The Dilemma: The Pete Rose Story

Pete Rose. Just the mention of his name can flood the minds of baseball fans with memories of Charlie Hustle. Sprinting to first after drawing a walk. Sliding head first into third. Colliding with Ray Fossee during the 1970 All-Star game. Standing on first trying to hold back tears after passing Ty Cobb for the all time hits record. Shoving Umpire Dave Pallone during an argument. Commissioner Bart Giamatti announcing Rose has been banned from baseball for life. Being interviewed by Jim Gray during the All Century Team ceremony and avoiding all discussion of his ban from baseball. Everyone of these memories and countless others are how we remember Pete Rose, but the good is overshadowed by the bad. Pete Rose was and continues to be banned from baseball for betting on games he managed.

Baseball, and those who run it, have long been concerned about keeping the integrity of the game intact. They have gone through gambling scandals, recreational drug using players, racist and insensitive players, owners, and executives, steroid and performance-enhancing drug using players, and numerous other unsavory episodes throughout baseball’s history. However, the one which has the greatest ability to damage baseball is gambling. Fans want the games to be played on the level with everyone trying to win. Fans often do not care what a player thinks about different issues, nor do steroid using players do so to lose the game. They are seeking an advantage over their opponent. If you take away the belief that everyone is playing to win, then you could reasonably see the death of any sport, including baseball.

Charlie Hustle

Charlie Hustle

Baseball’s first Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, understood this in the years following the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Gambling could destroy baseball and something had to be done. In 1927, after several more isolated occurrences of gambling in baseball, Landis created Rule 21 in 1927. Section D of Major League Baseball Rule 21 states:

  1. 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 no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.
  2. 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.

It is plain and simple, you do not have to translate the rule from legalese to understand that if you bet on baseball you will be suspended for a minimum of one year, if you bet on your own team, even to win, then you are gone forever. Not just for life, forever. Or as Michael “Squints” Palledorous from The Sandlot would say, “Forever. FOREVER. FOR-EV-ER. F-O-R-E.-V-E-R!”

All Time Hit King at work

All Time Hit King at work

The latest round of attention on Pete Rose and his banishment from baseball is from the book by Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. Sports Illustrated has an excerpt from the book in its March 10th edition. We are also approaching the 25th Anniversary of Sports Illustrated reporting that Rose bet on baseball, which the magazine first reported on March 21, 1989. The question of whether it is time to reexamine the ban on Pete Rose is posed in the except. Rose remains extremely popular in Cincinnati and with his former teammates. Fans flock to see him and to get his autograph at shows. Portions of the media, including baseball fanatic and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann support the reinstatement of Rose. While I enjoy listening to Olbermann talk about baseball and its history I could not disagree with him more that Rose deserves to be reinstated.

Is there really a dilemma?

Is there really a dilemma?

Rose should remain banned from baseball for his transgressions, as there are some violations of the rules which deserve a death penalty of sorts. Yes, America is the land of second opportunities but Rose chose to abuse his second chance. Rose broke the rules, much like the performance-enhancing drug users I have referenced in previous here. The difference is Rose sought to alter the game through means which had been against the rules of baseball for 36 years prior to his first appearance. The performance-enhancing drug users were going around baseball’s lack of drug testing and enforcement to gain an advantage. Once the rules changed, only then the rules were reflective of creating a level playing field based upon what a player could and could not consume.

Gambling was and is forbidden by Major League Baseball and yet Rose chose to ignore the rules. He had opportunities to come clean long before he did, but never did. He could have admitted what he did to then Commissioner Bart Giamatti and pleaded for mercy. I am in no way suggesting that admitting he had bet on baseball, specifically on Reds games, would have softened the penalty levied against him by the Commissioner. I would suggest however that being honest and forth coming could have changed the hearts and minds people over the last 25 years and potentially allowed for Bart Giamatti in the weeks after handing down the ban, or his successor Fay Vincent, or Bud Selig, or the next Commissioner of Baseball to alter the punishment. The truth could have set Rose free. He could have been credited with good behavior and had his sentence commuted to time served. Instead he continued to lie and to profess his innocence against the charges against him until he released his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, in 2004. Even his confession was unbecoming a player of his stature. Rose tried to stick it to Major League Baseball as he was making money on his confession through the sale of his book, instead of coming to Major League Baseball to beg for mercy. He never faced the truth until it was also a way for him to benefit from it. I have no issue with people making money off of their accomplishments, such as former Presidents writing books about their time in office or entertainers selling their memorabilia to the highest bidder. The problem with Rose is that he could have made money off of his accomplishments and come clean, but he chose to do them both at the same time. To say the least this is in poor taste. This raises the question: are you confessing because you are ready to tell the truth or because you want the book to sell more copies?

Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, doesn't play games.

Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, doesn’t play games.

If Bud Selig or any future Commissioner decides that Pete Rose should be allowed back into baseball and is removed from the permanently ineligible list I believe it would do two things. It would set an extremely bad precedent and it would also be unfair to the other individuals on the permanently ineligible list. Why should Pete Rose be allowed back in and not the others. Allowing Rose back into baseball would enable people in the future to cite his reinstatement as the precedent for reducing their penalties. Imagine if Rose had been reinstated three years ago. Would Alex Rodriguez been able to point to Rose and argue that his season long suspension should be reduced to 100 games? Would Ryan Braun been able to argue that his first failed test should not count against him because he had not been previously warned not break the rules? The what ifs are too great. The reinstatement of Rose has the potential to allow the worst of baseball to remain in the game and to continue robbing the game of its integrity and the fans of their belief in the sport.

Shoeless Joe Jackson's ban needs to be reexamined by MLB.

Shoeless Joe Jackson’s ban needs to be reexamined by MLB.

George Bechtel, Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols, Bill Craver, Dick Higham, Jack O’Connor, Harry Howell, Horace Fogel, Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Lefty Williams, Joe Gedeon, Gene Paulette, Benny Kauff, Lee Magee, Phil Douglas, Jimmy O’Connell, and William Cox. These are the 26 men who for various reasons ranging from gambling, to jumping between teams before free agency, to car theft are on the permanently ineligible list for Major League Baseball. Pete Rose is #27. If you reinstate only Rose, then I fully expect an explanation as to why he received special treatment. Is it because he is the only living member of this exclusive “club”? If you allow Rose back in for time served then the rest of these men should have been reinstated a long time ago. William Cox is the only person to be banned since 1925 besides Rose. If reinstatement is to happen then you cannot pick and choose. Baseball would be at best hypocritical to allow Rose in while keeping another one of the games great hitter, Shoeless Joe Jackson, out of the game. I firmly believe that Jackson’s banishment should be reexamined as there is sufficient evidence that suggests he was not a part of the Black Sox Scandal. It is impossible to know for certain, however I do know that the cries for letting Rose back in should fall on deaf ears so long as there is not a serious consideration of allowing the rest of the banned players, an umpire, and an owner back in. They should all be in or all be out, not split up. None of those who were thrown out for betting on baseball were breaking the rules, they are the reason the rule was put into place. They were thrown out because they broke the trust between players and fans about playing to win every game. Rose does not have that argument, as the rule was in place long before he got to the Majors and he still chose to ignore it.

The Black Sox, did they all throw the 1919 World Series?

The Black Sox, did they all throw the 1919 World Series?

Rose is banned from baseball but he is still getting along fine. He is a constant presence in Cooperstown during the Hall of Fame inductions each summer. The Hall of Fame in which his accomplishments are recorded, but which he will never become a member. He makes a good living doing public appearances and signing autographs, and so long as he pays his taxes he has little to worry about financially. The realization that time is no longer on his side and the ban from the game he love has teeth is becoming, I believe, more painful every year. His ban does have some holes in it. He has been allowed back on the field for being a part of the All Century Team and on the anniversary of breaking Ty Cobb’s hits record. He was on hand when his son, Pete Rose Jr. made his Major League debut. Rose has not been totally thrown out in the cold. He is close enough to the proverbial fire to feel a little of its warmth but not close enough to bask in its glow, and for me this is as close as he should ever get.

Rose broke a single rule of baseball. The impact which his transgressions could have on the entire game warranted the measures Commissioner Giamatti took and all subsequent Commissioners have upheld. What Pete Rose accomplished on the field should be celebrated by those who love baseball, but he should also serve as a warning. No one, regardless how great they are, is bigger than the game. There is no dilemma about Pete Rose for me. He is and should remained banned from baseball. His gambling could have fractured the foundation upon which the game has been built upon for over 100 years. Everyone is playing to win. He should not receive special treatment while the other members of the permanently ineligible list are ignored. Major League Baseball cannot pick and chose who they will and will not reinstate. You either reinstate them all or you leave them as they are, banned. Pete Rose made his mistakes and now he has to pay the price, the only living member of a club no one wants to join.

D

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