Word of the Day: Calumny

Word of the Day

The www.infoplease.com word of the day today is calumny (cæl ǝm ni), though the website does not give a definition for the word. According to www.dictionary.com, the word means “a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something,” or, “ the act of uttering calumnies; slander; defamation.” According to www.etymonline.com, the word enters the language in the 15th century, “from Old French calomnie (15c.), from Latin calumnia ‘trickery, subterfuge, misrepresentation, malicious charge,’ from calvi ‘to trick, deceive.’” Further, the website says that cognates from other Indo-European languages “include Greek kelein ‘to bewitch, cast a spell,’ Gothic holon ‘to slander,’ Old Norse hol ‘praise, flattery,’ Old English hol ‘slander,’ holian ‘to to betray,’ Old High German huolen ‘to deceive.’”

On this date in 1973, the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose was the Most Valuable Player award in the National League. I’m guessing that most of you reading this have heard the name Pete Rose, but perhaps that is a sign of my advancing years. So here’s an introduction.

Pete Rose is probably the best major league baseball player to not be in the Hall of Fame. Here’s the summary of his career by Wikipedia: “Rose was a switch hitter and is the all-time MLB leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, and the Rookie of the Year Award, and also made 17 All-Star appearances at an unequaled five positions (second baseman, left fielder, right fielder, third baseman, and first baseman). Rose won both of his Gold Gloves when he was an outfielder, in 1969 and 1970.” If you’re not impressed by these numbers, you’re not a baseball fan.

Rose’s nickname for his entire career was Charlie Hustle. He got the nickname from the great New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford. In a Spring training game in 1963, Rose sprinted to first base after a walk. The nickname was initially mocking, but Rose adopted it and kind of lived it out the rest of his career. Rose’s hustle caused a bit of controversy in 1970 when he plowed over catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning of the All-Star Game, leading to the end of Fosse’s career.

Rose led the Reds to the World Series in the early 70s, and then led the Phillies to their first-ever World Series title in 1980. He ended his playing career as a player-manager with the Reds, and then managed the Reds for several years.

So, why is he not in the Hall of Fame?

In an investigation in 1989, it was found that Pete Rose had bet on baseball games. To understand the seriousness of this charge, you have to know about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, an incident in which members of the Chicago White Sox threw World Series games in return for pay-offs. The eight players accused of throwing games were ultimately acquitted in a jury trial in 1921, but the MLB had, by that time, appointed Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, and he had already banned all eight of the players from baseball for life. At least one of those players, Shoeless Joe Jackson, almost certainly did not throw any games. He hit .375 for the series, hit the only home run in the series (this was during the dead-ball era when home runs were rare), threw out five baserunners, and otherwise played well enough to have been named the MVP, except that the Sox lost the series. Because of that scandal, gambling became the worst sin a baseball person could possibly commit.

Here’s the thing: if Rose had bet against the Reds while he was managing them, he could have done things, like leave a pitcher in too long or make other managerial decisions, to try to make sure that the Reds indeed lost so that he could win. The investigator, John M. Dowd, a lawyer hired by National League commissioner Bart Giamatti, claimed in 2002 that Rose did vote against the Reds, but in the official report, Dowd said, “no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds.” If he only ever bet for the Reds, then he would have done everything he could do to help the Reds win games, which was his job as the team’s manager. After the investigation, Giamatti banned Rose from baseball for life, meaning that he cannot get his rightful place in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That’s really sad.

Rose is not in the Hall because of calumny, because people spread stories about Rose that were (probably) not true. And that calumny has the most powerful effect when it is spread by people in positions of power. Of course, Pete Rose is not the only victim of calumny by people in positions of power. Victims of such calumny exist all around us, even at places where one would least expect it, like at a small, private, Christian college.

The image is of a bronze statue of Pete Rose.