by Kevin Burton
An open letter to a “friend” of sorts, Pete Rose.
In my house I always had to defend you.
My father didn’t respect you, said you got all your hits with two outs and nobody on and hit into double plays with men on.
I never saw it that way.
These kinds of things are on record and can be looked up, if you care to go to the trouble. But it’s more in the way you remember someone.
Speaking of which, your 1976 Topps baseball card is the one that made me want to grow my hair long to look like yours. Years later some cosmetological wizardry would get it to lie straight and long.
But now I view the card again and your entire left ear is showing. So much for long hair. So much for memories.
When the trouble came, the first trouble, the tax evasion, I heard about it from my father.
I’m at my mother’s place. Telephone rings, I pick up. “Hello.”
“Your boy’s in jail,” said my father by way of greeting.
Then came the later trouble. The gambling, the ban from baseball, door slammed shut on the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Years before, you got a shoutout in the greatest album track Billy Joel ever did, “Zanzibar.” I was beyond thrilled when Joel included Zanzibar on his playlist for his Wichita concert. I’m sure you’ve heard the line.
“Rose he knows he’s such a credit to the game…”
In Wichita he sang, “Rose he knows he never made the hall of fame….”
So Pete, I am a baseball player too. Because I have low vision I play beep baseball, baseball for the blind. Some would say I am a credit to the game.
When I found out blind people could play baseball, I was thrilled. But I didn’t say “oh good, here’s my chance to emulate Pete Rose.” That just kind of emerged.
The beep baseball league once had a head umpire who was from Ohio, so he saw me play a lot. He reminded me of something I had forgotten.
When I had a defensive putout that ended an inning I would jog to the pitcher’s area and spike the ball. Did this when I was with the Columbus Vipers. Totally forgot that.
That was you. I saw you spike the ball more than once.
The other boys of the Big Red Machine, Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion, Foster, Geronimo, Griffey. I loved them all, but I didn’t end up imitating any of their mannerisms.
I play hard, play to win, I have fun. I know how blessed I am to be part of a team, an old man playing a boy’s game.
I do my stretching and certain parts of me ache. All the other parts fill with warm memories. The traditions of the game. The people I have known. The joys, controversies, championships, awards.
You can hear these things in the voices of old beepballers as they reminisce. With memories growing fonder and cloudier by the year.
I hear it in the voices of MLB people too, for example when they are filling time on radio during rain delays.
Pete, I’m telling you all this because I just made the Beep Baseball Hall of Fame. I was inducted before the National Beep Baseball Association World Series championship game yesterday. I was deserving, but not nearly as obviously deserving as you are for the MLB hall, were it not for the gambling.
I know what your hall would mean to you. I know what mine means to me.
I teared up when I got the news, just as you did when you got hit number 4192, the one that made you the all-time hit king.
It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. It sends me back through the people and places of my career. It’s humbling and makes me want to give back, to continue breathing life and joy into the game.
I wanted you to know because I know you can relate.
You should check out beep baseball on You Tube sometime. You would relate to that too.
I’ve gone on long enough. Wishing you all the best. Take care.
Kevin Burton, HOF