It never fails. Regardless of time of day or season there is no movie that inspires my love of baseball as much as Field of Dreams. The inner struggle of a thirty something portrayed by Kevin Costner remains relatable and accessible while the scene stealing monologues performed by cinematic greats Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones capture the essence, beauty and durability of the game that we uniquely as Americans call our own.
However, as I watched it this past weekend in the company of my wife and two kids I found myself with a greater understanding of the character of John Kinsella. Make no mistake, I knew that my baseball days were finished after high school and I do not subscribe to the Marv Marinovich school of parenting however I can completely relate to the plight of my hero being removed from this wonderful game as I have missed the presence of my boyhood idol since 1989. That of course would be Peter Edward Rose.
The banning of PeteRose from baseball has been debated from barrooms to boardrooms for nearlytwenty-five years and the results have remained the same as the all-time leader in hits remains on the outside looking in. This is not a typical defense argument as it is clear by his own admission that Rose bet on baseball, thereby subjecting himself to the repercussions of his actions. Nor is this an argument of persuasion as most reasonable people have long since concluded that Pete belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Whereas for years, I took exception to Rose’s lifelong exclusion from the game I now specifically take umbrage with the hypocrisy of Major League Baseball as the same language used to expel a player, and used as re-enforcement for that decision, is no longer enforced with issues surrounding the game today.
In my limited memory of A. Bartlett Giamatti as the President of the National League then as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, I recall him to be a well-educated man that truly loved the game of baseball and sought to see it prosper. In fact, I would go so far as to state that had he not met his untimely demise, his leadership would have brokered a deal which would have ensured labor peace and saved us all from the strike of 1994. As I reviewed Giamatti’s statement from August 24, 1989, I was struck with the two-pronged reasoning for his decision in which he stated:
“First, that the integrity of the game cannot be defended except by a process that itself embodies integrity and fairness;
Second, should any other occasion arise where charges are made or acts are said to be committed that are contrary to the interests of the game or that undermine the integrity of baseball, I fully intend to use such a process and procedure to get to the truth and, if need be to root out offending behavior. I intend to use, in short, every lawful and ethical means to defend and protect the game.”
In this line of reasoning, Giamatti has set forth the guidelines of what he believes are the executive powers of the Commissioner’s Office including expulsion for what he deems as behavior “contrary to the interests of the game.” It is this phrase that I replay over and over in my mind when I consider the issue of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball and how its penalty phase is not consistent with the ideals of Commissioner Giamatti.
Nothing has ruined the integrity of the game more than the use of PED’s. In this era, no record is safe and any accolades received will always be viewed with suspicion. PED’s have subjected us to falsified single season and career home run records as well as MVP and Cy Young Awards that were not earned honestly not to mention the salaries paid to those that knowingly cheated their opposition. My point is not to debate the impact of performance enhancing drugs but to bring about discussion on the penalty phase of PED’s in Major League Baseball. It astounds me that a player can fail a test twice before being subjected to lifetime expulsion through a third failed test. It leads me to wonder how many games can possibly be impacted through the performance of a player that knowingly and willingly would cheat his colleagues only to be given a chance to do it again. In not taking a more definitive stance Bud Selig continues to allow the game to subject itself to compromise as the integrity of the game will always remain in question as long as multiple opportunities are given to defraud Major League Baseball and its fans.
At some point, Barry Bonds will begin a personal services contract with the San Francisco Giants, Mark McGwire is employed as a hitting coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jason Giambi was nearly hired as the manager for the Colorado Rockies yet Pete Rose will still need special permission to attend a game. It is in this vein that I cannot completely understand the logic of the Commissioner’s Office as both offenses serve to undermine the integrity of the game yet one is subject to an immediate lifetime banishment with no hope of restoration while the other is greeted with multiple opportunities for dishonest behavior. While it is true that those from this era will have the arduous task of convincing Hall of Fame voters of the legitimacy
of their candidacy, they are still not precluded from continuing in their career as a player or transition to another phase after their retirement. This lack of action towards those that would cheat the game ultimately call into question the motives of Commissioner Selig and whether or not he is acting justly towards Mr. Rose.
Unfortunately, this debate will likely linger here for a few days then disappear from public consciousness until another time when the subject is brought up. The practical side of me understands that it is unlikely that Pete Rose will ever live to see the day when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame; yet my less rational side remains hopeful. Perhaps Doc Graham put it best when he wondered if there was, “enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true.” I hope so but just in case, I’m pricing farmland in Iowa with the hopes that my son will build a field someday. Will see you then Pete.