David Host: Why Baseball’s Pete Rose Question Matters Beyond Sports

David HostI was ten years old when I first became an avid Cincinnati Reds fan. Growing up just over one hour’s drive from Cincinnati, I could not help but notice when the legendary “Big Red Machine” won their second consecutive World Series the year before – but the 1977 season marked the first time that I personally followed almost every game. Staying awake in bed listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call games from the West Coast remains one of my fondest childhood memories – as do the many trips my dad and I made up I-75 to watch the Reds in person.

Like many kids my age, I mimicked the batting stances of all-time greats like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. I also tried to teach myself the knee-in-the-dirt pitching motion of Tom Seaver, who joined the Reds at mid-season that year (I tore the cover off several of the baseballs I hurled at the “strike zone” I envisioned on the brick side of our garage). As the years rolled by, it became clear that my athletic skills did not match the profile of a budding big-league ballplayer. Yet, the Reds and their up-and-down fortunes throughout the 1980s remained a central feature of every summer.

I had just started my freshman year in college when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record on September 11, 1985. “Charlie Hustle” had never been one of my favorite players when I was younger. As I matured, I grew to appreciate Rose – his head-first slides; his blue-collar grit; and, most of all, the message he conveyed – that excellence is not always captive to natural ability. Rose looked and played like any of us might if we had the chance to play pro ball, which is why this native son of Cincinnati captured hearts in that city like no one else ever has, or likely will again.

After Rose retired as a player, he managed the Reds to a succession of second-place finishes during the late 1980s. He was an average manager at best, in retrospect; though his prodigious knowledge of the game suggested that Rose possessed tremendous potential in that capacity. Led by stars like like Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the Reds were once again a team on the rise – and Rose seemed like the natural link between this brightening future and the dominant teams of the 1970s.

The Reds won the World Series in 1990, the season after Rose received a “lifetime ban” for betting on games involving his own team. There is no evidence that Rose ever bet against the Reds (his ultra-competitive nature strongly suggests that he never entertained the thought). Yet, Rose clearly presided over a series of underachieving teams. Sadly, we will never know what he could have accomplished as a manager without the distraction of his gambling habit.

The scandal which sundered Rose’s connection with the game he personified seemed to erupt out of nowhere. From all accounts, Rose thought that Major League Baseball officials had already convicted and sentenced him, so he opted for a very public fight. This battle consumed the Reds’ 1989 season – and for the first time I could remember, I lost interest as the team limped toward a fifth-place finish. As saddened as I was by Rose’s abrupt fall from grace, I cannot deny that I was relieved to see him go.

Like most Reds fans, I wanted to believe Rose’s denials. Yet, it was hard to ignore Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s grim conclusion: “One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game.” Giamatti’s sterling reputation further made it difficult to question the justice and fairness of the outcome.

Major League Baseball never officially concluded that Rose had bet on his own team in exchange for Rose’s acquiescence to the “lifetime ban.” For every other individual in the modern era to whom it has applied, baseball’s “lifetime ban” has, in reality, meant a suspension for a few years. Yet, Giamatti’s death from a heart attack eight days after announcing baseball’s settlement with Rose seems to have fueled a lasting personal vendetta at the game’s highest echelons.

First, the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially decided to exclude banned players from its annual baseball writer’s ballot in 1991, just before Rose became eligible to appear on that ballot. Next came Major League Baseball’s inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to act on Rose’s application for reinstatement, which persists to this day.

To me, the exclusion of baseball’s all-time hits leader transformed the “Hall of Fame” into a farce. Then, when the 1994 players’ strike canceled the World Series and eviscerated a promising Reds season, my attachment to baseball began to fray; particularly when neither the owners nor the players association even bothered to apologize – to the fans who pay their bills, or to the concessionaires, ushers, and other hard-working individuals who truly suffered the effects of the strike.

Baseball gradually recovered after 1994; in large part due to the record-breaking exploits of a bevy of new “superstars,” including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. We subsequently learned that these performances may have been the product of steroid use. Meanwhile, no one has ever accused Pete Rose of cheating, and his all-time hits record remains unassailable and, perhaps, unreachable. Yet, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds remain eligible for the Hall of Fame, while Rose remains the game’s lone outcast.

On its face, this scenario seems outrageous and absurd; particularly when Pete Rose the player remains the exemplar of everything that once mattered about baseball. Yet, I remain initially persuaded by the argument that Rose flagrantly violated a “prime directive,” of sorts – a rule that is prominently displayed in every team’s clubhouse, for which the penalty has always been clear and certain. By contrast, while Major League Baseball appears to have banned steroid use for more than two decades, its enforcement of this policy has not always been consistent.

Gambling is a clinically recognized addiction, just like alcoholism and drug abuse. The late Steve Howe notoriously received suspension after suspension for cocaine use during his 17-year pitching career. Does anyone seriously believe that Howe would have stopped had drug abuse held the same “prime directive” status as the rule against betting on one’s own team? Still, amidst all the judgments pronounced against Pete Rose in the media and elsewhere, I have never heard anyone suggest that an illness might have deprived Rose of complete control over his actions.

Admittedly, Rose has often been his own worst enemy. I cannot help but believe that had he quietly come clean with Bart Giamatti when the gambling allegations first arose early in 1989, Rose might still have enjoyed a long association with baseball after a few years away from the game. Instead, he lied about his actions until 2004, when it became apparent that he might never be reinstated without a full confession. Rose also apparently continues to gamble; though his once-defiant attitude about his circumstances seems to have mellowed somewhat into genuine humility and remorse.

Perhaps Rose’s lack of genuine rehabilitation justifies Major League Baseball’s refusal to consider his reinstatement. After all, no less than Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays spent two years on the “banned list” merely for working for casinos in public relations capacities. But why not make this fact clear? Even at this late date, why not give Rose a very public choice between the game he loves and the habit he seemingly refuses to conquer? Wouldn’t this approach communicate the most productive message to anyone battling addiction: mercy for those who seek help and consequences for those who do not?

Otherwise, it is naïve to suggest that by potentially making Rose the only modern player against whom it has literally enforced a “lifetime ban,” Major League Baseball has protected itself one iota from the influences of gambling. Indeed, the exact opposite may have occurred. Instead of encouraging players, coaches, and managers who suffer from a gambling addiction to obtain the treatment they need, Major League Baseball has sent an unmistakable message of “no quarter;” one which seems destined to drive these individuals further underground. Unbending rules often produce inflexible results – which means that one had better guess correctly regarding the outcome.

During his recent appearance in Cincinnati, outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig addressed baseball’s “Pete Rose question” by reiterating his obligation “to do what I think is in the best interest of this sport” and then reminding his audience that he “was particularly close to Bart Giamatti.” As understandable as these personal sentiments might be, confusing them with an appropriate resolution does no favors for Selig’s legacy or baseball’s future.

Selig’s comments strongly suggest that Rose’s continued punishment has little to do with the rule he broke. Instead, personal animus seems to be driving Selig’s approach to this matter – and that fact says a lot more about our culture than we would like to think it does. Particularly in politics, everything seems to revolve around individual personalities. We cannot have mere disagreements without judging one another’s motives and character – then we wonder why our legislative bodies have become utterly dysfunctional. Instead of debating the practical merits of specific programs and proposals, we back our opponents into a corner and force them to defend their personal honor. Under such conditions, how can they ever give an inch toward compromise?

In short, the debate about Pete Rose’s fate continues to be about Pete Rose, when it ought to focus on what promotes the long-term health of baseball and the general welfare of our society. Whether a “lifetime ban” remains an appropriate penalty given what we know today about gambling and addiction is a much more relevant question than whether Rose has earned “forgiveness.”

My first visit to Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park with my teenage son two years ago lifted my spirits and took me back to a time before player strikes, steroids, and “lifetime bans.” I still follow baseball – but for far too long, baseball’s off-the-field errors have interfered with my genuine enjoyment of the game. By making peace with Pete Rose, Major League Baseball might offer the rest of our society with a desperately needed and realistic model of justice, compassion, and practicality. And it might finally win back fans like me.

Reid Mann: The Steroid Scare – Congress’s Irrational and Arbitrary Anabolic Steroid Laws

In response to The RP’s controversial piece published in The Daily Beast this weekend, advocating for an end to Big Sport’s War on Steroids, Reid Mann offered to the discussion his 2010 law school treatise on the steroid scare.  Here’s an excerpt:

1379730374635.cachedIn 1990 the US Congress passed the Anabolic Steroids Control Act which effectively placed steroids as a schedule III controlled substance. The events leading up to, as well as thoseincluded in the passage of this legislation, suggest a Congressional purpose void of rationality.As a result of the legislation steroids have been criminalized and extremely harsh penalties have been established for those who illegally poses or use steroids. This paper argues that (1) By enacting this law Congress has acted irrationally and arbitrarily and thus the legislation fails the rational bases standard; (2) Congress circumvented an established administrative drug process resulting in bad law and poor public policy; and (3) there are more effective and rational methodsto achieve Congress’s purposes of regulating anabolic steroids. The first part of this paper willdiscuss a brief history of steroids, their pharmacology, and the legislative history leading up totheir criminalization in 1990. The second part will identify why current steroids laws areirrational and arbitrary. The third part will discuss public policy issues, and lastly address better means for regulating steroids.

Click here to read the full paper.

Confessions of a Juicer: Reconsidering the War on Steroids

In his latest column for The Daily Beast, The RP takes a controversial position on Big Sport’s War on Steroids — he claims that anti-PED hysteria is misplaced, hypocritical and completely ineffective.  And his viewpoint is very personal.  Read an excerpt:

1379730715840I’m coming clean: I use performance enhancing drugs.

Indeed, I’ve had a serious testosterone problem.

Of course, unlike my fellow Jewish recovering politicians (ahem…Mssrs. Spitzer, Weiner and Filner), my body doesn’t produce enough of the über-manly hormone.  A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a free testosterone level akin to an octogenarian eunuch. Who’d been dead for a decade.

The option of traditional testosterone therapy, however, frankly frightened me.  I’d heard the woeful tales of back acne, hair in strange places, ‘roid rage, the link to prostate cancer. I also remember vividly football superstar Lyle Alzado‘s final days, blaming his brutal death from brain cancer on PED overuse. And as an ESPN Radio addict, I’d been bombarded for years by its omnipresent, perversely mixed messages:  the screaming sports host anti-steroid hysteria, interrupted every twenty minutes by snake-oily “Low T” elixir ads, using the kind of incredulous performance hype that would discomfit even Bernie Madoff.

So I tried an alternative route — medically-sanctioned natural vitamins and minerals, prescribed by a well-respected M.D., whose practice focused on integrative health.

Nothing. And I was suffering.

While our sex-obsessed culture focuses on the libido-suppressing side effects of a “Low T” diagnosis, the ramifications for me were quite more significant.  My immune system was shot; my body had become a petri dish for every new virus of the week.  Worse, my mood and energy levels had plummeted:  Despite enjoying perhaps the happiest and most successful years of my life, there were far too many mornings when I struggled simply to get out of bed.

Click here to read the full piece.

Jason Grill: Put Me in Coach

IMG_2651Recovering Pol Jason Grill writes about his love for Kansas City Royals baseball in our new book, The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis, but only this week did he have the opportunity to step on the field of the Triple-A baseball squad in his hometown. 

In the picture at left, Grill receoves the Kansas City Entrepreneurial All-Star awar from Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton.

A hearty Mazel Tov to Jason Grill!


UPDATE:  We just learned that the Kansas City Royals are a MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM

Who would have guessed?

The Recovering Politician’s CRISIS TV, Episode 2 — Baseball and PEDs

crisis tv


Welcome to Episode Two of The Recovering Politician’s CRISIS TV, a weekly roundtable discussion of the highest profile national scandals, with expert analysis from those who’ve served in the arena and suffered through crises themselves.

SPOILER ALERT:  Be prepared to laugh — these former pols tend not to take themselves too seriously.

CRISIS TV is hosted by The RP, former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller.

This week’s guests include:

    1. Rod Jetton, former Speaker of the House, state of Missouri
    2. Jason Grill, former State Representative from Kansas City
    3. Ronald J. Granieri, former Professor, University of Pennsylvania
    4. Josh Bowen, Nationally renowned and published personal trainer
Click here to order

Click here to order

This week’s topic — Baseball and Performance Enhancing Drugs

The panelists discuss the nature of the scandal, what Major League Baseball and accused players such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriquez have done wrong, how they could have handled the crisis more effectively, and what advice they would share with the players and owners.

The panelists discuss the lessons they learned from their own crises, detailed in the book they co-authored, The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive CrisisClick here to order.

And without further ado, welcome to the shew….

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The 7th Inning Stretch — for Corporate America

Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack. I don’t care if I never get back.

The immortal words of the time honored “7th Inning Stretch” –a moment of pause to stretch, relax, refocus and retool for the final two innings of the game.

And it’s for the fans more than the players.

So….I propose the healthful benefits of the few minute long 7th Inning Stretch be extended to Corporate America.

Of course, we’ll need a catchy tune with easy to remember lyrics. But I’ve already thought about that. Every weekday at 3:15 I propose everyone in every business organization, profit and non-profit, be encouraged to stand, stretch, peel away that glaze over their eyes as they get ready to bring the day home. And the anthem should be “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave.

This could work. And insurance companies can even sponsor personal service announcements encouraging participation.

I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t like the song “Boogie Nights,” and knows the words, and feels a little bit more hopeful and energized after hearing?

Join Me at “Hitting the Cycle” Premiere TONIGHT!





Join Team HTC for the Lexington, KY premiere screening of “Hitting the Cycle” on Thursday, October 11th @ 7:30pm! The film will be shown at The Kentucky Theater with an exclusive cast & crew after party immediately following the show at Portofino Restaurant (249 East Main Street, across the street from the theater).

“Hitting the Cycle” an independently produced feature film shot entirely on location in Lexington, Ky., was named Best Dramatic Feature Film at the 2012 Manhattan Film Festival in New York City.

The fictional story follows Jimmy “Rip” Ripley, a professional baseball player nearing the end of his career, who reluctantly revisits his long-forgotten hometown to face his estranged, dying father. While attempting to reconcile his fractured past with an uncertain future, Rip begins to gain insight into the choices, opportunities and sacrifices that people confront when they outlive the life of their dreams.

“Hitting the Cycle” screened at the 10-day Manhattan Film Festival in late June, and won the Best Dramatic Feature Film award at a ceremony on July 1st. Hitting the Cycle previously won an award in May at the Tupelo Film Festival in Mississippi.

Lexington native J. Richey Nash portrays the lead character of Rip in Hitting the Cycle. Now based in Los Angeles, Nash also wrote, produced and co-directed the film (along with Darin Anthony). Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern plays Rip’s father.  Co-producer (and RP Sister) Jennifer Miller is seen in the picture above with Nash accepting the Manhattan Film Festival award.

Though many of the film’s stars and primary crew members are Hollywood-based, Nash decided to bring the production to Lexington because of the diversity of available filming locations and the growing number of production and talent resources (Kentuckians comprise two-thirds of the cast and crew). The opening scenes from Hitting the Cycle take place at readily recognizable Lexington venues, most notably the ballpark of the Lexington Legends, the popular local Minor League Baseball team. The remainder of the story unfolds in “Sayreville,” Rip’s fictional hometown. Shooting locations included public parks, private homes, bars, restaurants, a high school, and several University of Kentucky hospital buildings.

“Lexington was the ideal place to shoot this film not only for its beautiful scenery and varied locations, but also for the tremendous support of the local community,” said Nash. “We had such a great experience. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Kentucky for another film project.”

A limited number of tickets are available online only! Click here to purchase.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be among the first in Lexington to see “Hitting the Cycle” on the big screen, then mingle with the filmmakers and cast at the after party! Reserve your tickets today before this event sells out!

Here’s the trailer:

Rob Neyer on the Infield Fly Rule

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled about Friday’s controversial infield fly rule call in the Major League Baseball playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rob Neyer, one of my favorite sports journalists, offers this dispassionate, very persuasive, and counter conventional-wisdom analysis as to why the umps got the call right.  Here’s an excerpt:

Now, before we get to the heart of the thing, let me clear up a couple of things.

Friday night, a great number of observers — and I use the word “observers” quite literally — complained that left-field umpire Sam Holbrook didn’t make the call immediately, as (supposedly) stipulated by the rule. But that isn’t what the rule says. What the rule says is that he should make the call immediately after it comes apparent that it’s an Infield Fly.

Usually, that happens a split-second after the ball is hit; most of the time, it’s quickly apparent that an infielder might easily make the play. This just wasn’t one of those times. Because of where the ball was hit — short left field — it wasn’t apparent until a) the baseball began its descent, and b) there was an infielder in the vicinity.

But what’s truly odd about the complaint is that making the call “late” actually helped the Braves. If an umpire had screamed “Infield Fly” immediately, the runners might well have held their bases. Instead they went halfway down their respective baselines, and actually advanced one base apiece. Even if you think they would have gotten there anyway, the delayed call certainly didn’t hurt the Braves.

So let’s forget about that complaint, and focus instead on the only valid point of dispute, a simple question:

Could that fair fly ball have been caught by an infielder with ordinary effort?

Now click here to read the whole thing.  Do it!

Ted-dy!! Ted-dy!! Ted-dy!!

Photo courtesy of @MarkZuckerman

It’s a Cinderella story.  Or maybe a Miracle on Grass.

After losing 538 straight times to his Mount Rushmore colleagues, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt this afternoon finally won the Washington Nationals’ Presidents’ Race held on every home game day at Nationals’ Park since 2006.

Teddy’s cause had been championed by a blog, Let Teddy Win!, that followed his exploits, and even had the support of leading politicians such as John McCain, who blamed his political hero’s losing streak on a “massive left-wing conspiracy.”

Please join me in wishing the Trust Buster/Rough Rider a hearty Mazel Tov!

“Hitting the Cycle” Hits Cape Cod

Co-Prodcuer Jennifer Miller and Lead Actor/Writer/Director Richey Nash accept the award for Best Dramatic Feature Film at the Manhattan Film Festival

Los Angeles,  Calif.— Hitting the  Cycle, an independently  produced feature film shot entirely on location in Lexington, Ky., was named  Best Dramatic Feature Film at the 2012 Manhattan Film Festival in New York City.  Hitting the Cycle will next be  featured during the Woods Hole Film Festival on the Cape Cod waterfront in  Massachusetts.

The fictional story follows Jimmy “Rip” Ripley, a  professional baseball player nearing the end of his career, who reluctantly  revisits his long-forgotten hometown to face his estranged, dying father.  While attempting to reconcile his  fractured past with an uncertain future, Rip begins to gain insight into the  choices, opportunities and sacrifices that people confront when they outlive the  life of their dreams.

Lexington native J. Richey Nash portrays the lead character of Rip in Hitting the Cycle.  Now based in Los Angeles, Nash also  wrote, produced and co-directed the film (along with Darin Anthony).  Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern plays Rip’s father.

Hitting the Cycle  screened at the 10-day Manhattan Film Festival in late June, and won the Best  Dramatic Feature Film award at a ceremony on July 1st.  Hitting the Cycle previously won an  award in May at the Tupelo Film Festival in Mississippi.

Nash said, “We are very excited and pleased by the  reception the film is receiving on the festival circuit.  A lot of people worked very hard to  bring this movie to the big screen, so the awards recognition is gratifying for  all of us.”

Though many of the film’s stars and primary crew members  are Hollywood-based, Nash decided to bring the production to Lexington because  of the diversity of available filming locations and the growing number of  production and talent resources (Kentuckians comprise two-thirds of the cast and  crew).  The opening scenes from Hitting the Cycle take place at readily  recognizable Lexington venues, most notably the ballpark of the Lexington Legends, the popular local Minor League Baseball team.  The  remainder of the story unfolds in “Sayreville,” Rip’s fictional hometown.  Shooting locations included public  parks, private homes, bars, restaurants, a high school, and several University  of Kentucky hospital buildings.

“Lexington was the ideal place  to shoot this film not only for its beautiful scenery and varied locations, but  also for the tremendous support of the local community,” said Nash.  “We had such a great experience.  I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to  Kentucky for another film project.”

Hitting the Cycle  will next screen on Friday, August 3rd at the Woods Hole Film  Festival.  The film will return to Lexington in  October for a run at the historic Kentucky Theatre.

Here’s a sneak preview:

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