Pete Rose: All-Whiner?

Imagine interviewing Noah without bringing up the flood. Baseball sports fans apparently expected that of NBC news reporter Jim Gray when he interviewed Pete Rose. Before the second game of the World Series, Gray interviewed Pete Rose, a member of the so-called “All-Century” baseball team. At the ceremony, Rose received the longest ovation — astonishing given that former baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti suspended Rose for life, following a finding that Rose gambled on baseball. And the ceremony took place in Atlanta, the town of “All-Century” honoree and all-time home run leader Hank Aaron!

But Rose’s unwarranted ovation did not become the lead story. Fans nationwide became irate because Gray asked Rose about his suspension from baseball, whether he might now admit and apologize for gambling, presumably paving the way for Rose’s long-desired admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gray asked firm, fair and even questions. Rose possessed a few options here. He could have refused an interview, or granted one with conditions. But characteristically, Rose denied all. He even said, “What evidence?” when Gray suggested that the case against Rose appeared overwhelming. At one point during the interview, Rose complained about the aggressive questioning, and felt the occasion an inappropriate time and place for this line of inquiry.

Let’s review. Rose himself applied for reinstatement in 1997, and routinely complains over his failure to get into the Hall of Fame. Mother Teresa, he ain’t. The former baseball commissioner compiled a 238-page report, which Rose signed, detailing Rose’s gambling. The report included ten witnesses, betting slips with Rose’s fingerprints, as well as phone records indicating Rose spoke with bookies while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Strong stuff, and a clear violation of baseball’s Rule 21, forbidding gambling.

Pete Rose, victim? Remember when Rose, at a meaningless All-Star game, crashed into promising Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse, effectively ending Fosse’s career? And during his pursuit of DiMaggio’s consecutive hit record, Rose complained about the pitcher who stopped him at 44 games. Cried Rose, the guy pitched against him like the “seventh game of the World Series.”

Maybe someday a biographer will interview Bill Clinton without asking about impeachment. And maybe someday a biographer will sit down with Charles Manson, and not ask about the Tate/La Bianca murders. Maybe somebody will write a biography about Richard Nixon without going into Watergate.

Gray being accused of ‘verbal assault’ But poor Jim Gray. The anger from fans and players seemed to multiply by the hour. After first refusing, Gray soon publicly apologized, “If the fans felt the interview went on too long, particularly on a night of special celebration, then I am sorry for that.” Gray’s reward for his act of contrition? New York Yankee Chad Curtis, who hit a game-winning home run in game three, refused to allow Gray an interview, snubbing him on national television. “I can’t do it,” said Curtis, meaning submit to an interview with a low-life like Gray.

Are these the same born-again moralist ball players who have no problem playing side-by-side with people like Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry, both suspended numerous times for substance abuse? Remember the silence from the NBA players when Latrell Spreewell attempted to choke his coach? And a few years ago, baseball’s strike replacement players endured often abusive treatment by ball players. But in Gray’s case, righteous indignation!

Some say Gray bushwhacked Rose just to make a name for himself. No. Gray attempted to allow Rose a platform with which to rehabilitate himself. He wanted Rose to acknowledge and apologize for his mistake, clearing the way for Rose’s inclusion into the Hall. So indict Gray, but only for the crime of being a fan, a supporter and even a cheerleader.

Years ago, on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line, “Nightline’s” Ted Koppel “cornered” former Dodger General Manager Al Campanis. Koppel asked Campanis to explain the lack of black baseball managers. Campanis, a last minute replacement for another guest, seemed surprised and gave a fumbling answer. The Dodgers fired him. Was Jim Gray’s inquiry of Rose less appropriate, given the occasion, than Koppel’s cross-examination of Campanis? Yet few complained about Koppel. Many now call for Jim Gray’s head.

When a ball player commits an error, do his colleagues want him canned? Why can’t the pro-Rosies just call Gray’s action an “error”? But when a Chad Curtis refuses to submit to a Jim Gray interview, this could ruin Gray’s career. Does Gray’s “crime” deserve this punishment?

Even as Gray apologized to the fans, he said, “I stand by (the interview). It was the absolute right line of questioning. Pete ruined his own evening. I did my job.”

Indeed.

Finally, we ask, between Pete Rose and Jim Gray, at least on this night in question, who truly earned the title, “Charlie Hustle”?