"Yeah. Well, he deserved it," said Oscar Stickler, Major League Baseball's Director of Morality. "There's no room for such filthy behavior in America's national pastime."
Stickler was discussing the Pete Rose case, in which -- 18 years ago -- the famed Cincinnati Reds infielder and manager was forever banned from the game for gambling.
"But I still don't understand what Rose did which was wrong," I said. "After all, he never bet against his own team.'
"But he did bet on them," said Stickler. "And who knows what the results of that were? Maybe Rose helped fix the outcome of the games by playing better. I was always suspicious of him. A man doesn't get the record for the most hits in baseball history without having some ulterior motive."
"But everybody bets on baseball," I argued. "Why pick on Rose?"
"Nobody involved in major league baseball ever gambles," Stickler said solemnly.
"How about team owners who sign rookies up to multi-million dollar contracts?" I asked. "Aren't they gambling that these players will turn out to be worth it?"
"That's not gambling," Stickler insisted. "That's investing. Besides, I would never accuse a team owner of immorality. Not only are they all fine, upstanding, community leaders but they have the power to fire me."
"How about the politicians who spend millions of dollars of the public's money in order to build new stadiums?" I asked. "They are betting that the home team won't suddenly decide to move to a city which gives it a better offer."
"Politicians are a problem," Stickler conceded. "And we treat them exactly the same way that we treated Pete Rose. Rose, for example, was barred from election to the Baseball Hall of Fame -- and not one mayor has been enshrined there either."
"You have to admit that many major leaguers have committed much more serious sins than Rose," I argued.
"Never," stormed Stickler. "Baseball players are pure of body and soul."
"How about those two New York Yankee players who switched wives?" I asked him.
"There was nothing wrong with that," Stickler answered. "Anybody who knows anything at all about baseball knows that trades are simply part of the game."
"And those players who use illegal steroids to build themselves up?"
"That's simply not true," Stickler said. "I know that there have been some stories in the newspapers, but those sports writers are just trying to throw mud on baseball's clean name. What proof do they have?"
"Some of the players have admitted it," I said.
"Certainly you're not going to believe them," Stickler replied. "After all, we all know what liars ballplayers are."
"If you're insisting on proof, how could you ban Rose?" I asked. "He not only denied betting on Reds' games, but he denied betting on baseball at all. He said he only bet on other sports."
"That's where we got him," said Stickler. "We have the sworn testimony of an extremely reliable source -- his illegal bookie."
"You're going to take the word of a convicted drug dealer over that of a player who was not only selected as the 1975 World Series Most Valuable Player but also honored as Sports Illustrated' "Sportsman of the Year" and The Sporting News' Man of the Year?"
"Of course I am," said Stickler. "I always believe in giving a man a second chance. Besides, if you can't trust a bookie, then who can you trust?"
"But you didn't give a second chance to Rose," I argued.
"Certainly we did," said Stickler. "We told him that he could appeal his ban to Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti after one year. How could we be fairer than that?"
"But Giamatti died a week after the ban began," I objected.
"You have to look at these things philosophically," said Stickler. "Obviously, Rose's luck ran out. After all, what is life but one big gamble?"