Ever notice how those who stand for nothing are anxious to prove that no one else stands for anything, either? Those blighted by lack of love or principles or dreams say such things don't exist or aren't what they seem.
On Saturday in Chicago, from bars and taxis to the press box and bleachers, wise guys were letting Pete Rose have it. They figured Charlie Hustle went hitless because he'd gone in the tank.
What will our cynical age say now? Can it explain away The Day Rose Tied Cobb? On Sunday, Rose put aside every selfish and even sensible consideration just so he could play the game right.
When all the smart money said, "Don't play," he played. When he should not have hit, he hit. When, down to the very last inning, he could have played it safe with a sacrifice bunt, Manager Pete Rose told batter Pete Rose to swing away and try his darndest to spoil his own greatest moment.
At least to one man, baseball remains a game, yet hasn't become a toy. In a season full of drug scandal and labor bluff, Rose showed that somebody still knows what the threadbare phrase "integrity of the sport" and "best interests of the game" really mean.
Maybe a quarter-century of sweat teaches you more about what's right than all the books Rose never read in the college he never attended.
Everybody from Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott to baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth thought Rose would not play in Wrigley Field on Sunday. Or, if he did, he'd only pinch-hit.
That way, Rose would return here for the eight-game home stand that started tonight, needing either three or two hits to break Ty Cobb's career record. Boy, could he and the Reds milk that baby.
Tonight, sit it out, which he did. Tuesday and Wednesday, get one hit a night, then stop. Try for No. 4,192 Thursday, then maybe have a Thanks, Pete night Friday. A minimum of 80,000 extra ticket sales (over $1 million with parking and concessions) could be at stake.
Talk about megabucks and maximum exposure.
But it's not baseball.
And, praise be, Rose knows it.
On Sunday, Cubs left-hander Steve Trout said he'd hurt himself in a bicycle fall. Some believe this. Would the Cubs scratch him just to prime the gate? "I better never find out that Trout doesn't have a bike," Schott said.
With a right-hander, not a lefty, starting, Rose and his principles were on the spot. During his whole career, Rose has sworn that, despite all his personal goals and self- promotion, he's never put himself ahead of his team. Now, he's the team's manager to boot.
Told about Trout and his bicycle by a Cubs coach, Rose snapped, "Maybe you should buy him a tricycle."
Quips aside, he was stunned.
His wife and son had gone home to Cincinnati. Owner Schott had made her wishes clear: break the record in your hometown, where you've played 18 of your 23 years. Even Ueberroth stayed in New York, certain Rose would never cross up the smart money.
After all, why should Rose play? Tony Perez, hitting .343, was available. As Schott said, "No one would blame Pete for sitting one out." Doesn't 26 years of sliding on your face earn you the right to have your crowning moment before your family and friends? Sunday's game wasn't even on TV in Cincinnati.
Within minutes, Rose put himself in the lineup.
By the fifth inning, he had two hits, a Ty with Cobb and a big problem.
"Doggie (Perez) kept walking by me looking at me with his big old eyes saying, 'What are you doing? What are you going to do?' I said, 'I'm trying to get a base hit.' Davey (Concepcion) said, 'You better get your batting gloves and go upstairs and watch it on TV.' I said, 'You can't do that.' "
Some might say Rose is just too simple to appreciate a moral dilemma. Not so. "I was real confused," he admits. "I was in sort of a situation where I didn't want to disappoint everybody. I had 30,000 yelling here and one lady back in Cincinnati, every time I got a hit, kicking her dog."
His final test, one perhaps only he appreciates perfectly, came in the ninth inning. A pure baseball situation. Tie score. Sun going down. Game certain to be stopped by darkness at the end of the inning. Men on first and second. None out. Dave Parker on deck.
Joe Fan says, "Sacrifice."
A Hall of Famer knows that means an intentional walk to Parker, leaving the clutch hitting to lesser men. Rose knew in his gut that the Reds, eight games out of first place, had a slightly better percentage chance for victory if he swung away. Just the tiniest edge.
So, for a sliver of advantage in a pennant race that his team has only the most remote prayer of winning, Rose hit away. Sure, he struck out after a hard-swing foul ball.
No cop-out bunt for Rose.
During the rest of his life, he probably will listen to a thousand wise guys who'll say he struck out on purpose Sunday.
You think not? For seven years, he has been nagged about his criticism of the pitch Gene Garber threw to end his 44-game hitting streak in 1978. And Rose was dead right, by his own purist lights, then as he is now. Garber didn't "play the game right." He threw a submarine change-up to end a game when he had a 12-run lead -- something he'd never have done except for Rose's streak.
Garber played with the record foremost in mind -- so he could be the guy who ended the streak -- not according to the context of the game itself.
Neither the criticism Rose got then, nor some of the praise he'll get now, ever really affects him. He's in touch with his game and with himself.
Hit No. 4,192 will be a testament to baseball skill. But No. 4,191 meant more. It was proof of something rarer -- a moral sense.