Published February 12, 2004
So Pete Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball. It only took him 15 years. Here is a man whose performance on the field clearly merits his entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is major league baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256. He holds the record for most games played (3,562); most at bats (14,053); and most singles (3,315). He holds the National League records for most career runs scored (2,165); most career doubles (746); and most years played (24). He was an exciting player known as “Charlie Hustle” for his all out, no-holds-barred approach to the game.
Despite his many accomplishments, the issue is character, not career stats. In 1989, reports began to emerge that Rose, then the Cincinnati Reds manager, was gambling on baseball, the game’s worst sin. After a six-month investigation by Major League Baseball, on Aug. 24 he agreed to leave the game for life. If he would accept a lifetime ban, then he wouldn’t have to admit nor deny that he bet on baseball.
During the investigation, however, Rose repeatedly denied any involvement in gambling on baseball or on the team he managed. He was defiant. On the day baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti announced his ban, Rose said, “Regardless of what the commissioner said today, I did not bet on baseball.” Along with the ban, he was convicted of tax evasion and imprisoned for five months.
Then right after this Christmas, Rose released his new book, Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars, in which he did admit that he gambled on baseball. There was an immediate backlash. Rose was hoping his admission would help his return to the game. However, the timing of the book’s release and his $1 million advance demonstrated a remarkable lack of remorse. The book was released as the Hall of Fame was announcing that Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were this year’s inductees.
As longtime teammate and sportscaster Joe Morgan said, Rose should have been “standing up and apologizing for what he’s done,” instead of making money from his admission in a book. In a statement aired over ESPN, Morgan said that Rose still has not taken responsibility for his actions. Instead of releasing a book, Rose should have called a press conference, taken responsibility and apologized, Morgan said.
Baseball great Hank Aaron said, “During these past few days, I’ve looked at Pete on television, and he hasn’t given any signs of an honest confession.”
As the old saying goes, “confession is good for the soul,” and Rose’s would have been good for baseball if he was not so defiant and proud for so long. As he told Charles Gibson on ABC’s Primetime, “That was my mistake, not coming clean a lot earlier.”
There’s a lesson to be learned here. If we’re serious about receiving forgiveness, then we need to be sincere about acknowledging our sin. The sooner we take responsibility and admit our guilt, the sooner forgiveness is available.
When I think about taking responsibility, the story of King David comes to mind. David had an affair with Bathsheba, arranged to have her husband killed in battle, and then tried to conceal his sin. For almost a year David lived with this sin until God sent the prophet Nathan to expose him and confront his failure. Upon being confronted by Nathan, David finally opened up in confession, and his honesty led to restoration.
Out of this situation David wrote Psalm 51, a very moving prayer of repentance. He writes, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you and you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight ...” (Psalm 51:3,4). David declares that God takes our sin seriously because all sin is ultimately against God and offensive to God. The first step to coming back to a right relationship with God is confession and contrition.
When we mess up, we need to ‘fess up. God stands ready to forgive when we’re big enough to take responsibility for our mistakes. If only Pete had stepped up and admitted his guilt in 1989, he probably would have been reinstated years ago.
This column originally appeared in The Citizen newspaper of Fayetteville. Reprinted with permission.
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