WHILE HIS old team tries to accomplish the impossible in the World Series, Pete Rose is serving a five-month prison term for dodging the Internal Revenue Service. Many have had less than kind words to say about Rose's integrity and character. So why install him in the Hall of Fame? Why grant the s.o.b. baseball's highest honor?
Because he deserves it, that's why. Thirty years ago Pete Rose was hired to play baseball, and that's exactly what he did, better than most anyone who's ever played the game. All his stats escape me -- I'm not much of a baseball fan -- but needless to JTC say, Rose's sordid personal life is the only thing standing between him and Cooperstown. If he's voted out we can add the name of Pete Rose to an illustrious list of accomplished people denied their due for behavior others felt abhorrent.
Eleanor Holm was one. Back in 1936, Holm was the best backstroke swimmer in the world, holding several world records at various distances in that event. A gold medalist in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Holm hoped to repeat her performance in Berlin. Trouble is, Holm, a beautiful woman who had landed some bit parts in Hollywood following her '32 triumphs, also liked to drink and flirt. She did both with gusto on her way to the games aboard the ship Manhattan, rousing the righteous indignation of Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, who barred her from competing not just in Berlin, but subsequently in any amateur competition in Europe and the United States.
Then there's Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, who in 1967 got stripped of his title for refusing to serve in the armed forces. "I got nothin' against those Viet Cong," he said at the time. Many, including sports mouth Howard Cosell, deplored the decision, averring that Ali's religion (he claimed conscientious objector status) and politics had nothing to do with boxing. Although Ali (then Cassius Clay) was reinstated some 42 months later, he was robbed of his peak years.
And let's not forget Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, who was forced to step down when the judges learned that she once posed semi-nude. Later published in Playboy, the photos were tame by early '80s standards. Still, the powers that be wouldn't relent, and Williams graciously surrendered her crown to the runner-up, who was also black.
She should have kept it, just as Ali should have kept his, just as Eleanor Holm should have been allowed to compete, just as Pete Rose should be voted into the Hall of Fame. Those who would deny him entrance, and those responsible for denying the other three what they rightfully earned, would have us believe that high-profile high achievers should also be Boy Scouts.
Rubbish, I say. We should neither expect nor require our so-called role models to conform to a certain morality, political view or value system unless they're under contract to do so. We don't have to condone the indiscretions of Holm or Williams, or agree with Ali's politics and religion, to condemn the stupidity, the self-righteous arrogance that victimized them. Likewise, Rose's antics off the field, however repugnant to some, shouldn't jeopardize what he did on it; the man disgraced himself, not baseball. I hope that sports writers who will decide Rose's fate when he becomes eligible for induction keep that in mind.
Mark Miller writes from Baltimore.