armful of baseball books and videos. One of these — solely because the title was intriguing — was My Prison Without Bars, by Pete Rose and Rick Hill.

Though I knew Pete Rose, the MLB all-time hits leader and exposed gambler, had been banned from all official involvement with MLB for betting on baseball, I wasn’t really familiar with his Nixon-like attempt to rehabilitate himself. After reading the first few pages, however, I was very quickly deeply appalled.

What appalled me was not the drumbeat of constant profanity that Rick Hill — the professional writer whom the practically illiterate Rose chose to tell his story — inserted into the text, seeking to replicate Rose’s voice.

No, it wasn’t that. Nor was it Rose’s pathetic attempt to enlist sympathy for himself by milking the scene in which he must say goodbye to his young son before heading off to prison for tax evasion.

No, it wasn’t that either. It was the unconcealed misogyny with which Rose has Hill tell his story.

My Prison Without Bars, Pete Rose's apologia pro vita sua, begins in 1947, with 6-year-old Pete serving as waterboy at his father’s semi-pro football game in Cincinnati. The elder Rose breads his leg, but refuses to come out of the game and makes the winning tackle. Or at least that’s what Pete, 55 years later, asserted to his amanuensis, Rick Hill.

Rose cites this as a defining moment, in which worship of his strong, decisive father crystallized and he came to scorn the “idle gossip” of women. For his mother was not down there on the field, looking into Pete’s father’s strong, steely eyes.

(Pete, my father was my hero, too. But playing on a broken leg in a semipro football game is hardly the capstone of heroism.)

Is it any wonder that a divorced, 60-something man who can tell the story Rose tells with a straight face has had a train wreck of a family life? John Gottman, one of America’s foremost experts on indicators of divorce, might want to include a footnote on this the next time he revises The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

What a contrast Pete Rose’s contempt for women makes to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s life-long love affair with the fair sex. Where one man claimed to hear superficial chatter, the other recognized that “Das ewige Weiblich zieht uns hinan.”

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