Pete Rose: Hall-worthy?

(Note: This article was published by the author on another Red Sox web site prior to the establishment of this site.)

Just as the Baseball Hall of Fame was ready to announce that former baseball greats Dennis Eckersley and Paul Moliter had been deservedly elected as its newest members, Peter Edward Rose, the disgraced former player and manager, revealed the worst-kept secret in modern history: that he had bet on baseball games as a player and as a coach. Lucky for us, we can read all about it in his new book, Pete Rose: My Prison without Bars, for just $24.95. How fortunate for those of us who have been living in a cave on Mars with our eyes closed and our hands covering our ears.

I have long believed that, on paper, he belongs in the Hall. He collected 4256 hits in 24 seasons, a major league record that will likely never be broken. He also won an MVP award in 1973, and helped three teams collect World Series trophies. One of those came against my beloved Red Sox in a classic seven-game series in 1975 and, for his efforts, he was named Series MVP. “Charlie Hustle” was indeed that, as he played the game at full speed, even running to first when he managed a walk, and there were countless times that he was captured on film sliding head first into second or third to beat out throws.

But, while his numbers are deserving, his character is not. He knowingly broke Major League Baseball Rule 21, which everyone who stands between the foul lines on the baseball field, whether player, manager, or umpire, must recognize without failure. After he willingly signed an agreement to accept a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989, he suddenly felt that he had been victimized and that there was no hard evidence to support the allegations of the baseball commissioner’s office. Now, he finally admits his guilt but still asserts that it was a victimless crime and continues to blame everyone but himself for the mess that he created, even suggesting that Major League Baseball is out to settle some unspoken score with him.

Allowing his reinstatement into baseball, thus clearing the way for possible Hall election, would be a huge mistake for two reasons. One, it would send a clear message to young ball players that the rules of baseball, especially this one, are meaningless if you win batting titles or Cy Youngs. Two, it would be yet another black eye for baseball as it struggles to maintain a declining fan base that has dwindle even further in recent years with the rising popularity of the NFL and the huge gap between big-market powerhouses and small-market also-rans. While Pete Rose may think otherwise, the survival of baseball does not depend on whether his plaque hangs in Cooperstown.

One last thought: Paul Hornung, the great Green Bay Packer back, was punished by then-commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, for betting on football games with a one-year ban in 1963. He was reinstated the following season and played for three more seasons. He eventually was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1986, but only after being passed over several times for reasons that were credited to his mistake. While some might compare this story to Pete Rose, the major difference is that Paul Hornung, upon initial questioning by Rozelle, came clean immediately and did nothing to hide the truth. Even during his suspension, Hornung was diligent in keeping tabs with the commissioner’s office to ensure that his activities during that time were approved.

Yes, what Hornung did was wrong, but he admitted his mistake, accepted his punishment, and served his suspension without question or placing blame on anyone other than himself. The answer is obvious, but it bears the question as to why Pete Rose could not use the lessons taught by Hornung’s example.