Pete Rose Should be in the Hall of Fame

By Tim Sullivan

Pete Rose will never work in baseball again, but he should be recognized in the Hall of Fame.

Rose has no future in baseball, that much ought to be obvious by now. He is serving a lifetime suspension with no prospect of reprieve, doomed to live out his days in agonizing exile from baseball.

What makes Rose a tragic figure is that baseball is not content to foreclose his future by banning him for life. It is also determined to deny him his past. When the Baseball Hall of Fame’s board of directors amended its rules in 1991 to exclude those players the commissioners of Major League Baseball (MLB) had declared permanently ineligible, it deprived Rose of deserved credit for a remarkable career.

It kicked the man when he was down.

Rose stands accused of tampering with the game’s trust, and the evidence is extensive. If he bet on ballgames in which he was a participant—and reasonable people who have considered the evidence can reach no other conclusion—baseball can ill afford a recurrence. Commissioner Bud Selig must maintain Rose’s exile from the game, despite calls for clemency by former United States president Jimmy Carter and others, despite opinion polls that suggest he has suffered enough, and despite society’s growing ambivalence about the evils of gambling.

“No individual is superior to the game,” former MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti said in announcing Rose’s lifetime suspension on August 24, 1989. This much has not changed. The institution of baseball cannot be placed in jeopardy for the sake of popular sentiment, no matter how great a player Rose was. Permitting Rose to wear a major-league uniform again would serve mainly to raise suspicions about the integrity of MLB’s product, a risk no commissioner or sensible business executive would run. If Rose returned to baseball, every move he made would be scrutinized for suspicious motives. Rose would not have to fix a game to hurt baseball. His mere presence in the dugout would cause fans to wonder if the games were legitimate. His reinstatement is unthinkable when one considers the case. Rose is now permanently ineligible from participation in baseball. He has no chance for a future job in baseball until he makes a full confession, or until he convincingly refutes the extensive 1989 report on his gambling activities that attorney John Dowd prepared for MLB. Neither course of action seems likely.

Recognizing Rose’s past is a much different matter, or at least it ought to be. No one in the history of the game has achieved what Pete Rose did as a player. Tying his eligibility for the Hall of Fame to his eligibility to hold another job in the baseball industry constitutes cruel, unusual, and vindictive punishment. It makes baseball look petty and merciless, distorts the game’s rich history, and will cloud the annual Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, so long as Rose lives.

Rose scored more runs in his major-league career than the great catcher Yogi Berra had hits. He had more hits than Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider combined. Rose’s 4,256 career hits is a record so staggering that it could easily stand for another century. Bill James, the eminent baseball statistician, calculates that only one active player (Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter) has even a 1 percent chance of surpassing Rose’s hit total. Everyone else is advised to take aim at some easier target.

Rose achieved that record through a singular devotion to duty, playing the game with so much boyish glee that he came to personify how the game was meant to be played. Parents brought their children to see Rose so that they might see how maximum effort could elevate average athletic ability. Judged only on his work ethic and his enthusiasm, Pete Rose made an excellent role model.

“Pete Rose should bypass the Hall of Fame,” Hall of Fame first baseman Steve Garvey once said, “and go straight to the Smithsonian.”

When Garvey made that remark—before Rose broke Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb’s career hits record in the summer of 1985—the idea that Rose would not be admitted to Cooperstown was inconceivable. There was speculation he might even succeed where Cobb and other baseball legends such as Babe Ruth and Willie Mays had failed and become the first unanimous selection in the Hall of Fame’s history.

His numbers were not merely the product of longevity, but of prolonged peak performance. Rose recorded 200 hits in ten different seasons and won the National League’s batting title three times. He made the All-Star team at five different positions and played in six World Series. That he was later suspended from baseball for life does not detract significantly from his statistical record, only his reputation.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame exists as a means to help sell baseball to the public. It is not, as some apparently suppose, a pantheon for prospective saints. Its screening committee consists of baseball writers, not bishops, and its members are not selected on the basis of their moral standing.

Had Cooperstown confined its membership to exemplary citizens such as Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Jackie Robinson, the museum might be entitled to impose character qualifications. The Hall of Fame, however, is also home to many great players of questionable moral character. Shortstop Leo Durocher, who was elected posthumously in 1994, served a one-year suspension for consorting with gamblers. First baseman Orlando Cepeda, a 1999 inductee, was convicted in 1975 for drug smuggling. Others have been accused of much worse. Compared to the behavior of some players, Pete Rose’s problems seem minor.

Baseball’s rules should not be confused with criminal law. What is a felony on the street often amounts to a misdemeanor at the ballpark and vice versa. As far as the courts are concerned, Atlanta Brave John Rocker’s inflammatory comments on race, gender, and sexuality in his infamous 1999 interview in Sports Illustrated made him guilty of nothing save stupidity. Bud Selig saw fit to suspend him, however, in order to protect the baseball’s image. This is the commissioner’s right and responsibility. The best interests of baseball are sometimes about justice and appearances.

Rose went to prison for tax fraud, but his baseball suspension is based solely on his gambling. Baseball’s vigilance on gambling stems from the 1919 World Series, in which gamblers paid members of the heavily favored Chicago White Sox to play poorly and lose to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite a jury’s failure to convict them, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished the players from baseball. The so-called Black Sox team still represents the game’s most serious scandal. Baseball historians commonly credit slugger Babe Ruth’s enormous popularity for saving the sport from disrepute and decline in the seasons that followed the scandal.

Gambling scandals have periodically marred other sports as well. The Green Bay Packers’ Paul Hornung and the Detroit Lions’ Alex Karras were suspended for the entire 1963 season for betting on National Football League games. Hornung was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

Baseball, of course, is not bound by disciplinary decisions made in other sports. Yet the Rose case raises questions of proportionality and persecution within baseball. Should Rose, who has never been accused of betting against his own team, be subjected to the same penalty as players who conspired to purposely lose a World Series? Should allegations made against him while he was a manager diminish his achievements as a player?

Before the Rose case forced the issue, the Baseball Hall of Fame had no formal rule barring players on baseball’s permanently ineligible list from induction into the Hall of Fame. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the most celebrated of the banned Black Sox, received Hall of Fame votes from baseball writers as late as 1946. Jackson’s candidacy continues to be supported by many who view him as an illiterate victim rather than a calculating criminal, including Veterans’ Committee voter and Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

In 1991 the Hall of Fame’s board of directors amended its rules to exclude all players on Major League Baseball’s permanently ineligible list from induction. This change was made mainly to thwart Rose but also eliminated players such as Jackson from contention. Should Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame be determined by a rule passed specifically to exclude him? Were the Hall of Fame required to follow the same rules as the U.S. judicial system, the rule formulated to keep Rose out of Cooperstown could have been found in violation of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution—the passage expressly forbidding ex post facto laws. Yet, because the Hall of Fame is a private organization answerable only to itself, it can pretty much make up its rules as it goes along. It has left Rose with no recourse but to appeal to Selig for reinstatement. His efforts have been fruitless.

One enduring irony of this whole sad saga is that Giamatti, the commissioner who forced Rose out of baseball, may have been willing to admit him to the Hall of Fame but died just a week after his ruling. At the same press conference in which he announced Rose’s banishment, Giamatti was asked about Rose’s suitability for Cooperstown. He replied, “It is the baseball writers’ responsibility to decide who goes into the Hall of Fame. It is not mine. I have never as league president and commissioner and will never express an opinion about the eligibility, viability or appropriateness of any candidate for the Hall of Fame.”

It is possible that Giamatti was being disingenuous, telling the truth only technically, knowing the Hall of Fame board could easily invent a mechanism to exclude Rose. That board consists largely of former commissioners and league presidents, after all, and would readily understand the potential embarrassment of obligating a commissioner to present Rose with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Yet it is also possible that Giamatti was sincere, that he thought justice had been served by Rose’s suspension and believed additional sanctions involving the Hall of Fame would be malicious and excessive. To deny Rose the right to make a living in a sport he distinguished for a quarter of a century was a difficult but defensible judgment call. To deny him proper recognition is just plain mean.

Because of his untimely death, Giamatti was never able to elaborate on his comment about Rose’s place in the Hall of Fame. Many in baseball’s hierarchy attributed Giamatti’s sudden passing to the stress of the Rose ordeal. There was bound to be a backlash. The Hall of Fame board’s decision to close its loophole and keep Rose’s name off of the baseball writers’ ballot was at least partially motivated by the desire to honor Giamatti’s memory. Although he came to baseball from the presidency of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Giamatti—an accomplished classicist and dazzling intellect—is known as the man who ran Pete Rose out of baseball. Powerful people within the sport, Selig among them, regard any concession to Rose as a sign of disrespect to Giamatti’s memory.

The result of Rose’s ineligibility is an annual debate and a ceaseless spectacle. Rose habitually spends the weekend of the Hall of Fame inductions signing autographs in Cooperstown, promoting the perception that he has been wronged and creating a sideshow that steers attention away from the ceremonies and the great players who are honored. His reinstatement strategy, like his playing career, is mainly about persistence. In a perverse way, Rose may have achieved greater popularity as baseball’s designated pariah than he would have if he were just another retired icon.

Rose has persuaded few baseball people of his repentance and fewer of his innocence. Yet there is some sentiment within the game that he should be admitted to the Hall of Fame, if only to put an end to the story that does not die. “That might be the easiest thing to do,” Selig said, “I don’t know if it would be the right thing to do.”

Baseball is rightly concerned about sending the wrong message. Although that message gets garbled when repeat drug offenders get reinstated, the drug offenders are at least required to admit their problem and seek treatment before they can return to work. On the central issue—betting on baseball—Pete Rose has admitted nothing.

His future in baseball, therefore, is continued exile. This is probably as it should be. His past, however, deserves better. For starters, he should have a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

About the author: Tim Sullivan writes a sports column for theCincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer. He has been covering the Reds for 20 years.

Pete Rose Should Not Be in the Hall of Fame

By Hal McCoy

Hanging prominently somewhere in every major league baseball clubhouse is a large sign on which is listed rule 21(d)—“Any player, umpire, club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the better has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

Pete Rose saw it every day of his career. He could not miss it, no matter which clubhouse he was in. So he knew the consequences when he ignored the rule by gambling on his team’s games while serving as the Cincinnati Reds’ manager, and he was permanently banished from the game in 1989.

What Rose did on the field, how he played the game, how he parlayed his limited athletic ability into outstanding accomplishments, does not override what his gambling did to hurt the sport. The public must be assured that the game is legitimate and that everybody is doing his best to win at all times. A manager controls games with strategy decisions such as when to remove a pitcher and when to insert a pinch hitter. When that manager bets on the game, the question of whether he is trying to win at all times surfaces, and that is a question that never should have to be asked.

The story began in 1989 during spring training when Rose was summoned from Florida to Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth’s office in New York City. Rose was gone one day. When he returned, he met with two reporters on a back field of Plant City Stadium, at the time the Florida spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds.

Asked about the nature of his absence, Rose began his pattern of lies and denial. ‘The commissioner just wanted to ask me my opinion on some baseball matters,’ he said.

In fact, Commissioner Ueberroth had confronted Rose with the gambling allegations and had told him an investigation, headed by Washington, D.C. attorney John Dowd, was to begin.

At that moment, Rose could have stopped everything. He could have admitted his gambling. If he had, he might be in baseball’s Hall of Fame right now instead of standing on the outside looking in.

We live in a forgiving society. Rose could have said, “Yes, I bet on baseball. I have a gambling addiction and I will take treatment. I’m sorry for what I did. I know it was wrong, and I hope I can be forgiven.” Most likely, if he had taken treatment for his gambling problem and had been repentant, he might have been suspended one year and now would be in the Hall of Fame.

Instead, despite overwhelming evidence, Rose continues to deny, deny, deny.

And it is why he should not be in the Hall of Fame.

All the information is in the 225-page report Dowd prepared for Major League Baseball, a summation of a roomful of documents and evidence. The report convinced Ueberroth’s successor A. Bartlett Giamatti and current commissioner Bud Selig that Rose bet on baseball. Selig has no plans to reinstate Rose. “Nothing has ever surfaced to change my mind,” Selig said.

The report was presented to the public on May 9, 1989, and by this time Giamatti had replaced Ueberroth. Dowd’s report indicated that Rose bet on hundreds of baseball games, many of them involving the Reds, the team he managed.

Dowd obtained testimony from Rose’s close friends who said they placed bets for him and from bookmakers who took the bets. Included in the report are photocopies of betting slips and telephone records, some of them showing calls made to bookmakers from the manager’s office in the stadium.

Pages 119-120 of the report detail the bets Rose made from Opening Day on April 8, 1987, through the All-Star break on July 5, 1987. The report says, “On April 8, Rose won $2,000 on the Reds, lost $2,200 on the Boston Red Sox, won $2,000 on the Minnesota Twins and won $2,000 on the California Angels. On April 11, he bet eight games. He won $2,000 on the Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Houston Astros. He lost $3,200 on the Philadelphia Phillies. The next day he bet more heavily, winning $2,000 on the Phillies, Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, and Twins, but losing $3,400 on the Reds, $4,800 on the New York Mets, $2,800 on the Cleveland Indians, and $2,600 on the Angels. On April 11, he won $10,800 and lost $5,600 the next day.” And so on.

The report reveals that from 1986 through 1988 Rose bet illegally through a bookmaker in Franklin, Ohio, another in Tampa, Florida, and another in Staten Island, New York, where he would go when he owed money to the other bookmakers.

The report said his typical bet was $2,000. When he ran short of cash he attended memorabilia shows, where he signed items and accepted payment only in cash, which he carried out in paper bags.

One acquaintance who admitted involvement with Rose was Cincinnati bodybuilder Paul Janszen; he cooperated with the investigation. Janszen described to Dowd one incident in which the scoreboard in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium (now called Cinergy Field) was not working so Rose could not keep up with the outcome of games and his bets. Janszen sat in the stands with a cell phone and called score services to get results, flashing hand signals to Rose in the dugout to inform him how his wagers were progressing. All of this occurred while Rose was supposed to be managing the team.

Some of Rose’s defenders say he never bet against the Reds, only wagering on them to win. The fallacy of this argument is that on days when Rose did not bet on the Reds, bookmakers figured that Rose thought his team would not win, so they bet heavily against the Reds.

The major problem with Rose betting on baseball, particularly the Reds, is that as manager he could control games, make decisions that could enhance his chances of winning his bets, thus jeopardizing the integrity of the game.

In August of 1989, Rose accepted permanent banishment from the game. If Rose is not guilty, why did he accept the punishment without a fight? The agreement he reached with Giamatti said there would be no public finding that he bet on baseball. The report also said Rose would not publicly deny that he bet on baseball.

During his press conference in New York, Giamatti was asked if he thought Rose bet on baseball, and Giamatti said that based on the Dowd Report, he was of the opinion that he did. Rose has made a major issue of Giamatti going against the agreement, but Rose also has gone against the agreement by continuously denying he bet on baseball. To date Rose has presented no evidence to refute anything in Dowd’s report.

Even if Rose is reinstated in baseball, there is no guarantee he would be enshrined in Cooperstown. He still would have to be voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. His name is forbidden from inclusion on the ballot that eligible baseball writers receive every year, so writers are not permitted to vote for him. If he were reinstated, his name would go on the ballot, and he would need 75 percent of the votes. Many writers have said they would not vote for him.

Former teammate Johnny Bench, who is in the Hall of Fame, is against Rose’s induction. Bench said, “When he admits what he did, then he should be considered.” Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller is adamantly against his enshrinement and said if Rose were elected he would never attend another Hall of Fame ceremony.

Some say Rose should be inducted but that his plaque should have a line, ‘Banished for betting on baseball games.’ Such a statement, however, would be a weak compromise that would suit neither side. There is also the argument that perhaps he should be inducted based only on his accomplishments as a player because there is no evidence that he bet on games as a player. However, as a player Rose was a big gambler on dog racing, horse racing, basketball, and football. There is no proof that he did not bet on baseball while he was playing. The Dowd Report only considered his years as a manager and did not delve into his time as a player.

Does the Hall of Fame hold players to too high of a standard? Not really. The ballot clearly states that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Reinstatement in baseball is necessary for Rose to be considered and that is not likely to happen. There have been 17 people banished permanently from baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, who had Hall of Fame credentials but agreed to help throw the 1919 World Series. The 1919 Chicago White Sox, because of the scandal, became known as the Chicago Black Sox. Neither Jackson nor any of those permanently banished have been reinstated.

Because Rose was such a great player, the all-time leader in hits, he has impassioned supporters. Rose, a great spokesman for the game, is adept at communicating and putting a positive spin on himself. Commissioner Selig is made out to be the ogre because he will not consider reinstatement.

Selig relented once from his firm stance and is still paying the price. Rose was permitted to attend a ceremony at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia, during game two of the 1999 World Series to be recognized as one of the top 100 baseball players of the century. Before the game began, Rose was interviewed on the field by broadcaster Jim Gray, who asked Rose if he was ready to admit he bet on baseball. Rose said he was not, but Gray did not stop. He badgered Rose, continuing to force the issue.

It was a bad scene. To many viewers, Gray came across as the bad guy because he would not let up. During 1999 there was a national furor over Gray’s interview, and Rose was martyred. Viewers felt sorry for him, and the public and the media coast-to-coast criticized Gray. Gray could not have helped Rose any more than if he had been hired as a public relations consultant. The incident played right into Rose’s hands and gained him national sympathy, never mind the evidence that he bet on baseball. Rose keeps his name in the public eye by constantly talking about his suspension and his desire for reinstatement.

As he hurts baseball, Rose continues to damage his case. He has not reformed, even though he did try counseling for his gambling habits, at Major League Baseball’s insistence. It has not worked. Rose admits he gambles on football and baseball through Las Vegas, Nevada, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, and he is frequently seen at racetracks throughout the United States. All that is perfectly legal, but it does not enhance his image as somebody who wants to clean up his act for consideration for the Hall of Fame.

He antagonizes baseball and the Hall of Fame every year, too. During the weekend of the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, Rose appears in Cooperstown to sign autographs for money. That, too, is legal. Many Hall of Fame inductees do it, but it is a slap in the face to the Hall of Fame that he boldly and gleefully challenges them by appearing in town during induction week.

While the Hall of Fame does have Rose memorabilia within its walls, its refusal to induct him supports baseball’s stance. The Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball work hand-in-hand. It is not likely the Cooperstown people would go against baseball’s wishes and put Rose on the ballot. The Hall of Fame relies on baseball for the memorabilia it displays. If they went against MLB to make an independent decision concerning Rose, baseball would react negatively and most likely refuse further cooperation. Recognition of one player who flouted the rules and bet on the game is not worth that kind of rift.

Great players are not obliged to be so-called role models. It certainly helps if they are squeaky clean, but it is not necessary. Personalities differ. Sports stars are mere people, with the same faults and blemishes as the general public. As a man who played hard and accomplished much, Rose was a role model for kids on how to play the game of baseball.

However, what Rose did cannot be ignored. What message would it send if a man who thought he was above one of the most important rules in the game is exonerated and put into the Hall of Fame? Rules mean nothing? If you were one of the best players of all time, you did not have to follow the golden rule of baseball? Rose belongs if only what he accomplished on the field is considered, but does not work that way. He ignored the rule not just once, rather he ignored it hundreds of times and for that he must pay the price permanently.