by Clark Groome
A couple of weeks ago, Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s new commissioner, said that Pete Rose will be allowed to take part in the ceremonies at this summer’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Manfred’s decision is news because former commissioner Bart Giamatti had, in August 1989, banned Rose from baseball for life because of evidence that he bet on baseball, and on his own team, while managing the Reds at the end of his career. Rose agreed to the ban.
Neither of Giamatti’s successors, Fay Vincent or Bud Selig, agreed to lift the ban. When Selig retired and Manfred took the helm this January, Rose applied for reinstatement.
Major League Baseball’s rule 21-d states, “Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Notice of that prohibition is posted in every MLB clubhouse. The ban and the punishment stem from the 1919 Chicago White Sox’s allegedly being paid to lose the World Series. The Black Sox Scandal not only focused attention on gambling, it also forced MLB to create the office of commissioner.
For 15 years after he was banned, Rose publicly denied he had bet on baseball. Then, in 2004, he published a self-serving memoir in which he admitted betting on games, even games in which the Cincinnati Reds that he was managing appeared. He tried to deflect his guilt by saying he only bet on his team to win.
If Rose were just any player, none of this would have rated more than two paragraphs in the bowels of a few sports sections. But Rose is anything but an ordinary player. Over 24 seasons, he had 4,256 hits, making him MLB’s all-time hits leader.
He also won three World Series (two with the Reds and one with the Phillies). He was the 1963 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1973 NL Most Valuable Player. He went to the All-Star Game 17 times and went at five different positions, also a record.
He was a very special player. What Phillies fan who was around for the 1980 World Series will ever forget the catch he made near the first base dugout when the pop foul bounced out of catcher Bob Boone’s glove?
Off the field his reputation is not so hot. A gambler and a womanizer, his entire attitude is that he’s above the rules and is so special that he should always get what he wants.
All of that came to the fore, again, when he applied for reinstatement after Manfred took office. One of the reasons he wants reinstatement is so that he can again be eligible for admission to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, from which, in a 1991 ruling (note that the this decision was made two years after Rose’s lifetime ban), he is ineligible as long as he is banned from participation in the sport.
While Hall of Fame rules specifically prohibit automatic election based on performance statistics, there is absolutely no doubt that if Rose had not bet on baseball and suffered the consequences he would have been elected to Cooperstown the minute he was eligible in the early 1990s.
Public opinion seems to be turning in Rose’s favor. In a very non-scientific survey about what should happen I got more than 100 responses. While more than 90 percent think he deserves to be in the Hall, only about 80 percent think he should be reinstated. No one expressed any concern about an occasional appearance, like the one upcoming this summer at the All-Star Game.
So here’s what ideally should happen. The Hall of Fame should revise its rules and permit those who have been banned for activities that happened after someone stopped playing (as was the case here – the betting that got Rose in trouble all happened when he was managing) to be eligible for election as players.
Otherwise Rose’s lifetime ban should remain in place.
Since the first part of my proposal is not likely to be implemented, the only other way for Rose to get into the Hall is to wait until after he’s dead. As one smart friend said, Rose’s ban was a “lifetime ban” and thus he should be considered after he’s gone.
That may seem unforgiving. “He’s served long enough” and “show a little mercy” were the most frequent reasons for reinstatement.
This solution may not be what’s best for Pete Rose now but it is what’s best for baseball.