Pete Rose feels better - but why don't we?

How about a round of applause for good ol' Charlie Hustle? After 14 long years languishing in baseball limbo, Pete Rose, our embattled hero, has seen the light, confronted his demons, and is now ready to assume his rightful place among the baseball gods in Valhalla, also known as Cooperstown, N.Y. He now admits that he bet on baseball; and not only baseball, but his own team. In light of this less-than-startling revelation, Mr. Rose now says he feels better.

So why don't we?

Perhaps it's because Pete Rose still doesn't get it. He was our hero, epitomizing one of the essential myths of baseball and of America - that hard work and bulldog determination, rather than pedigree, breeds success. A real Charlie Hustle.

Rose wasn't terribly fast and couldn't launch balls into the stratosphere. Heck, he looked like one of us and he played with a passion and boyish enthusiasm for the game that allowed the fans to see him as a link to baseball's mythic past. He was "old school" and this, as much as anything else, made him our hero.

Now, all in all, we're a remarkably forgiving society. Look at Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, or Darryl Strawberry. For that matter, look at Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor, the newest members of the club that Rose so desperately covets. Both had substance-abuse problems during their careers, both dealt with their problems openly and honestly, and in July both will enter the Hall of Fame.

The point is our heroes can stumble. And, in fact, an occasional misstep has a humanizing effect that makes them even more endearing to us, but only if they then see the error of their ways and are truly remorseful for their failure to live up to our expectations.

Undoubtedly, Pete Rose has remorse. He titled his book "My Prison Without Bars" and recently (rhetorically) lamented, "You think this is how I wanted my life to turn out?"

Pete Rose bet on baseball 412 times, including 52 bets on his own team, and he regrets what this - and the subsequent 14 years of lying - has done to him. Despite being baseball's all-time hit leader, fortune has eluded him and the space for his plaque in the Hall of Fame is occupied by hitters who don't even approach his level of performance.

But, if he is to be forgiven, the more fundamental question is not whether Rose regrets what has happened to him over the past 14 years, but whether he truly regrets what his misdeeds and lies have done to baseball fans and to baseball itself. And that is a much tougher question.

Perhaps we could ask Bill James, who left the safe, quantifiable world of his baseball statistics to proclaim Rose's innocence, or Roger Kahn, who staked his reputation on Rose when he helped write Rose's autobiography, "My Story," which declared his innocence.

Last week, Pete Rose told us that "it's time to clean the slate." But for what purpose - contrition or election? Are we being cynical when we note that under the Hall of Fame voting rules, Rose has only two more years of general eligibility left and that the proverbial clock is ticking?

While he can always make his case to the Hall's Veterans' Committee, those old-timers may be even less sympathetic to Rose's self-imposed plight than the sportswriters who covered his exploits.

Perhaps we have some reason to question the motivation if not the sincerity of the confession. No sooner had Rose expressed his desire to clean the slate than he offered us this less-than-compelling explanation for his 14-year hiatus from the truth: "I just never had the opportunity to tell anybody that was going to help me. I couldn't get a response from baseball for 12 years."

Heroes don't make excuses. Not when they strike out and not when they falter. Rose knows baseball, but he doesn't truly understand it.

When he continues to equate his misbehavior to a player on drugs or alcohol by lamenting that "if I had been an alcoholic or drug addict, baseball would have suspended me for six weeks and paid for my rehabilitation," Pete Rose shows that he doesn't understand the difference between actions that damage the individual and actions that undermine the integrity of the game.

He doesn't understand that this whole sorry mess that he now acknowledges and regrets is not about him; it is about baseball and it is about us - the fans. We expect our heroes to hustle for us, not to hustle us.

Sadly, whether his confession earns him a spot in the Hall of Fame or not, it appears that Charlie Hustle still doesn't get it.

Andrew Abrams is the senior vice president for strategic planning and administration at the College of Charleston. He also co-teaches "Myth, Baseball, and the Meaning of Life."

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