Twenty-five years ago, on August 24th 1989, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti issued the harshest punishment available to Pete Rose, banning the Cincinnati Reds great from baseball for life. Rose was sanctioned for betting on the game of baseball, including some Reds games that he was managing, although he never bet against his team.
As MLB’s all-time hits leader with 4,256, Rose would have been a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some experts speculate that he might have been the first unanimous selection to the Hall. Rose’s stats during his 24-year career with the Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and a brief stint with the Montreal Expos include a .303 batting average, .375 on-base percentage, .409 slugging percentage, 160 home runs, 1,314 RBI’s, 198 stolen bases, and 2,165 runs scored.
Rose was also a three time World Series Champion (twice with the Reds and once with the Phillies), a 17 time All-Star, three time batting title winner, author of a 44 game consecutive hitting streak during 1978 with the Reds (most since Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak in 1941), and winner of the 1973 National League MVP.
Rose was not universally loved. Known throughout the game as Charlie Hustle, a term that was not intended to be endearing, Rose’s brashness made him plenty of enemies. Rose would bowl over catchers and infielders, sliding with his spikes high into bases, earning the ire of opposing players. But he excelled.
It has been 25 years since Rose’s ban was handed down. Aside from rare exceptions he has not stepped foot on a major league field since August 24th of 1989. Since then far more serious offenses have shaken baseball, including the massive player use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.
Baseball has yet to issue a lifetime ban against any of the “stars” who have destroyed the integrity of America’s pastime. With current commissioner Bud Selig stepping down after this season, and the 2015 MLB All-Star Game taking place in Cincinnati, there is no better time to reevaluate Rose’s punishment and lift the ban and reinstate Charlie Hustle.
Twenty-five years ago, there was overwhelming support for Rose’s ban. A manager, like Rose, who was betting on his own games, may have made pitching or other decisions which might not have been in the best interest of the team. Even worse, the gambling manager may ultimately owe “favors” to cover betting debts.
In fact, it has been observed that insiders placed their own bets with an eye on Pete Rose’s gambling patterns, i.e. they did not bet on the Reds if Pete didn’t. With hindsight experts believe – after looking at the box scores of Reds games and Rose’s gambling tickets - Rose made no team moves to improve his gambling outcomes.
As time has passed, a forgiving American public seems to be pining for the redemption of Charlie Hustle and for Pete to get his second chance. Aside from the sense that Rose has “done his time”, there is also sentiment that far more egregious crimes have been committed against the history of baseball and the integrity of the sport, with rampant steroids and other performance enhancing drugs polluting the record books forever, and no accompanying lifetime bans issued to date. I think both of these factors have improved Rose’s chance to get back into the game.
"I've been led to believe America is a forgiving country, and if you do the right things—keep your nose clean, be a good citizen, pay your taxes, do all the things you're supposed to do—eventually you'll get a second chance."
Olberman, a baseball historian, has done a complete 180 with his opinion. Olberman admits he religiously believed Rose would be and should remain banned. But Olberman’s stance has changed. He believes that far worse crimes have been committed, that have yet to receive any serious sanctions.
When Rose’s sentence was handed down, he denied any gambling. But the Bart Giamatti appointed lawyer, John Dowd, who served as Special Counsel to the Commissioner, issued a report with damning information that Rose not only bet on baseball, but on Reds games specifically. After many years of denial, in his 2004 autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, Rose came clean, admitting he did indeed bet on baseball, including Reds games. But Rose stated in the book that whenever he did place money on Cincinnati, it was to win.
Others who have served their time
Rose’s ban is not the only one that should be reevaluated. Another sure-fire Hall of Famer, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s ban did last his lifetime (Jackson died in December of 1951) and many also have been pushing for his reinstatement.
Jackson, along with eight other players from the Chicago White Sox, agreed to throw the 1919 World Series in The Black Sox Scandal. Jackson’s 18-year career stats are a .356 batting average, .423 on-base percentage, .517 slugging percentage, 54 home runs (in a day where 10 could lead the entire league) 785 RBI’S, 202 stolen bases, and 873 runs scored. It is unclear whether Jackson did take the money or not, but he performed wonderfully in the World Series, hitting .375 with a .394 on-base percentage, .563 slugging percentage, a series record twelve hits, one home run and six RBI’s, leading all players in series. I think the league should take a look at Jackson’s case as well.
How is it possible today that Mark McGwire, an admitted steroid user, can get a job as a hitting coach for both the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers? How is it possible Alex Rodriguez can return to play third base for the New York Yankees next season after serving a season long suspension this year for connections to performance enhancing drugs, his second connection. In hindsight these are far more egregious than betting on baseball, since it affects the game more directly. If these players are not only allowed to not just play, but be coaches as well, it speaks to Major League Baseball’s total hypocrisy.
It’s time for baseball to finally end Rose’s prison sentence and let him back into the game.