There are many players in the Hall of Fame who lived a less than admirable life off the field than Pete Rose. Babe Ruth was a womanizer. Ty Cobb, an unabashed racist who once stabbed a black man for being “uppity,” nearly beat a crippled fan to death during a game. Most recently, many players have been identified as users of performance enhancing drugs. Some have even allegedly lied under oath about their drug use, and even others have evaded tax responsibilities.
Monday, August 24, 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the day that Pete Rose signed an agreement for a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on baseball. In every year since that day, players, coaches, and fans have questioned the fairness of that agreement and that ban. I say that Pete Rose should not now, or ever, be admitted as a player into Cooperstown.
So, why is Pete Rose different from the other players who had off the field issues? Three things: 1) Pete Rose has never made a full and complete admission about his gambling on baseball; 2) Pete Rose has yet to atone for his prolonged mockery of the Hall of Fame; and 3) the most important aspect of Pete Rose—the artifacts from his career—are already in the Hall of Fame.
As every adult knows, when you are caught red-handed, it’s best to come clean at the outset. Whenever you make an authority figure work to prove what is already known, the punishments will always be worse.
Pete Rose knew he bet on baseball. He voluntarily signed a document saying he bet on baseball that placed him on the permanent ineligible list (yes, with the proviso that he could apply for reinstatement in a year). Then he went around the country and lied about it. He claimed he never bet on baseball. Ever. In 1999, he lied about it again on national TV when interviewed by Jim Gray. He only came clean in 2004 in a book to boost sales rather than out of contrition. And even then, he didn’t make a full confession—he claims he never did bet against his team or altered a game because of his gambling when there is a strong belief that he did one or both.
What makes matters worse is how Pete Rose has done everything to mock the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. In almost every year since 1990, Pete Rose has gone to the Hall of Fame induction and setup shop selling autographs during the induction ceremonies across the street from the ceremony. He made a spectacle of every other player’s induction to draw attention onto himself. While children may engage in such antics, no self-respecting adult would. It shows a total lack of humility and an egregious amount of arrogance on his part. It flies in the face of a life worth honoring. Pete Rose is his own worst enemy.
Finally, what most fans fail to realize is that Pete Rose is in the Hall of Fame. As the official website for the Hall of Fame notes, Pete Rose donated more than 20 artifacts from his career, many of which are on display. If a person went to the Hall of Fame and looked up who the all-time hit leader is, it will say Pete Rose. So, Charlie Hustle’s accomplishments on the field are honored and respected in the Hall of Fame. The baseball feats are respected. Only Pete Rose the gambler—the man who broke the cardinal rule of baseball—is not honored with a plaque.
Rather than arguing that past inductees like Cobb justify the admission of Rose, fans today should argue that the admission of Ty Cobb was wrong (even for his times) and would not be done today. Society has evolved over time, and rather than arguing precedent, we should strive for improvement in those we honor.
The issue of Pete Rose is still pertinent. As the performance enhanced players start to retire and become eligible for admission into the Hall of Fame, baseball will once again have to decide how to handle another issue—like gambling—that forever tarnished the game.