Day 14: 30 baseball books in April, 2014: Reframing Rose, if you’re up for it

  • pete-rose-bookThe book: “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma”
  • The author: Kostya Kennedy
  • Vital stats: Time Home Entertainment Inc., 342 pages, $26.95
  • Find it: At the author’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com.
  • The pitch: In an excerpt of the book that appeared in the March 10 issue of Sports Illustrated — it was the cover story, for that matter — this paragraph explained best what was at the crux of the matter:
    140305102734-pete-rose-cover--single-image-cut“Of all the ways one might characterize the differences and similarities between Rose and those players known to have used performance-enhancing drugs — the Hall of Shamers, as it were — it comes to this: Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”
    That paragraph doesn’t make until Chapter 22 of this book by Kennedy, the Sports Illustrated assistant managing editor who decided to take on this project.
    Our dilemma: Do we care enough to invest our time and patience into this project?
    For the writing of Kennedy, sure. It’s not like he’s got Rose-colored glasses on here.
    For the filibuster that takes place in trying to make us all understand this complicated matter? We’re not sure. But then, maybe this book isn’t intended for someone like us to digest. You don’t have to convince us.
    After plowing through the evidence that Kennedy re-unearths, our better sense is that we believe more than ever that use of the words like “fatal flaws” and “enigmatic” or “conundrums” are really what is derailing any progress in Rose’s legacy.
    pete-rose-gamblingThis is a critical time for Kennedy — or someone — to bring this up again, 25 years after he banished from the game by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for gambling on his team while managing it. If only because of the PED hypocrisy that’s clouding the modern-day game and the lack of banishment those players are encountering.
    Before we even picked up the book, we believed:
    1. Rose belongs in the Hall, since he was first supposed to be eligible in 1992, based on what he did as a player.
    2. Rose accepted a ban because he thought he’d get to appeal it after some time.
    3. Time can heal wounds.
    4. Rose doesn’t help his own cause.
    5. Forgiveness is a good thing. Whether someone bungles it on either end or not.

    frog-scorpionOf anything in Kennedy’s 315-page conspiracy theory (with photos, acknowledgements, selected bibliography and index), maybe the chapter that will resonate loudest is his astute analogy of “The Frog and the Scorpion: (page 208-209). In simple terms, Rose can’t get out of his own way because it’s not his nature.
    So, do we help him?
    Bud Selig will be leaving as commissioner soon, and whoever replaces him will likely have this at the top of his stack of things to look into again. Throw this book at the top of it.
    If there’s any conspiracy theories that Rose is pushing Kennedy into this endeavor, Kennedy notes that Rose “did not sanction or facilitate this book,” but he “did engage with me at times when I got myself to wherever he was, and also by telephone.”
    And Rose can be engaging.
    Kennedy also notes in a very interesting chapter about John Dowd, the MLB lead investigator in his gambling case, that Dowd’s only regret is that he didn’t spent some private time with Rose to “turn him around … made him see the errors of his ways.”
    peteroseAs for Rose’s previous works of non-fiction, Kennedy even takes him to task for it, as he should. In Rose’s “My Prison Without Bars,” when he finally came clean about gambling on the game as a manager, Kennedy calls the book “all dodges and feints” … “but it is not without its virtues … it provides alternative spelling for the phrase ‘sumbitches.’”
    Kennedy’s book has plenty of virtues as well, ones that may not hit you right away about the Hit King. This has really grown on us the more we absorb what it can do.
    But then, even after understanding all there is to know again about Rose, we’re just not sure this sumbitch gets it.
    Case not closed.

  • More to know: 
    == Allen Barra’s review for the Boston Globe: “There have been numerous books on Rose since his banishment, most notably James Reston Jr.’s 1991 “Collision at Home Plate’’ and Michael Sokolove’s 1990 “Hustle” The Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose,’’ but “An American Dilemma’’ brings Rose’s story up to date, laying out the cases for and against him better than any previous account.”
    == A review from the Wall Street Journal: “Something else emerges from this book’s stacked roster of interviews and anecdotes. Half of the sources present Mr. Rose as everything that’s right with baseball—a player whose hustle and grit propped up his meager physical talents. The other half believe him to be everything that’s wrong—a coarse and arrogant star who earned his ban from the sport (and its hall of fame) by betting on games, including ones he managed. But in the end, these two factions do the same disservice to Mr. Rose’s legacy by losing sight of the baseball itself.”
    == A Kennedy podcast with Ron Kaplan on the book.
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