Friday, January 3, 2014

Pete Rose

Today's post doesn't have a lot to do with Pete Rose, but I couldn't resist the title.  It's actually about marijuana legalization.

For some reason I feel like I should offer some kind of disclaimer at the outset, so I will.  I've never tried marijuana, not even once.  I've seen it and smelled it when a cop brought some to one of those "don't use drugs" seminars we had at the United Methodist Youth meetings when I was a kid.  If it were legal to use I can't say that I definitely wouldn't try it, but cigarettes have been legal my whole life and I've never been tempted to those.

For a long time I was opposed to legalizing marijuana, and if anyone asked me why, I'd say because of Pete Rose.  Pete Rose was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, one who played the game with more heart than just about anybody.  He played hurt.  He played different positions according to what his team needed.  He holds the career record for the most hits, with 4,256, although to be fair he played more than 500 more games than Ty Cobb, whose record he broke.  Still, it's a noteworthy achievement.

(Based on at least three independent personal encounters between Rose and people I know and trust, I can say he isn't a nice guy, but that's sort of irrelevant.)

Rose was banned from baseball for life in 1989 after mounting evidence showed that he had bet on baseball games while a player and manager.  For a baseball player or manager, betting on the games you're playing in or managing is the one unforgivable sin.  Every clubhouse has a sign warning against the practice.  In fact, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were briefly banned in the early 1980s because they had worked as greeters at a casino, just because of the association with gambling.  Rose's ban has been used as a justification for keeping him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, probably with good reason.

Rose and his defenders--who are many--have justified his behavior by claiming that he only bet on his team to win, and that doing so gave him an extra incentive to do well.  That may well be.  But that approach ignores some of the effects of what he was doing, even if he only bet on himself.  The reason why betting on baseball and consorting with gambling is against baseball's rules is because it calls into question the legitimacy of the competition.  That might seem like a small thing, but most folks don't think it's a small thing when performance-enhancing drugs call into question the legitimacy of the competition.  Even the whiff of possible PED use--a bare rumor--is enough to sway many Hall of Fame electors to leave some players off the ballot.

Consider for a moment that Rose, or someone like him, bets frequently enough, and enough money, and loses enough money, that he owes money to his bookmaker.  Under those circumstances, the temptation--or coercion--for Rose to affect the outcome of games he played in, in order to "pay back" the bookie, would be tremendous.

The integrity of the game, such as it is, must never be subject to an easy attack, so a draconian rule keeps players and managers well away from the temptation.  Rose's ban is a warning to everyone:  Even one of the greatest players, the holder of one of the most important career records, is subject to this sort of discipline, so don't do it.

And that used to be my view of decriminalizing marijuana.  To some extent, it still is.  Consuming marijuana requires that you consort with the kind of people who don't mind breaking the law to make money.  And I don't think that's exactly the message we ought to send to people.

So I really don't think that "decriminalizing" marijuana is the answer.  But neither do I believe that marijuana--a less dangerous substance than cigarettes, alcohol, and trans fats put together--should be illegal as long as people who use it cannot force me to use it also. 

That leaves full legalization--at least for adults--as the only viable option.  So I think Colorado is getting it right, and in fact we would almost certainly be better off if marijuana were regulated and taxed instead of criminalized and prohibited.  That is the trend; even here in tight-laced Arkansas, the buckle of the Bible Belt, a medical marijuana narrowly failed at the last election.  This is an area in which public opinion is rapidly evolving, most likely because the experience in other states has been mostly positive.

I have my reservations, but at this point I have to say that it's time to make it legal.

As for Pete Rose, though, no mercy.  Some things just can't be forgiven.

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