BY STEVE MYERS
With the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose being banned from baseball last month and the impending retirement of current Major League Commissioner Bud Selig, a growing number of voices have suggested that Rose should be reinstated to the game. These voices include a number of sports commentators (most recently, Keith Olbermann of ESPN) who had at one time been staunchly opposed to such a move. Every poll indicates that the baseball public agrees.
“He’s done his time,” they say. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
There is no question that Rose is one of the greatest to ever play the game. Besides being the all-time hits leader, he holds more than a dozen other Major League Baseball records, including games played, wins played in, at bats and times on base. He may hold the record for most Major League records. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1963, NL MVP in 1973 and World Series MVP in 1975. He played in 17 All-Star Games, won three batting titles, two Gold Gloves and three World Series Championships. And he is the only player in history to play 500 or more games at five different positions.
Yet his career is not unimpeachable. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All-Star Game, Rose violently and intentionally slammed into Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run. Despite playing for all or part of seven more seasons, most acknowledge that Fosse was never the same player after the collision. All so Rose’s team could win a meaningless exhibition game. This is the dark side of “Charlie Hustle” – the pathological need to win at any and all costs.
There is only one rule that is posted in every clubhouse in Major League Baseball. It is Rule 21(d) and it reads, in part: “Any player, umpire, or 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 (emphasis added).”
Simple. No exceptions. One strike and you’re out. None of the 14 players who have been declared permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball has ever been reinstated.
This rule was promulgated – as was the office of the Commissioner itself – by the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in which eight players were accused of conspiring with known gamblers to throw the World Series. All eight players were banned from the game. In his final report on the Rose investigation, Special Counsel John Dowd described why gambling is baseball’s cardinal sin.
“Betting on baseball by a participant of the game is corrupt because it erodes and destroys the integrity of the game of baseball. Betting also exposes the game to the influence of forces who seek to control the game to their own ends,” Dowd said in the report. “Betting on one’s own team gives rise to the ultimate conflict of interest in which the individal player/bettor places his personal financial interest above the interests of the team.”
In the summary of the report, Dowd concluded that, “The testimony and the documentary evidence gathered in the course of the investigation demonstrates that Pete Rose bet on baseball, and in particular, on games of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club, during the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons.” Rose, of course, was the manager of the Reds during those years.
For more than 15 years after his ban was imposed, Rose continued to deny that he bet on baseball. He cynically and self-righteously protested his innocence while continuing to profit from personal appearances and sales of autographs and memorabilia. Finally, in 2004, Rose admitted in his autobiography that he bet on baseball and specifically that he bet on Reds games, though he maintains that he never bet against the Reds. He has stated publicly that he believes this admission should be enough to have him reinstated to the game.
I disagree. I believe he belongs right where he is, on the outside looking in at the game he claims to love, but that he disrespected and disgraced for his own personal enrichment. I also realize I am in the minority on this issue. But, if Pete Rose is to be reinstated, let it not be so easy as barreling over the catcher and high-fiving his way back to the dugout. After all, we’re not talking about time off for good behavior; we’re talking about commuting a life sentence. More than mere contrition is required.
I propose putting the issue to a vote of those most invested in the game. The fans have made their sentiments clear, when given the chance. So let the owners (representing baseball’s present) and then all of the living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame (representing its past) vote on Rose’s reinstatement. And I believe more than a simple majority should be required. I suggest a two-thirds majority be required on both ballots. If those he has wronged want him back, let them say so loud and clear.
Pete Rose is a baseball legend. But he has tarnished himself and the game to the point where a little spit-and-polish is not enough to restore their luster. If Rose wants to return to the game he claims to love, let him demonstrate that he understand the words of former Commissioner Bart Giamatti – who imposed the original ban – when he said, “…no individual is superior to the game.”
Until then let Rose remain what he is today – “Charlie Hustler” – a cautionary tale of hubris run amok.
Steve Myers, 52, grew up in Seattle, where he attended Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, though he has spent most of the past four years in Washington, D.C. He has been a baseball fan since he was a boy, first rooting for the Brooks Robinson/Jim Palmer Orioles of the 1970s and then the Mariners after their birth in 1977. His best baseball memory is running onto the field after Seattle beat the Angels in a one-game playoff in 1995.
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