Prior to 1989, there was no surer lock for the Hall of Fame and baseball immortality than Pete Rose.
With the all-time hit record firmly on his side of the record books, the longtime Cincinnati Reds star’s mark on the game was indelible. He had the admiration and respect of baseball purists, as “Charlie Hustle” played the old-fashioned way—a combination of controlled aggression and unabashed enthusiasm.
So revered was he in Cincinnati that the city once tried to have him designated as a civic landmark as a way of preventing him from playing anywhere else. So, it was quite appropriate that on Sept. 11, 1985, Rose recorded his historical 4,192nd hit (surpassing Ty Cobb’s mark) in front of the hometown fans at Riverfront Stadium. It was an apparent culmination of a stellar career.
Then, 25 years ago, allegations and a subsequent investigation uncovered an ugly truth: Pete Rose had bet on baseball, including games in which his own team played. The punishment was as severe as it gets—banishment for life, which was followed by exclusion from the Hall.
Rose has pleaded for forgiveness (albeit a little late) and a second chance. Many fans and members of the media have taken up the fight for him. All cries for reinstatement have fallen on deaf ears and the chances of being in the Cooperstown spotlight remain significantly dim.
But he will make a return to dugout. The Bridgeport Bluefish of the Independent League (no affiliation with Major League Baseball) has given the 73-year-old Rose a slight reprieve: allowing him to manage the ballclub on June 16 in their game against the Lancaster Barnstormers.
“I’m doing this because I love baseball,” Rose said in press release put out by the team. “I love young players because they bring you one thing you need in sports–enthusiasm. These young men are here working their butts off. They don’t have egos–they are hungry…I will tell each of the players in the clubhouse a few things before the game.”
Bluefish General Manager Ken Shepard, in a moment of extraordinary exaggeration, said that Rose’s return to managing is “one of the biggest and influential announcements in not only franchise history, but in professional baseball in the last 25 years as well.”
There’s no doubt that this is less a goodwill gesture than a pure promotional stunt on the part of the Bluefish. It certainly worked. Otherwise, this column would not have been written.
But, in a small way, it also speaks to the fascination and appreciation that many have for the playing career of a man that has unjustly been an all-too-long suffering pariah.
Rose’s on-the-field actions were commendable and nearly flawless. It was his off-the-field actions that have cost him dearly.
The investigation headed by John Dowd in 1989 found that he bet on games numerous times while managing the Reds, knowingly violating a golden rule put in place after the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. He did not, however, bet against his club—one point that Rose has maintained over the years.
Still, there’s no defending what he did. For those in this long-heated debate that want to say he deserves to be exiled from being in baseball for good, it’s hard to argue against it.
The more significant argument is on his whether or not he’ll ever been inducted in Cooperstown.
On merit, as a player, he has few equal: 4,256 hits, a lifetime average of .303, a 17-time All-Star, a three-time World Series winner and three times the winner of the batting crown.
We have seen him show contrition recently. We have also seen how his sins have been lessened by the much more impactful errs of steroid users. Those who have been involved with performance-enhancing drugs altered the games and skewed the record books forever. But Barry Bonds is still welcomed in baseball circles and is eligible for the Hall of Fame. So is Mark McGwire, now a batting coach with the Dodgers. And so will Alex Rodriguez, no matter how much more disgrace he bestows to the game.
Through it all, both current commissioner Bud Selig and his predecessor, Fay Vincent, never budged.
Rose should take in this opportunity to manage one game—as it’s the closest he’ll get back into baseball. More importantly, it’s still a long ways from the Hall of Fame. And that’s the far greater shame.
It would be wrong to say that now his time has come…because this should have happened long ago. Rose’s punishment of being banned from participating in Major League Baseball is just. He knew the crime and its severity when he did it. But being excluded from the Hall of Fame for 25 years and counting is a crime in itself.
After all, it’s not called the Hall of Ethics.
Baseball’s establishment should examine its own faults and be more understanding on this quarter century-long sentence. The tight-fisted grip on the doors to the Hall of Fame should be loosened. Let Pete Rose enter.