King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

On the theology of sports: How Pete Rose can prove the existence of God -- or not, depending on what you already believe.


As soon as I heard that ESPN would be holding a mock trial of Pete Rose, with Alan Dershowitz and Johnnie Cochran debating whether the hit king should be in the Hall of Fame in light of his lifetime ban from baseball for gambling, it occurred to me that the argument about Pete Rose and Cooperstown is over. It’s moved into the realm of religion.

You either believe one way or the other, and nobody’s going to change your mind with logic, wit or rhetoric.

The mock trial, held at Harvard Law School, aired live Thursday night.

God — if that is indeed His, Her or Its name — is no stranger to sports. And I don’t mean just because of all the athletes who feel the need to use any on-air time to thank or praise God after a victory, as though God can’t hear you if you don’t talk to Him (to pick a pronoun) on the TV.

I mean that many of the most interesting and enduring arguments in sports are in essence arguments about religion. And for many of us, the beauty of sports is that they give us a socially acceptable arena for arguing about things.

A few years ago Allen Barra, then a fellow Salon columnist, and I were amusing ourselves with a fierce argument about clutch hitting in baseball. He, like most devotees of sabermetrics, doesn’t believe clutch hitting exists because no one has ever found any statistical evidence of it. Though I too am a believer in what people sometimes call (Bill) “Jamesian” analysis, I think clutch hitting does exist, and the lack of statistical evidence just means nobody’s ever figured out a way to measure it correctly.

To that, Barra said, “I don’t know what to say, because I feel like we’re talking about religion. You sound as if you want to believe in it. So I don’t know what to tell you.”

I realized he was right, and that the religious element was what made the argument so interesting. I couldn’t win. But I also couldn’t lose. We’d just have to keep arguing forever.


I wrote last year that I thought Rose’s ban for gambling should be lifted and he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame because he’d done his time, paid a sufficient penalty by losing his job, with little chance that he’d ever be hired to manage again, and being exiled from the game for more than a decade. I argued that baseball’s punishment for gambling, decided upon in the 1920s when gambling was a far greater threat to the sport than it is today, is far too harsh in a world where gambling isn’t just legal almost everywhere, it’s state-supported. I also wrote that I’d forgiven Rose for his transgressions, even if he continued to refuse to own up to them.

A lot of readers wrote me and said, in these words or others to the same effect: “Pete Rose gambled on baseball. End of story. He’s out.” Many also wrote that I couldn’t forgive Rose until he repented, asked for forgiveness. I find that idea strange, but that’s a religious argument that’s not sports related, so let’s leave it aside.

My readers were unswayed by the nuanced brilliance of my arguments for Rose’s historical resurrection, just as I remain unswayed by theirs against it. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

The sporting life is full of religious arguments. Should college football have a playoff system? Should college players be paid? Who was better: Mays or Mantle? Or Ruth/Bonds, Unitas/Marino, Gretzky/Howe or any other pair you can think of, great or not. Is auto racing a sport? Figure skating? Golf? Bowling? Which is more exciting, college or pro basketball/football? Should cities subsidize stadiums to attract or retain sports teams? Would Mike Tyson in his prime have beaten Joe Louis in his? What about the ’72 Lakers vs. the ’96 Bulls? Do ballplayers make too much money? Should they be drug tested? On and on it goes. World without end, amen.

As I write this, the Rose mock trial hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t know whether Cochran was able to convince the 12-person jury in Judge Catherine Crier’s courtroom that Rose should be allowed into the Hall. If so, the verdict won’t get Rose any closer to Cooperstown, but it and $30 will get him a nice seat near the Party Deck at a Reds game.

I have better things to do with a Thursday evening. Some buddies are coming over and we’re going to debate how many designated hitters can dance on the head of a pin. And more important: Should they?

Note: The mock trial jury voted 8-4 that Rose should be made eligible for election into the Hall of Fame.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • More Related Stories

    Featured Slide Shows

    • Share on Twitter
    • Share on Facebook
    • 1 of 11
    • Close
    • Fullscreen
    • Thumbnails

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
      Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
      Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Here by Richard McGuire
      A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
      The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
      This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
      For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Over Easy by Mimi Pond
      When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
      You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Shoplifter by Michael Cho
      Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
      This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

    • Recent Slide Shows



    Comment Preview

    Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>