Tales of “The King’s Pass”: Pete Rose and Jeremy Clarkson


The King’s Pass has been much in the ethics news of late—Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly, David Petraeus, Hillary. Let’s review, shall we?

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others…

1. The BBC just demonstrated how the King’s Pass should be rejected—with courage and gusto.

Jeremy Clarkson, the main host of the popular BBC auto show “Top Gear,” spent March misbehaving. He got in a shoving match with a producer, verbally abused staff and was recorded trashing the network. When Clarkson topped it off with a physical altercation with a show staffer, the BBC decided not to renew his contract. BBC head Tony Hall said in a statement:

It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts…I take no pleasure in doing so. I am only making [the facts] public so people can better understand the background. I know how popular the programme is and I know that this decision will divide opinion. The main facts are not disputed by those involved.

The BBC is a broad church…We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations… Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and “Top Gear”…The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw [Controller of BBC Two] to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.

The show, without Clarkson, is toast, and Hall knows it. Nonetheless, he had the guts to do the necessary and ethical act: not allowing its indispensable star to abuse his power and popularity . Once Clarkson did that, “Top Gear” was doomed anyway; firing him now just minimizes the carnage. Although Hall has no responsibility to other networks and organizations, his decisive handling of the episode has saved other programs even as it destroys his own. It is a precedent and a role model for employers refusing to allow themselves to be turned into enablers  by stars assuming the King’s Pass works. When they say, “You can’t fire me, I’m irreplaceable! There’s no show without me!”, the response now can be, per the BBC: “If there’s no show without a jerk like you, then there’s no show. Bye!”

2. Once again, Pete Rose is sucking the ethics right out of people’s brains.

Ah, Pete Rose. He was the topic of the first ethics post I ever wrote, way back in 2004. Then, in 2007, he became my first and only Ethics Dunce Emeritus.

The Pete Rose case is simple. Baseball has an absolute, no exceptions rule that demands a lifetime ban of any player, coach or manager who gambles on major league baseball games. Such banned players can’t be hired by major league teams for any purpose, and cannot be considered for Hall of Fame membership., ever, even after they are dead. Everyone in baseball knows why this rule exists—baseball was nearly destroyed in 1919 when gamblers bribed the Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series—and the rule is posted in every clubhouse. Rose bet on baseball while a major league manager, and also bet on his own team. Thus he is banned.

The significance of the fact that he is, as a player, the all-time hits leader and was the face of the game is that it led Rose to believe that the game would never ban him, and that if caught, he would be treated with special leniency. His excellence on the playing field doesn’t mitigate his conduct, or justify minimizing the ban it earned, at all.

The New York Times published a story about Rose’s efforts to get baseball to lift the ban, now that a new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, is in office. You can read the article here, which is remarkable for the many jaw-droppingly unethical arguments put forth by the baseball people the article quotes, contrasted with the occasional quote that shows that a speaker comprehends the concepts of consequences, accountability, and why letting stars break the rules is suicidal to any culture. It would be an excellent ethics exam.

Here are the quotes; my comments follow in bold.

1. “The issue is the deterrent,” Vincent said. “The reason the deterrent works is that nobody has ever been let back.”

Fay Vincent, a former Commissioner, is a lawyer. He understands that baseball can’t take chances with its integrity.

2. “I think they have proven a point, through Pete, very strongly, to the players,” [Mike]Schmidt said here Monday. “If there was ever a player that thought he might place a bet on a game, or his team, I think that the Pete Rose example has driven it home. I don’t think we’ll ever see a player consider betting on a game that he’s involved in, or any other game, if he’s a major league baseball player.”

And, having proven the point, they should undermine it by sending the message that betting on baseball isn’t that bad after all, at least if you are a big enough star.

3. “The one rule that is read in every clubhouse, every spring training, for I don’t know how many decades, has been made clear that if this is violated, this is the consequence,” [Paul] Molitor said. “Now, if they decide to make a change in the stance that they’ve taken to this point, you are going to say that every time we read that, we really didn’t mean it.”

Molitor, like Vincent, understands the concept of deterrence. If the punishment isn’t consistent, irreversible and massive, then it will appear, correctly, that the system can be manipulated.

4. “And we all know he’s not getting younger,” Molitor said. “But to me, that’s the question that baseball has to face. We have tried to make this such a clear-cut thing. But you’re going to say, If you’re the all-time hit leader, it might not be like that? That’s the debate. That’s why, I think, it’s tough for baseball to change it.”

Hello, King’s Pass!

5. One player here noted the incongruity of the career leader in hits, the career leader in home runs (Barry Bonds) and the career leader in Cy Young Awards (Roger Clemens) not being enshrined in Cooperstown.

It’s not incongruous at all. The biggest stars are the most arrogant and the most easily convinced that nobody can touch them. In the case of Bonds and Clemens, they took the risk of cheating because baseball didn’t have the kind of no exceptions, harsh punishment for PED use. They are an argument for leaving the gambling penalty intact, not weakening it.

6.“There are some older, hard-line guys [in the Baseball Hall of Fame] — surely about P.E.D. users there are — that say, ‘He lied, he broke the cardinal rule in the clubhouse,’ and they still have that grudge,” said Schmidt…

Grudge? It’s not a grudge. Rose is a liar who jeopardized the integrity of the game and undermined his own career legacy, seriously wounding the game the great ex-players love. They correctly conclude that he doesn’t belong in the Hall with them, and that their honor will be diminished by his presence, which will also grease the skids for other cheats and liars to sneak in. These players are being analytical, not emotional.

7. [It] is hard to argue that Rose’s actions directly affected more games than the actions of some users of performance-enhancing drugs did.

#22: “It’s not the worst thing”: the throwing out of the first rationalization.  In addition, the statement, by the author,Tyler Kepner, shows that he is ethically obtuse in other ways. Throwing the World Series in 1919 only affected a handful of games, but what it said about the integrity of baseball and the ability of fans to trust that what happened on the field wasn’t rigged was disastrous to all the games, an existential crisis. Baseball had the automatic ban in place decades before Rose tested it. If there had been a similar mandatory ban in place for PED cheating, baseball’s steroid humiliation might have been averted.

8. Dallas Green, Rose’s former manager, asked, rhetorically, which misdeed was worse for the game.

So if we sentence a serial killer to life, that means that a cold-blooded murderer who only slaughtered one victim should have his sentence commuted, right Dallas? No wonder the Yankees stunk when you were in charge.

9. Green said that it was time to lift the ban and that Rose could still be a useful ambassador for baseball.

Brilliant:  let’s not only allow a liar who risked the game’s integrity to claim he beat the system, but let him represent the game!

10. “He can certainly talk the talk about what he’s done,” Green said. “There’s not a lot of guys that are P.E.D. guys or alcoholics or wife-beaters or whatever that come out and preach against it, and I think Pete would. I would see some value in that.”

Green doesn’t seem to recognize that compulsive liars like Pete Rose have no credibility whatever they talk about. He’s a known con artist. He served time in prison for tax evasion. There is no value in listening to Pete Rose.

11. Green, now a senior adviser to the Phillies, said the good that Rose had done for baseball should still outweigh the bad.

Green gets worse and worse. Could he really be this obtuse? That’s not how law works, that’s not how ethics work, that’s not how accountability works. It IS how the the King’s Pass works, however: the more a celebrity has accomplished, the more he or she can get away with. When people who have done good things start doing bad things, people tend to assume that those things aren’t so bad after all. That’s how irresponsible  heroes corrupt the culture; that’s how cognitive dissonance makes people like Rose dangerous to the values of those who admire him for “the good” he did.

12. “If you know him, he eats, sleeps and drinks baseball, 24/7, even today,” said the Phillies coach Larry Bowa, a former teammate of Rose’s. “He’ll tell you stats. He’ll look at players and say, ‘I like this guy,’ or ‘This guy’s a dog.’ He knows the game. If an owner can overlook that — and, hey, it might be hard — but you mean to tell me he couldn’t come in and be a guest instructor and help some young kids out?”

And teach them how to assess the Vegas odds and place bets, too!

13. “I have the exact same opinion about this that all Pete Rose supporters have: Enough is enough,” Schmidt said. “We should forgive. We have forgiven other people for things you could argue are very similar.”

You could argue that, and you would be wrong.  There is no other baseball rule violation that is so well known, so imbedded in history, so essential to the health and integrity of the game, and dangerous to weaken. Nor is there any player who had violated such a rule so blatantly, and lied about doing so for so long, whose character is so dubious.

Facts: New York Times, Mediaite, BBC,

24 thoughts on “Tales of “The King’s Pass”: Pete Rose and Jeremy Clarkson

  1. I know about as much about Rounders – or Base Ball as you call it – as most here know about Metagenetic Algorithms.

    It’s not obvious to me why betting on your own team is forbidden. Betting against, yes. However, whether obvious to me or not, there was a scandal a century ago, and this isn’t just a rule, it’s a principle. Of course he has to go, of course there shouldn’t be a question.

    Now Top Gear… I’ll miss Clarkson. I’ll miss the show. But to me it’s as if he’d been run over by a bus or hit by a meteor, he’s no longer able to be a presenter. It’s not a choice or decision, just an unpleasant and unpalatable fact.


    I won’t comment on Clarkson’s deficiencies in ethics and as a human being, that’s a personal matter. The point is, he’s dis-qualified now. That’s all there is to it.


    • Would a sports league that permits betting in its games (except perhaps against a team of which you are a player or coach) want to hire Pete Rose?

    • “It’s not obvious to me why betting on your own team is forbidden. Betting against, yes.”

      Jack has written about this in other articles, but the short version is this: You bet on your own team to win on some games, but what about the games you don’t bet on? Why didn’t you? It creates a couple of problems.

      1) By risking your money when you are sure of a win and not risking it when you are not sure, you are conceptually betting against your team on those occasions where you don’t bet.
      2) Your record of bet/no-bet sends a signal to others who are also betting that you–and your inside information–favor those outcomes.
      3) It creates a conflict of interest where you REALLY REALLY TRY to win those games you’ve bet on, and maybe not so much on the ones you haven’t.
      4) It plants the seeds of suspicion that on the games you do bet, it’s because you’ve colluded with the other team to ensure that outcome.


      • Al true, and this: baseball, being a long season with 162 games, differs from other sports in that a single game is seldom worth risking future games to win. If a manager has to win a game, he might let his starter go 9 innings rather than 6, or have his best reliever start on short rest, or not rest an older player who is scheduled for a day off, all of which would be poor long range moves if the objective is to win the most games over a season rather than a single game NOW.

  2. Charlie Hustle. What an annoying pain in the ass. What is it about slap singles hitters that makes them so annoying? Our era’s Ty Cobb. Like Cobb, Rose is certainly a first ballot member of the miserable humans hall of fame.

    I wish the Democratic party treated their out of control middle aged plus adolescents with Oxford backgrounds the way the BBC has treated theirs. Ironically, I think Top Gear was already in full death rattle. Their shows had become pointlessly bizarre extravaganzas instead of car shows. I think Clarkson has gone daft.

  3. This is BBC in top gear, indeed, and firing on all cylinders (which is about as far as I go with automotive references). In a word: accountability. In two words: first person. Not even a “we” or “our,” much less “it has been decided… or “in accordance with company policy…”. This is the director-general of a worldwide multimedia organization not only doing some crucial human un-resourcing (and explaining his and the BBC’s reasons for it) but also yanking the candy out of the mouths of a hard-won viewership — Top Gear is estimated to generate about £50 million in global TV rights revenues and Hall (who has done everything anyone could to defend and defuse Clarkson in the context of the show up to now) is taking a risk of further loss at a time when the organization is vulnerable to growing threats of cuts in their license fees.

    I could be wrong but I can’t think of any American network head standing up for decency and respect in the particular. Of course, Hall didn’t make the decision solo, he merely took responsibility for it as part of his job, and I think that’s another kind of ethical.

  4. “Nor is there any player who had violated such a rule so blatantly, and lied about doing so for so long, whose character is so dubious” Not in baseball, certainly, but Lance Armstrong comes immediately to mind. I am still enraged at him. He made me feel foolish, because I believed him, at first.

      • Yeah! All of his blood tests kept coming back negative. They were, apparently, testing for the wrong things. Still, I defended him almost up to the point of his confession. Still feel like an idiot.

  5. Great article, but it feels like there should be a Part 2, maybe a “King’s (pass) Parade?” I only wish I had had this handy list of ethics excuses 11 years ago when I was sparring online with other fans of a certain artist who had dived into slimy behavior and justified criticism was met with accusations of disloyalty, lack of appreciation for something beautiful, stupid statements like “when you sell that many albums we’ll talk,” and “either sign on or sign out,” (back when websites still ruled supreme because social media was in its infancy) and one particularly long post in which someone told me “you are scum, and I DESPISE you.”

    That said, the Bible tells us it’s a waste of time to cast pearls before swine, and a mixed audience of the obsessive, the homebound, and the mentally ill is the equivalent of a pig farm

  6. Here is a comment by Zola regarding Pete Rose, posted on the NY Times site.

    If, as really happened, he developed an uncontrollable gambling addiction while managing a team, the proper punishment is a lifetime ban from further employment in the game. That is a fitting and severe punishment.

    Even so, it is not possible to take from him his remarkable accomplishments as a player. The effort to do so is absurd, petty, vindictive, and inappropriately excessive.

    Pete Rose was an extraordinary player. He had more grit, raw determination, and staying power than any other player in the history of the game. His career statistics confirm the point. Of course he must be inducted into the Hall of Fame, or else it isn’t even a hall of fame, but only a selective fraternity that does not include one of the best players.

    He can even be forgiven. He didn’t kill anyone after all. But he can never again be employed in baseball. At the same time, no one can take away from Rose what he accomplished on the field, and these accomplishments must be recognized in the Hall of Fame.

    Guitar Man also makes this similar argument

    I’m torn.

    I believe Rose belongs in the a Hall of Fame for his accomplishments on the field. Those accomplishments took place before he bet on baseball. But I also feel that the lifetime ban from the game is just. It’s not so much the act of betting that bothers me; it’s the denial and lies that followed those acts. Not a good example to set for kids or adults.

    • Their argument stops halfway… They accept that Rose broke the rules, they agree that the rules were in place as a deterrent, for all the reasons stated above, and they realize that the punishment cannot be watered down. Now, they just need to take one more step and realize that preclusion from the hall of fame is part of the punishment.

    • “He can even be forgiven. He didn’t kill anyone after all.”

      Hahahahaha. Since he didn’t kill anyone he’s entitled to stay out of prison for murder. So what.

    • I can accept Rose never being a member of the Hall of Fame. What I cannot accept is the accelerated forgetting of history OTHER THAN Rose’s ban from the game, namely, his on-the-field accomplishments.

      • Do you see that? I don’t—I think that his record as a player is the only reason anyone thinks about or cares about him at all. He was a wonderful player in every way, one of a kind, on a great team. He really was unforgettable.

        • “Do you see that?” I foresee that, or project it. It is too easy for us who are still alive to think that Rose’s performance will never be forgotten, despite his banning from the game. But, if he is not mentioned in the HOF in a manner proportionate to his relative extraordinariness as a player, then his performance history will become nearly invisible, and consequently, he and his performance eventually will be forgotten and overlooked by all but the closest followers of the game’s history. I hate to foresee that, because it reminds me of old Soviet-style revisionism (or recent Bush-blaming).

          • I think Shoeless Joe is a more likely model: Rose will be remembered as a somewhat tragic figure, and become a cultural touch point. This might help him BE remembered. How many people know about George Sisler? Rogers Hornsby? Hank Greenberg? If Lou Gehrig hadn’t died of a draed disease, he’d be “the guy who batted behind Babe Ruth.”

            • Wait – what?! I just re-read what you said there, for about the third time in the past few hours, and finally, saw clearly what you said that did not seem right to me: Are you kidding about Gehrig?? If he didn’t have that disease, there is a good chance that Cal Ripken would be in 2nd place on the Iron Man list. Plus, I think Gehrig was a good enough hitter to still be Hall of Fame eligible, even if he had never had Babe Ruth to bat behind, and even if Gehrig had never managed to play all those consecutive games.

              • Sure he would be in the Hall, and an all-time great, but Greenberg, Hornsby, Sisler, Simmons, Ed Walsh, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochran, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Warren Spahn…they were all great too, and they are barely remembered, as Lou would be if he didn’t have that tragic end, the dramatic speech, and he illness named after him. My point is that the off-field drama often confers more lasting fame than the career itself.

        • Of course, there is nothing to stop, say, the city of Cincinnati or some wealthy and motivated history-preserver from creating some kind of memorial to Rose that is independent of Major League Baseball. A separate enshrinement like that might be the only reasonable way to continue to honor the integrity of the game while telling his full story.

  7. I would be willing to entertain a change in baseball rules that would allow those who were banned for life be eligible for the Hall on a special ballot 50 years after their death. Mostly to shut people up about Pete Rose.

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