Pete Rose and the Consequences of Apology

Legendary hitter Pete Rose, banned for life from Major League Baseball, is being honored Saturday night, September 11, 2010 on the Cincinnati Reds’ field for beating Ty Cobb’s record 25 years ago when Rose made hit number 4,192.

It is his first time back on the field since 1989 when the ban took effect. Rose was accused in 1989 of betting on baseball games  after an investigation supported those accusations. He denied the charges but in the settlement accepted the ban. Rose began his career in 1963 with the Reds, and ended it with them as a manager in 1989, having played for other teams in the interim.

The ban precludes his being admitted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, which his outstanding achievements would otherwise have qualified him. He earned his baseball superstar status the hard way without steroids, working constantly to develop his talents.

It wasn’t until Rose’s 2004 autobiography My Prison Without Bars that he apologized and admitted he’d bet on baseball and other sports when he was a Reds’ player and manager. His application for reinstatement has been under consideration for years and generated a lot of controversy. Reinstatement would clear the way for his admission in the Hall of Fame.

In an interview before he left for Cincinnati, Rose was asked what fans think of him. He said they know what he knows, that he screwed up. Rose admitted that former baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti told him in 1989 “to reconfigure my life, it took me years to figure out what he really meant.” Rose continued, “I was hard-headed in my denials. It took me longer than it should have to apologize. The longer you wait to apologize, the longer people wait to forgive you. Nobody’s bigger than the game.”

Rose isn’t the first or last to have violated Major League Baseball’s Rule 21 on Misconduct , which includes betting, gifts to umpires, violence, and conduct not in the best interests of baseball. If he is reinstated and admitted into the Hall of Fame, he would join other inductees who’ve also been linked to scandals.

Too often it seems we make these convenient and artificial distinctions to separate the achievement of a person from how private actions reveal who he or she really is. It reminds me of a company president I met who initially refused to fire an employee accused of sexual harassment because the president considered him an outstanding employee. He could dismiss in his consideration the potential harm to the woman by focusing on what he considered the greater good for the company. Fortunately that type of skewed logic has led to court cases that reinforce why codes of conduct are necessary and enforced.

Baseball has a code of conduct. It led to Rose being banned. If the path isn’t cleared for him to be inducted into what Rose said in his interview is “the biggest honor that can be bestowed,” it raises questions about the potency of an apology.

Does an apology, generally so quick to be expressed, absolve one from accountability? Notwithstanding Rose’s apology was 14-years coming, it will be interesting to see if his conduct was something an apology can’t erase; if the consequences, instead of being dismissed, have to be endured.

Gael O’Brien,   September 11, 2010

The Week in Ethics


3 thoughts on “Pete Rose and the Consequences of Apology

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