It is time for Major League Baseball to return Pete Rose to the good graces of the sport he always played with spirit, love and talent.
One of the greatest players in the sport’s history and one of the greatest salesmen for the sport has been under a life sentence of banishment since 1989. After a quarter of a century, it is time to commute the sentence to time served.
Yes, Charlie Hustle gambled on baseball and he lied about it. But he did not bet on his own team and there was never a shred of evidence to suggest that Rose ever displayed an iota of interest in throwing games or affecting the outcome of games except by giving his all to win.
A huge contrast to how Major League Baseball has handled the Rose case is how in 1963 the National Football League handled its own closest approximation to the ex-Cincinnati Reds’ status.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle summoned two of the league’s stars to his New York office and meted out punishment for betting on football games. Paul Hornung, a former MVP for the Green Bay Packers, and at that time the owner of the league’s single-season record for points scored, and defensive tackle Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, who was later more famed for his television and movie career, were exiled from their sport for a year.
Both were in the prime of their careers and all-star performers. Hornung, even years later, admitted that the punishment was fair. The late Karras always believed he was denied justice and had done nothing wrong. Hornung was later voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
To a degree, the names of Hornung and Karras were both tainted, but their careers were rejuvenated. Contrast that situation with Rose’s circumstances. Baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256, one of the most coveted of the sport’s records, was hauled off the Reds’ bench where he was managing in 1989, and has never again been permitted to wear a big-league uniform.
The winner of three batting titles with a lifetime .303 average, a National League MVP award winner, and the victor in three World Series, Rose also owns Major League records for games played, at-bats, and singles. A 17-time All-Star, Rose was a sure-thing Hall of Famer.
However, due to the banishment imposed by then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti, Rose, now 73, more resembles a kid gazing through a candy store window, deprived of the treats his playing efforts earned.
For the most part Rose supports himself by selling autographs. He makes regular appearances at a Las Vegas location, but also appears around the country peddling his signature on memorabilia. He is not allowed to attend Hall of Fame events, but he always times an autograph trip to Cooperstown during the ceremonies where often lines of fans extend outside the door of sports card shops to the street.
Recently, Rose appeared in a Bridgeport Bluefish uniform as manager-for-a-day in the independent Atlantic League (outside the purview of MLB). Fans loved it. He was all smiles. No damage was done to the Republic.
Criminals do less time in prison for murder than Rose is serving for gambling on baseball. If Rose is granted reinstatement by baseball that will make him eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot and the voters will have their say. No one can even hint that Rose’s on-field career was not worthy of induction.
If Rose is not granted reinstatement by sitting Commissioner Bud Selig before he retires in January, or Selig’s successor, he may never become a Hall of Famer. In reality, the lifetime ban for Rose – unless overturned – is a forever ban.
Shoeless Joe Jackson, almost certainly baseball’s other best player in history not in the Hall of Fame, was banned because of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. He died in 1951. Except for Ted Williams, in the waning years of his own life, no one has spoken up for Shoeless’ reinstatement in a long time.
The way things stand now Pete Rose will go to his grave as a unique, somewhat sad figure with a gigantic asterisk next to his name. So many years later it seems as if he has suffered sufficiently and paid for his crime against the sport. It is time for Rose to be welcomed back by the establishment.