Archive for July, 2009

The answer is still, No

July 27, 2009

The first time I met Pete Rose, it was the winter of 1985, before his first full season as player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The team’s annual winter caravan was in Dayton and I felt a tap on my shoulder just as dinner began. “Anyone sitting here,” a voice asked about the seat next to me. How could I say anything but, “No,” since the person asking was Charlie Hustle himself.
Throughout dinner, Rose talked about three things and three things only. Not his bullpen, his starting pitching or his everyday lineup. Instead, he talked at length about his newborn baby, how fast he could drive his sports car from Cincinnati to Dayton (12 minutes) and how he had lost thousands of dollars betting college football and basketball games that ended with Hail Mary touchdowns or half-court shots.
Before the end of that decade, Rose was accused of betting on baseball and his defense at the time was that he never bet on anything but thoroughbred and greyhound races in the State of Florida during spring training.
I knew he was lying then, and I suspected he was lying throughout the 15 years he maintained he never bet on baseball until coming clean in his book, My Prison Without Bars, in 2004. He confessed then to not only betting on baseball, but betting on Reds games in which he managed.
Now MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is weighing whether to lift Rose’s lifetime ban for betting on baseball, which would make Rose eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. There’s no guarantee the Veterans Committee, composed of the 65 surviving Hall of Famers, would give him the 75% approval he needs to gain a spot in Cooperstown. Rose wouldn’t be subjected to a vote of the Baseball Writers Associaion of America, because he’s been out of the game too long for the BBWAA to consider his candidacy.
While I give Rose more leeway in his efforts to be reinstated because of the steroid era in baseball, I still can’t sanction the removal of his lifetime ban.
Every major league clubhouse posts Rule 21 in a prominant place. It reads: “Any player, umpire, club or league 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.”
That rule was posted the day Pete Rose walked into the majors. He knew the rule and the consequences and he ignored them. You may argue the propriety of the rule, realtive to some of the other transgressions of Hall of Famers or players who have never been permanently banned, but that’s not what this argument is about. It’s about whether Rose knew the rule and violated the rule, which he did, and so his consequences were predetermined.
I would not argue that Rose’s performance as a player makes him worthy of the Hall of Fame. The Hall, however, instituted a rule in 1991 that no player who has been banned from the game can be elected to Cooperstown. If there’s a rule you want to rescind, then rescind that one and enshrine Pete Rose along the game’s other greats.
But he can never be rightfully reinstated because he knew and repeatedly violated the one rule baseball elevates above all others.
Is that harsh, severe and unforgiving. Yes, it is. And when Pete Rose looks to blame someone for that, he’ll find the culprit staring back at him in the mirror.