ARLINGTON, Va. - In an age when nothing matters except celebrity, you can't blame Pete Rose for thinking his gambling on baseball would no longer impede his entry into the Hall of Fame.
In recent days, Mr. Rose has been hitting the TV networks (our modern version of a confessional), saying he is sorry that he gambled and sorry (sort of) that he lied about it for 14 years, impugning the motives and credibility of baseball commissioners and John Dowd, baseball's lead investigator into his wagering ways. Asked by ABC's Charles Gibson if he would like to apologize to former commissioner Fay Vincent for the critical things Mr. Rose has said, Mr. Rose said not really, because he didn't like "the way" Mr. Vincent conducted the investigation.
This isn't repentance or remorse. It is regret that his lying did not get him off the hook. In his interviews, Mr. Rose also suggested that he couldn't help himself, and that he couldn't remember certain details about his gambling (apparently hoping these comments will distract the public from the real issue).
The real issue is that baseball has an ironclad rule: "Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible" (Major League Rule 21).
Faced with such a high standard, Mr. Rose has tried to get around it. He, not the rule, is the issue. So he says he knows he's supposed to act "all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong" (notice it isn't about his actually doing something wrong, but only about his accepting that he has done wrong). This is undiluted postmodernism.
"But you see," continued Mr. Rose in his book Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars, "I'm just not built that way. ... Let's move on."
A true confession would not bring in royalties through book sales that the author would keep for himself.
This is where the failure to endorse and uphold objective standards has led us. It isn't about right and wrong, rules, morals or law. It's all about emotions, feelings, "fairness" (although it's hard to be more fair than Major League Baseball, which has banned for life 14 players who gambled and has not reinstated one of them) and self.
A 1994 Sports Illustrated poll found 97 percent of respondents thought Mr. Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, which says more about the respondents than Mr. Rose.
Former President Jimmy Carter injected himself into the debate in an Oct. 30, 1995, USA Today article in which he argued that Mr. Rose should be forgiven and that the evidence Mr. Rose specifically bet on baseball was "less than compelling." What does Mr. Carter think now?
Seeking forgiveness for Mr. Rose, Mr. Carter invoked his experience in granting amnesty to those who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, which is a bad analogy. Forgiving Richard M. Nixon for his Watergate misdeeds is a better analogy, something most Democrats and a lot of Republicans remain unwilling to do.
Professional sports has its problems - from NBA players who practice serial sex with any available female, to the NFL (Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis plea-bargained himself out of a double-murder charge and went on to play in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001). But the law and rules of any game are not only meant to establish and maintain certain standards and expectations, they are also meant to teach. If laws and rules are made to be broken, why have any in the first place? If everything can have extenuating circumstances, exceptions, explanations and understandings, what's the point of saying "no" to any behavior?
Rules about sex are gone. Rules about marriage and bad language are in full retreat. Deportment, table manners, social graces? All gone with the cultural wind.
We can say to those others who have been "banned for life" from baseball that Pete Rose is a unique exception, or we can un-ban all the others and discard the rule.
Mr. Rose is not without sources of income. There are always promotional spots for Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But he has dishonored the sport and his latest faux contrition tour further dishonors him.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun.