Outside Oberlin

For Pete's Sake, give Rose a second chance

by Rossiter Drake

"Pete Rose the baseball player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. His official playing record makes that clear. Pete Rose the man, well, he lacks character and integrity, so the player gets in, the man is banned."

- Andrew Lampert

It has been little more than a decade since Pete Rose signed his own lifetime ban from baseball on Aug. 23, 1989, acknowledging in a statement prepared by former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti that he neither admitted to nor denied placing illegal bets on the game that had made him a cultural icon. Since that fateful day, Rose has repeatedly tried to force his way back into baseball, arguing that he has suffered long enough for a crime that he never committed. "It seems that in our society, 99 out of 100 guys are given another opportunity," he has said. "I'm the one out of 100 that's not being given another opportunity, which is mind-boggling to me."

To be sure, Rose has always enjoyed the support of his fans, not to mention several of his professional colleagues. As the tenth anniversary of his banishment has come and gone, his supporters have become increasingly vocal. Some, including former President Jimmy Carter and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, have publicly suggested that it is time to forgive Rose, to grant him readmission to the game he once dominated. Others remain unconvinced. Current baseball commissioner Bud Selig and former commissioner Fay Vincent, for instance, have repeatedly dismissed such suggestions, insisting that Rose must confess to betting on baseball before he can be enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Thus, the debate rages on.

But why should it? There is little question that Rose's accomplishments throughout his 24-year baseball career warrant his immediate induction into the Hall of Fame. As a former member of the Cincinnati Reds and later the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos, he owns a .303 lifetime batting average and holds 11 all-time major league records, including those for most career hits (4256), most games played (3562) and most seasons with 200 or more hits (10). And the list does not stop there. Rose also holds the National League record for most career runs (2165) and most career doubles (746). By the time he was forced to abandon baseball, he had tackled almost every role the game had to offer, becoming the only player in major league history to play more than 500 games at five different positions. But it never seemed to matter where he played, because Rose always displayed the same passion and intensity that earned him the nickname "Charlie Hustle." To be sure, he was nothing less than a role model, a fan favorite who consistently left his best stuff on the field.

Unfortunately, Rose did not always represent himself quite as well when removed from the friendly confines of the nearest ballpark. When Giamatti first accused him of betting on baseball, Rose petulantly sued the commissioner to avoid a hearing that might have cleared his name. Later, when the evidence of his guilt became overwhelming, Rose finally accepted his banishment. At the time, he conceded that he had repeatedly gambled on sports other than baseball and even went so far as to seek professional help from Dr. J. Randolph Hillard, the chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Cincinnati. Rose initially agreed with Hillard's diagnosis that he must avoid gambling completely due to his "clinically significant gambling disorder," but later changed his mind when he began doing promotional appearances for casinos and placing bets at race tracks. Since then, an unapologetic Rose has continued to gamble, much to the chagrin of his lawyers and his fans.

For his part, Rose has vigorously defended his right to gamble and claims that he has acted in complete accordance with Giamatti's directive to "reconfigure his life." "I do no more illegal gambling. I'm very selective of the people I associate with," he said. "Based on my interpretation of what reconfigure means, I have reconfigured my life."

Selig and John Dowd, who led major league baseball's investigation into Rose's gambling habits, see things a bit differently."He's up against history," Dowd said in a recent interview. "No one declared permanently ineligible has been readmitted, and I don't expect anyone would want to change history here. Why would anyone want to help Pete come back into the game?" For his part, Selig has frequently voiced his displeasure with the situation, but insists that Rose's transgressions must be punished. "Do I wish that it all hadn't happened? Of course," he said. "I always worry about the game, its image and its ethics. I know Bart felt the same way. I reread Bart's press statement, and it's still painful to reread it 10 years later... but nothing has changed any of that."

It has been two years since Rose submitted his most recent application for reinstatement, an application that Selig has ignored. During the past two months, Rose has ironically lobbied for a hearing with the commissioner, arguing that he should be given another chance to clear his name; again, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

But perhaps Selig should lighten up. After all, baseball is not the priesthood, and the Hall of Fame is hardly the Vatican. The shrine at Cooperstown was erected to celebrate the professional accomplishments of its members, not their personalities or their integrity. Otherwise, how could one defend the inductions of legendary wretches like Ty Cobb, the gambling Leo Durocher and Gaylord Perry, who has admitted to scuffing the ball throughout his 21-year pitching career?

It is true that Pete Rose dishonored himself and the game of baseball by placing illegal bets on sporting events. For that matter, it is likely that he bet on baseball games, though the evidence to support that conclusion - based in large part upon the testimony of five convicted felons - is somewhat less than compelling. For those crimes, he deserved to be punished, and he was. Between 1990 and 1991, Rose spent five months in a federal prison for failing to report the income he received from his own baseball memorabilia and for gambling. For the last ten years, he has been separated from the game he loves. But Pete Rose has been punished long enough. He may not be the most virtuous man in the world, and, as a proven liar and a compulsive gambler, he may not win any popularity contests in the foreseeable future. Even so, he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame - not for his qualities as a human being, which have been justifiably questioned, but for his awesome heroics on the field. If he is denied that honor, then the private lives of all Hall of Fame inductees must be similarly scrutinized and judged. And if that were to happen, you can bet that the findings would be none too pretty.

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Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 2, September 10, 1999

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