Monday, March 16, 2015

By any other name he would still be PETE ROSE

Ten years ago I asked...

Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? 

This is a thorny question to grapple with, and one that won’t go away easily. At least not so long as Charlie Hustle is alive and kicking and reminding us that he just may have been the greatest ever to play the game. Professional baseball is plagued by numerous problems. Compared to the surge in popularity of the NFL and the NBA, baseball is going through troubled times. Had the players’ union gone on strike this past season, it may have been enough to cripple the sport for good. That disaster was narrowly averted. But how far away is the next crisis, and will it be the storm that baseball cannot weather? Major League Baseball needs to do something to demonstrate its strength and assert its position as the great American pastime. The woes of the league are symbolized by the fact that its all-time career leader in hits happens to be shunned by the institution that celebrates the best ever to play. As long as this situation remains, there will seem to be something wrong about baseball, something missing from its grandeur. But should the situation be remedied, a bandage applied to the sport’s wounds, if the situation is a just one? This is the dilemma that has been faced ever since Pete Rose’s banishment for gambling by then commissioner Bart Giamatti, and it is likely to resurface time and time again until resolved for good.

There is little doubt that Pete Rose did gamble on professional baseball games, including those played by the team he happened to be managing. Supposedly he only bet on his own team to win, which many point to as a factor in his favor. After all, if he was throwing games that he played in or managed, the case would be overwhelmingly open and shut. Not even the most diehard supporter of Rose would claim that even though he engineered his teams to lose games in order to make money for himself, he still deserves to be enshrined based solely on his statistics. Betting against himself is what “Shoeless” Joe Jackson allegedly did along with his teammates in the Word Series many moons ago. Despite Jackson’s protestations and numbers indicating he was in fact doing all he could to win, the shoeless one remains outside the pantheon of the immortals. This is an accepted state of affairs by baseball enthusiasts, no matter how many movies are made that cast a flattering light on Jackson. 

There have been no movies made as of yet to support Rose’s cause, not even a made-for-TV one, and they makes those about pretty much everyone. Pete Rose by and large has to speak up for himself, something he has been very willing to do over the years. But every so often, an occasion will arise when the fans get to voice their opinion on the matter. Each time, the sentiment has been strongly pro-Rose. There was the moment during the 1999 World Series when he was introduced as a member of baseball’s All-Century team (he was permitted on Turner Field in Atlanta because Pac Bell sponsored the event and insisted he be included) and received the loudest ovation of the players assembled. Jim Gray interviewed Rose before the second game and asked him whether he might now admit and apologize for gambling in order to end his suspension. Rose complained during the interview about Gray’s aggressive line of question, feeling it was an inappropriate place and time. Fans sided with Pete and Jim Gray was soon afterwards made to publicly apologize for the crime of doing his job. Then there was the ceremony to honor baseball’s most memorable moments that took place before Game 4 of the most recent World Series. Rose’s 4,192nd career hit, which surpassed Ty Cobb’s long standing and seemingly indelible mark, earned him the No. 6 spot on the list. The voice of the people has been repeatedly heard on this subject. They feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, end of discussion. 

Induction into the Hall of Fame is not a mere popularity contest like some run-of-the-mill All Star game, however. Not that the imposing of morality has a great deal to do with who makes it into the Hall either, for the place is filled with racists, wife beaters, alcoholics, drug users, etc. It appears than when it comes to Hall of Fame induction, baseball has just one cardinal sin that it will not tolerate. Thou shalt not gamble, particularly on baseball itself. It doesn’t matter who you are, there are no exceptions to this rule. Gambling by baseball players is the equivalent of Eve eating that forbidden apple, a serious no-no. When Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays did promotions in Atlantic City long after their retirements, they were told to stay away from baseball until they disassociated themselves from the gambling industry. Now if baseball is willing to banish the Mick and the Say Hey kid, it’s pretty clear that they mean business. Their heroic achievements on the field did not matter. Their championships did not matter. Their status as legends and ambassadors of the sport did not matter. Baseball simply does not want to be connected with gambling, and if you can’t follow this rule, consider yourself an outcast. 

But Major League Baseball under the reign of Bud Selig is not in quite so strong a position as it was under the reigns of Giamatti and his successor Fay Vincent. Baseball needs the approval of its fans now more than ever. The fans support Pete Rose. Something and someone has got to give. For this reason, Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement in 1997 is at last under consideration. Pete is being asked to confess and apologize, or as he no doubt categorizes it, grovel for forgiveness? He certainly won’t be allowed to just waltz in. After all, there’s not doubt that Rose did something wrong, even if it’s unclear to outsiders precisely what. He did plead guilty to tax evasion charges, for which he spent time in a halfway house. And most incriminating, he did agree to a lifetime ban back on August 23rd, 1989. Why would someone who so loves the game agree to forever be banned from it, unless he was guilty as hell? Unless there was a mountain of evidence that he was unable bury. Best to accept the harshest of punishments, lay low for a few years until the public has forgotten that he was a bit of a jerk back in the day, and then come back when their strongest collective memory is that he was one of the greatest to ever step on to a baseball field. Now when Pete stands before thousands of fans for a ceremony, he receives nothing but adulation. In other words, he comes off smelling like a rose. 

Recent word has it that much progress has been made in this matter. Reportedly, Rose has indicated to Selig that he's willing for the first time to admit he bet on baseball and would also be willing to apologize for his 13 years of denials, and even serve a probationary period of "good behavior" in order to gain reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility for 2004. Rose is said to be encouraged by progress in talks among his lawyers, Selig, and current Hall of Famers who were teamates of Pete, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. An agreement may indeed be finalized and announced within a couple months. But supposing these reports to true, my initial question still remains unanswered. Does Pete Rose deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? 

My opinion on the matter is that if you did the crime, you should shut up and do the time. But the duration and harshness of the punishment should be appropriate to the seriousness of the ill-advised deed. Let’s not treat a pickpocket the same as we would a mass murderer. If there is hard evidence or documented admission by Pete Rose that he bet on his own team to lose, this is enough to warrant his lifetime banishment from the sport. If he only bet on his own team to win and on other games he was otherwise uninvolved with, a suspension was certainly in order, but not a permanent one. He should make a public statement of wrongdoing, and once this is done, be put on the Hall of Fame ballot. After that, if he’s voted in, he’s in. The famously stubborn Pete Rose has to give a little, and so does Bud Selig. If they both truly love the troubled sport as much as they claim to, they will do right by it. Acknowledgement should be given that Pete Rose, regardless of his abrasive personality and personal vices, played the hallowed game of baseball the way it was designed to be played.

Now here we are in 2015 and I ask you the same exact question.  Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? My own opinion remains unchanged from the words stated above.  He has been hustling just like back in his playing days towards eligibility for a long time.  I think it's time to wave him in and see if he can make it safely home. 


1 comment:

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