Pete Rose took his sharp spikes and stomped on my heart. I still feel betrayed 20 years later.
Rose was my first hero, in the mid-1970s. Charlie Hustle. The heart and soul of my beloved Cincinnati Reds. Baseball's all-time hits leader.
Rose loved the game. He'd sprint to first base after a walk, fly head first into third to leg out a triple and plow into a catcher blocking home plate.
I spent dozens of hours of my childhood watching Rose and the Big Red Machine on TV. My dad and I would sit together, admiring Rose's passion and hustle. My dad gave me old Pete Rose baseball cards for Christmas, and I'd pour over sleeve after protective sleeve, memorizing his statistics.
I wanted to be just like him. My dream, like so many boys', was to play for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting the ball just like Rose, and never loafing, just like Rose.
So when I found out, with the rest of the world, that Rose had stained the game and his reputation forever by betting on baseball, it undercut my whole faith in people. Rose pierced my naïve, childish notion of heroes. If you can't trust Charlie Hustle, whom can you trust?
That newfound cynicism was proven right again and again. Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete of all time? Perhaps, but also a guy who cheated on his wife and had a severe gambling problem. Bill Clinton, a singular political talent and brilliant policy wonk? Yes, but a president who will be remembered most for the recklessness that frittered away his potential for greatness. The athletes and celebrities, politicians and business leaders, who breached our trust and proved our adulation undeserved is quite a crowd. And it's not just the famous; priests, teachers and youth group leaders are too frequently in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Now comes Tiger Woods. The latest deity to be unmasked. Whether his private life should be private is a question for a different day; it has become public despite his best efforts. Tiger, apparently, did more than make one bad decision. If reports are true, he engaged in a years-long pattern of infidelity, including two months before his first child was born.
The image of perfection so carefully crafted by Tiger and his consultants is revealed for what it was: just an image. Even a guy who has it all - unparalleled talent, a bottomless wallet, a beautiful wife and two children who will look up to him adoringly and call him "Daddy" - fails himself and those around him.
So now an untold number of kids and adults have had their naïve notions of heroes pierced.
It's enough to make you give up on believing in anybody. Why have heroes, when they're sure to disappoint? Why invest trust in a person, only to be burned?
It sure feels safer sometimes to assume the worst about people. Less of a letdown that way.
Or maybe we need to adjust our expectations, and our definition of heroes. A hero isn't a guy who runs the bases aggressively. It isn't someone who can hit a little white ball far and straight, as much as I long to do that myself.
The true heroes are all around us. They are teaching our kids, they are protecting us in Afghanistan, they are ministering to the homeless, they are giving coats to coat drives, they are comforting the Alzheimer's patient. They are human, too, and they will disappoint. But the entirety of their lives is a reminder that letting a celebrity's foibles jade us is to close our eyes to the good in the world. Thinking the worst of everyone is a poisonous, energy-sapping way to go through life.
It is said that the pessimist is usually right, but that the optimist is the only one who gets anything done.
Similarly, it's understandable to think everyone's a scoundrel. If you think that way, as I'm often tempted to do, you'll regularly find evidence that you think proves you right. But you'll miss the beauty that's all around you, and the people who are creating it.