Was Pete Rose just too competitive for his own good?


One of the things people might not always remember is just how competitive great athletes are.

They want to win. They want to win every game. Most of them want to win at everything. Video games. Cards. A sport outside their own that they’re not even very good at. You name it.

Once an athlete told me he and his roommate used to compete in everything, including seeing who could be the first to sprint through the door of their apartment after practices and games.

In college, I remember playing an intramural basketball game against a team made up of varsity football players. Ten seconds into the game, it became obvious it was a physical mismatch and our goal was mostly to get out of their way and avoid broken bones.

But they played the whole game like we were the Boston Celtics. On second thought, that might have been evidence that steroids were already widespread in the 1970s more than competitiveness.

But to return to my original thought, great athletes are competitive in ways far beyond less- than-great athletes and non-athletes.

And maybe no athlete was ever more competitive than Peter Edward Rose.

It helped make him a great baseball player even though he didn’t have all the physical gifts some other stars had.

And it is also might be what has left him in a mess that he seems unable to extricate himself from and from which major league baseball is unlikely to help him escape.

He’s 74 years old. He had to get special permission to be part of the All-Star game week activities in Cincinnati next month.

Only the world’s biggest optimist believes he will get into the Hall of Fame while he’s still alive to see it.

Maybe it didn’t have to be this way. If he would have put everything on the table in the 1980s and admitted his gambling, he might have gotten a second chance from major league baseball.

But by insisting he was innocent of betting on baseball for 15 years when he knew that was false, he squandered much of the sympathy he could have accrued. Even now, new information apparently contradicting what he said was full disclosure of all his gambling has leaked out.

Whether Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame is a debate which I’m tired of and have been for a long time. It’s a stalemate between two sides whose positions haven’t shifted in 25 years, so there is no reason to believe they’re going to change now.

What I would really like to do is go inside the mind of Pete Rose when the decision was made to deny, deny, deny and to lie his butt off about his gambling for so many years.

Was this just his hyper-competitiveness taking over his brain? Did he think he could bowl over his accusers, like some investigative version of Bud Harrelson in the 1973 playoffs or Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game?

Was it all Pete’s idea to deny all accusations? Were his advisors and attorneys telling him to come clean and he said no? Or were his advisors urging him on, telling him he was going to beat this, either because they really believed he had a chance or because their continued employment depended on it?

Was this just Pete being Pete? Was Pete the gambling denier simply being the same guy who flaunted his girlfriends in the same city where his wife and children lived, thinking he was bigger than the rules?

Or was this a gambler rolling the dice one more time, convinced this time he was going to beat the odds?

Did he ever consider the possibility it could turn out this way? With the Hall of Fame out of reach, does he have regrets? Would he do it differently if he could?

Outwardly, the young Pete Rose, the baseball playing Pete Rose was uncomplicated. He wanted to get hits, win games and have a good time. It’s when he knew he was going to have to put the bat down that things got complicated.

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