Faults, falls and the price of fame
  by Gene Lyons        January 7, 2004

In a momentary fit of pique, I sent an e-mail to a pal the other day
announcing my plan to write a column urging Rush Limbaugh to confess and
Charlie Hustle to shut up and go away. "Don’t you have that backwards?"
he responded. Upon reflection, I realized he was mostly right. The bombastic
star of rightwing talk radio can’t confess any more than he already has without
risking serious jail time, while the unrepentant baseball player Pete Rose has
no sins left to admit except betting against his own team, which few who saw him
can imagine he ever did. What the two have in common besides grandiose egos,
however, is that neither knows the meaning of shame.

So let me amend my wish: They should both shut up and go away. Fat chance.
Of the two, Limbaugh’s playing the more dangerous game. After spending most
of his career preaching self-reliance and personal responsibility to his gullible listeners,
he admitted his addiction to narcotic painkillers and did a stretch in rehab. Lately,
however, he’s been blaming his troubles on political enemies who have somehow
infiltrated the criminal justice system.

"I’m not whining about it," Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported having heard him whining on his radio program. "My friends, it is,
and has been, obvious to me for the longest time that all these leaks were
an attempt to try me in the court of public opinion. The Democrats in this
country still cannot defeat me in the arena of political ideas, and so now
they are trying to do so in the court of public opinion and the legal system."

Almost needless to say, Limbaugh idolized Kenneth Starr, leaker extraordinaire.
But because he rarely takes calls from informed listeners and cuts off skeptics
who bluff past his screeners, there was nobody to ask how federal prosecutors
under Attorney General John Ashcroft have fallen under the spell of left-wing conspirators.

Limbaugh says prosecutors who subpoenaed his medical records to learn if he was
"doctor shopping" for bogus prescriptions are violating his privacy.  His attorney,
Roy Black, has told a Florida judge that Limbaugh is the victim of  political persecution.
He says scores of cash transfers investigators suspect hid drug transactions were 
actually blackmail paid to the maid who eventually blew the whistle.

Ironically, Limbaugh’s broadcast lamentations are likely only to anger prosecutors
and make political intervention more dangerous to potential allies. If he weren’t
such a big crybaby, he’d be well-advised to shut up and let his lawyer do the talking.

Pete Rose’s public hissy fit appears far more likely to get him what he wants,
which is money and a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Purely on the basis
of his record on the field, few players have ever deserved it more.

Rose’s career record of 4,256 base hits over 24 years will certainly never be broken
in my lifetime; maybe never. For the uninitiated, "Charlie Hustle" was the nickname
bestowed upon him by future Hall-of-Famers Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford after
watching the Cincinnati Reds infielder doing his mad chipmunk act during spring training
in 1963—running out bases on balls,  reckless headfirst slides and hyper-aggressive play.
Intended derisively, it became a proud trademark.

Many fans idolized Rose’s manic style. To others, his career vividly refuted the na? idea
that winning ball games has anything to do with character.

My late father and I used to argue about him. Dad, who also loved the racetrack,
couldn’t get enough of Rose’s pugnacity. He never lived to see the disgrace Rose
made of himself after he quit playing, began gambling on baseball even as Reds manager
—absolutely forbidden after the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" colluded with bookies to
fix the World Series—then brazenly lied about it for 14 years even after being confronted
by irrefutable evidence.

He even lied about it in his autobiography, written with the brilliant baseball writer
Roger Kahn. Now Charlie Hustle has a new book to hustle, admits he lied and,
like Limbaugh, wants us to feel sorry for him. He whines that "baseball had no fancy
rehab for gamblers like they do for drug addicts." He expects us to believe that he
never wagered against his own team, and I do, because no bookie would be dumb
enough to take that bet.

Making third-party bets on games he could influence would have gotten his legs broken.
Rose’s other angle is the hope sportswriters will vote him into the Hall of Fame before
his eligibility passes to the veterans’ committee, which probably wouldn’t.   My view?
Vote him in. It’s a baseball museum, not a cathedral. But let his plaque record that he
gambled on baseball and was banished permanently from the game.

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