Friday, August 14, 2009

Does Pete Rose Belong in Baseball's Hall of Fame?

In recent weeks, the names of former Boston Red Sox teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz joined New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez as players linked to performance enhancing drugs. As names continue to leak from baseball's equivalent to Billboard's Top 100, the once anonymous list is slowly becoming public and the repercussions for some of baseball’s biggest stars may become apparent when their playing careers end and they await the call for baseball’s hallowed hall in Cooperstown New York.

The substances taken by the players on the list were legal in baseball at the time of the tests and questions continue to swirl regarding the eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Baseball writers have the final say on voting for the hall and players like Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire have witnessed their chances at induction ebb and flow as more star players come forward with admissions of drug use, whether it is supplements, steroids or human growth hormones.

As fans and media discuss the issue of eligibility, the conversation invariably turns to baseball’s all-time hits leader and admitted gambler, Pete Rose. Is it time for Charlie Hustle to have his lifetime ban lifted in light of the decade long steroid problem in baseball? One Hall of Fame member and respected baseball veteran Hank Aaron, thinks the time has come, others are not so certain.

For those not acquainted with Rose, he enjoyed a stellar playing career with Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Montreal from 1963 to 1986. Setting the all-time mark for career hits with 4,256, a remarkable 17 all-star appearances at 5 different positions and winning three World Series rings; two with the Reds and one in Philadelphia with the Phillies.

After retiring, while managing his hometown Cincinnati Reds, reports began to surface he placed bets on baseball games, including 52 games that involved the Reds. While there was no proof he bet against the Reds, possibly fixing the outcomes by his managerial moves, Rose was banned for life from baseball by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. A move he voluntarily accepted to avoid a final finding on the gambling allegations. In August 1989, one of baseball’s greatest players could no longer take part in any official on-field activities (reunions and celebrations, etc) and deemed ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

In a recent interview with ESPN, available at, Aaron expressed sadness that one of the greatest players of all-time is not in the Hall of Fame with him.

“The thing that saddens me, because of what kind of ball player he was... he needs to be part of this Hall of Fame. He needs to be right here with all of the rest of these guys, his records speak for themselves.”

Asked if the ban on Rose should be reconsidered in light of the steroid allegations facing today’s players, Aaron demonstrated the wisdom and understanding that makes him one of the greatest of all-time.

“If anybody comes clean and anybody says, I did it, I’m sorry, I ask for your forgiveness, then we need to look at it, whatever they did.”

Pete Rose did apologize for his actions; unfortunately, the apology came in the form of a book he wrote and the optics of apologizing for his actions while making a profit on it does not sit well with many baseball fans and Hall of Fame members. If Rose returns to baseball, his eligibility for the Hall of Fame ballot has expired and the decision to induct him with the greatest players would come from a vote among the living Hall of Fame members.

While Pete Rose, the famous Charlie Hustle, awaits news from the Commissioner’s Office that they are considering his reinstatement, in this writer’s opinion, the fact that he bet on games he was managing is an insurmountable obstacle to reinstatement. An apology is not enough when taking into account the integrity of the game. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy is currently serving a jail sentence for fixing games and while I do not believe Rose should have served jail time for his actions, I must repeat that one simple fact - he bet on games his team was involved in; case closed.

Many of the players in the steroid era were using supplements not banned at the time and while their records deserve an asterisk, the blame in this situation lies more with the Commissioner’s Office and the blind eye they turned to the growing drug problem. While they enjoyed the improved attendance and television ratings after the 1994 lockout forced the cancellation of the World Series, they placed the integrity of the game and the health of their players at risk.

Pete Rose was one of the greatest but his punishment should remain in place, perhaps serving as an example to other coaches and players at all levels of every sport, that betting on your own team is never a winning proposition. Have a great sports day everyone.

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