The most you can say about Pete Rose as a man is that he never killed anybody. The least you can say about Pete Rose as a player is that he never took an inning off. And that’s what divides this debate so sharply. Does a despicable man who happens to be one of the game’s all-time greats deserve induction into the Hall of Fame and admission back into baseball?
Until last week, that question depended largely on whether you believed Rose’s denial that he bet on baseball. If he bet on other sports, but never baseball, certainly he should have been inducted years ago and never have been banned from the game in the first place. But if you read the Dowd Report and came to the same conclusions as Bart Giamatti – that Rose did bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds – then you probably hoped Rose and Marge Schott would shack up, get a retirement home in the Bahamas and leave baseball alone until they both expired (at least that’s what I hoped).
But now there can be no doubt. Rose deserves two panels in the Hall of Fame, but no plaque and no induction ceremony. For those of you who have never made the holy pilgrimage to Cooperstown, N.Y., the Hall has one room filled with the inductees’ plaques, and several floors of panels and displays with relics from the game’s past.
Two of those panels should be dedicated to Rose. One should outline his phenomenal accomplishments as a player, most notably his 4,256 hits. The other should detail the reasons you won’t find his plaque in the building despite those accomplishments. Essentially, there should be information about Rose’s great career and subsequent downfall, but no tribute to the man who discarded the game’s integrity with each betting slip.
Rose should also be kept as far away from the game as possible, and by that I mean Siberia. Clearly, from the excerpts released from his book, Rose has a gambling addiction and is still somehow in denial (I know saying I read the entire book would make this assertion more credible, but there is no way I’m paying $24.95 to line his filthy pockets). Giving Rose any job with access to the game would be a travesty. Even if Bud Selig makes the mistake of granting Rose his Hall of Fame eligibility, the commissioner cannot let that vile excuse for a man even close to the game.
The sin of gambling is too severe and the danger to the game is too great. Despite the myriad problems baseball has faced (and often created for itself), it has endured because the fans keep coming back. Even after the baseball strike in 1994, when so many people swore they would never pay money to the greedy owners and players again, they ended up coming back because baseball is addictive. And that addiction is rooted in the excitement and fascination that comes from the total unpredictability of the game.
That unpredictability, which is the basis for the game’s integrity, is ruined when fans suspect the playing field is not even. And when a manager starts betting on the game, he threatens to tilt the playing field, even if he bets on his own team. For instance, back in 1988, had Rose decided to bet on tomorrow’s game but not tonight’s, he might have saved his bullpen for the monetarily meaningful game. Or he might have chosen tonight’s game to rest one of his star players. There are myriad ways his wallet could have affected his decisions, and we’ve known for some time now that Rose’s wallet is always No. 1 in his book.
This is a time of precedent. If Rose is allowed back into baseball and given his Hall of Fame eligibility, the commissioner will be putting the game’s future at risk to appease today’s ignorant masses. Rose diminished the game’s integrity, the only thing that has kept baseball alive through so many abominable caretakers and participants. Unless the punishment Bart Giammati issued in 1989 is maintained today and forever, baseball will be telling future players and managers that you can bet on baseball and you will be forgiven. Just make sure you’re an all-star.