Pete and Phelps
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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
This first week of the baseball season portends an entertaining summer ahead. Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Bo Sox draws a cadre of more than 100 Japanese journalists to every move he makes. Daisuke threw some sensational stuff through spring training and now it's going to be fun for us to follow his every move, too. Alex Rodriguez goes into the season with a feisty determination to prove himself a hero to Yankees fans, rather than continue as their whipping boy. Charismatic Lou Piniella and five-time All-Star Alfonso Soriano just might lift the long-suffering Cubbies out of baseball's basement. And, once Barry Bonds knocks in a few homers, the dramatic countdown toward Hank Aaron's all-time record will go on the clock.
But the biggest star of them all on Opening Day was a long-retired guy who has been branded a cheater and banned for life from the game's Hall of Fame. Pete Rose is supposedly such a pariah to the game's gatekeepers that he wasn't allowed on the pass list for the Reds' opener on Monday. He had to buy a ticket. $235. Must be odd for a pariah to walk down Pete Rose Way on his way into the Park, for him to duck into Ohio Club 4192 for a beverage, a lounge dedicated to the day he broke Ty Cobb's hits record, for him to take friends into the Reds Hall of Fame to see the new Charlie Hustle exhibit, for him to take his seat and see on the outfield smoke stacks 14 bats, representing his old #14 uniform. Then the crowd gives the guy a thunderous standing ovation. By then, chances are Pete Rose doesn't feel much a pariah at all.
So let's, once again, ask why this superstar of the game won't go into the Hall of Fame. All these tributes, these accolades, are not for Rose the manager who admits now not only to betting on baseball while he was in charge of the Cincinnati Reds, but to betting on his own team, every night they played. That's egregious, punishable behavior. But it seems to me there should be a line drawn between his stellar career as a player and his scandalous stint as a manager. Let's say a Harvard student graduates suma cum laude. Then he goes to Yale Law School and once again performs as a star student. Then, practicing law, he commits some white-collar crime, is prosecuted, found guilty. pays fines, does jail time. Does he forfeit his Harvard and Yale degrees? Of course not. Pete Rose should go into the Hall of Fame as a player. Period. As a manager, he can forever remain a pariah.
As for Michael Phelps and his smashing all those world records Down Under at the World Swimming Championships, all the newspaper headlines I read went something like "Phelps Might Surpass Spitz as Greatest of All." With due and enormous respect for Mark Spitz (I was in the stands in Munich when he dazzled the world with those seven gold medals, seven world records, and consider it the greatest sports achievement I've ever had the privilege of witnessing personally), there is little arguing over who is the greatest of all time. Spitz was a born sprinter. He was a freestyler and butterflyer extraordinaire. Michael Phelps dominates from the sprints through the middle distances to the endurance events. His backstroke and breaststroke are world-class, along with his freestyle and butterfly. This would be equivalent to a track athlete winning golds in the 100, 400, mile, shot put and pole vault. His versatility is unfathomable to fellow swimmers. And he would have won eight gold medals in Melbourne, instead of matching Spitz with seven, except for a teammate false starting in a relay and disqualifying the US squad. Phelps is a rare, Tiger Woods-category athlete and it was beyond outrageous that the Worlds weren't televised for American viewers. But next summer in Beijing, we will have a chance to root for--and I don't hesitate in assigning him this superlative--the greatest of all time.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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