For the first time since 1960, no new player will be added to Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. Based on the voting, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, players associated with performance-enhancing drugs, are stuck in place, and have diminishing chances of ever gaining admission.
But the Baseball Writers Association of America should reconsider another notorious player: Pete Rose.
The debate about whether Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame has been going on since Major League Baseball banned him from the game for life in 1989. Two years later, the Hall of Fame passed a new rule that no player on the MLB lifetime ineligible list could appear on a ballot. The rule was specifically written to punish Rose.
The problem that many fans have is the sanctimony with which the two organizations treat Rose, yet willfully dismiss much more egregious cheating charges against PED cheats and an entire MLB team – the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.
Rose admitted that he wagered on baseball, including the team that he managed, the Cincinnati Reds. When the ban was handed down, Rose accepted his fate. But Rose has petitioned for re-instatement several times, including his most recent effort after information became public that electronic sign stealing helped the Astros win the World Series three years ago.
Rose’s lawyer argues that baseball is hypocritical to have what amounts to two sets of rules regarding cheating – one cast-iron regulation that applies exclusively to Rose while looking the other way at the Astros, and according to indisputable evidence, PED abusers like Clemens, Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Manny Ramirez, who are or have been on HOF ballots.
I’m not a lawyer, but I can read and understand English. Under the Federal Anabolic Steroid Control Acts of 1990, the possession, distribution or use of steroids without a valid medical prescription is a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
Although unindicted, players suspended for using banned drugs appear to have committed federal felonies. By comparison, in Ohio where Rose placed most of his bets, off track gambling is most frequently classified as a misdemeanor. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but that’s how I interpret the Ohio statutes.
What the Rose case boils down to is that MLB and the HOF are willing to give the Astros and PED criminals a pass, but not one of baseball’s all-time greats. Then-Astros manager AJ Hinch received a one-year suspension, and he’s back piloting the Detroit Tigers. The Boston Red Sox rehired Alex Cora, then-Astros coach and identified by insiders as the mastermind of the Astros’ cheating scandal. Manfred didn’t strip the Astros of their World Series title. The National League’s 2011 Most Valuable Player, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, admitted that he used PEDs, but he still has his award. In 2015, the Miami Marlins Dee-Strange Gordon, a PED user, won the NL batting title; he’s still in the record books.
In November 2018, Manfred added another farcical layer to the Rose affair when MLB announced that MGM Resorts had been designated as its “official gaming partner.” Said Manfred: “There’s been a huge change in public opinion on sports gambling.” Manfred approves of the Washington Nationals permitting a BetMGM sportsbook at Nationals Park this season, but his “huge” tent, isn’t big enough to include Rose.
Meanwhile Rose, approaching 80, remains on the outside looking in. In addition to his 4,256 hits record, Rose is the only player in MLB history to play more than 500 games at five different positions. Rose also played in a record 3,562 games, and between 1965 and 1985 he was named to the NL All-Star team 17 times.
Rose reasonably asks that his name be placed on the writers’ annual ballot or the Veterans Committee, which will convene again during winter 2023. If writers reject him, Rose said, he can live with that outcome.
MLB and the HOF are petty and vindictive. Giving Rose a shot at what he deserves would give the two spiteful and bitter institutions a chance to demonstrate dignity and forgiveness.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at email@example.com