There were three of them, small scraps of white fabric with red trim and letters that proclaimed a celebration of something that we were too young to understand. We knew it was a big deal, though, because we were given these gifts and it wasn't a birthday or Christmas. "Pete's Back!" the shirts proclaimed, gifts from our grandparents celebrating the return of Pete Rose to the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club (est. 1869).
I was seven years old then, and twelve during the year of Rose's demise, old enough to know something very bad had happened but not enough to understand it. It was the year of The Quake, too, ending a tumultuous year for baseball.
I thought Bart Giamatti was the bad guy at that time. Sure, I had grown up with the baseball mythology and the knowledge of the game's progression from rounders to the nation's pastime, but I didn't understand just how close baseball had come to destroying itself all those decades ago, and I certainly didn't understand the reasoning behind such a harsh punishment. All I understood was that a man who may have saved baseball in Cincinnati was expelled from paradise.
That was a lifetime ago, it seems, yet I still don't understand it. I don't think Rose should be allowed to work in baseball again - any place of employment that saw an employee do something detrimental to the organization would not rehire said employee, and baseball is no different. But keeping the all-time hits leader out of the Hall of Fame? That's nothing more than vengeance.
Paul Giamatti believes as so many others do, as Bart's pals Fay Vincent and Bud Selig did, that Pete Rose killed A. Bartlett Giamatti. Perhaps this is their grief talking, and I suppose it is excusable. But what is not excusable is the self-aggrandizing moralizing bullshit of the baseball writers.
Baseball is not like any other sport in this country. Its history is interwoven into the history of our nation itself. The Black Sox Scandal was not a problem in baseball - it was a reflection of the corruption that was running rampant in our society, and the banishment of those eight men forever was a reflection of the teetotaling conservative mindset that was plaguing our country at the time, the same mindset that led to Prohibition and the official ban of blacks in the Major Leagues. The precedent of that punishment is why Rose was also banned for life.
There is nothing more powerful than forgiveness, that all too ignored basic Christian value that seems to be lost in the travesty of vengeance. America wallows in vengeance, confuses it with justice, takes pride in an eye for an eye and the hypocrisy of it all.
I think most of Cincinnati forgave Rose long ago. I am thrilled that the Reds are inducting him into the team Hall of Fame and are finally retiring 14. I hope this serves as a wake up call for the rest of baseball. You can't take our memories and throw them into the dustbin of history. One has to wonder if we'd still be here if Rose had been a Yankee.
"There's nothing bad that accrues from baseball." Bart Giamatti said that. I'd like to think the vengeance mentality will go away, too, while Rose is still alive to appreciate it.