There is certainly no denying the greatness that was Pete Rose: Baseball Player.
Holder of multiple Major League Baseball records, including most career hits (4,256) and most seasons with 200 or more hits (10), Rose was a pillar of consistency throughout his excellent 23 seasons as an active player. His 44-game hitting streak in 1978 captivated baseball fans, and even those who cared not for Rose or his Cincinnati Reds couldn’t help but root for him to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak. Rose was also well-known for his all-out, aggressive style of play and intensity, and whether it be his belly flop head-first slides, bowling over catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game or slugging it out with the Mets’ Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS, Rose could always be counted on to play with a chip on his shoulder and a true desire to win.
“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball,” Rose was once quoted saying.
Like most people, Pete Rose has a dark side. A multi-tiered and complicated dark side. He doesn’t stuff boogers in his pockets or pick his teeth with pencils like me, but he has his peculiar tendencies that are mostly tied to his competitive spirit and all-out desire to win at all costs. The thrill of victory has cost him relationships, sent him to prison and ultimately cast a shadow on the great game of baseball, as Rose accepted permanent banishment from the game in 1989 following MLB’s investigation into his gambling problems.
Pete Rose managed the Reds from 1984 to 1989. He was an active player from 1963 to 1986, his last few active seasons were as Player-Manager. Every major league and minor league clubhouse features a poster referencing the conduct rules of baseball, specifically Rule 21D which states the following: BETTING ON BALL GAMES, Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible. Pete Rose is without excuse. He knowingly broke the rules.
It was Rose’s contention for many years that he was a gambler, but that he had never bet on the game of baseball. Finally in 2004 – when it became clear that reinstatement in baseball as well as possible inclusion in its Hall of Fame hinged on him coming clean – Rose confessed to the world what we had already assumed, that he did in fact bet on baseball. He confessed that while as manager of the Reds he did place bets on Reds games, but that he always bet on them to win.
So after telling us for so many years that he never bet on the game of baseball, doing countless interviews proclaiming his innocence, spewing lie upon lie upon lie we are now supposed to believe him? Okay, sure. We believe you Pete, but it still would not make it right. Why?
Because he still broke the rules.
It does not matter that he “only bet on the Reds to win” while he was managing. It is that he had motives other than managing his team to the pennant in play here. Everything from the batting order to his pitching rotation and right down to in-game strategy for every Reds game that Rose managed has to be called into question, because he had money riding on the outcome. Sure, he says he managed and bet to win, but are we really going to take his word for it? Why not pull the pitcher here, lay down a sacrifice there or perhaps execute a hit-and-run? But are those moves intended to help win (or possibly lose) the game, or allow him to win a bet?
Hard to say.
No, I don’t believe him for a second. He’s a liar and he continues to lie so it is easy to deduce that if Pete Rose could make a bigger score with the Padres beating his Reds on a given night that he might manipulate things to make it just so.
But I could be wrong. I actually hope that I am.
When it comes to Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball, the most passionate arguments tend to wander over to Rose’s (lack of) eligibility for Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame is not necessarily the place where choirboys are enshrined and it has its fair share of shady characters, and while there are several Pete Rose artifacts housed in the HOF, the player responsible for the hits, records and memories is stuck on the outside looking in.
And that’s how it should be.
Look, I do not question Pete Rose’s qualifications. Had he not accepted a lifetime banishment from the game of baseball he surely would have been a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer, but because he is on the game’s ineligible list he is not on the ballot. And that tends to be the starting point of the argument.
There are those who argue that players from the Cheat Era of performance enhancing drugs have not only ruined the game of baseball, tarnished any integrity that was left and did things much, much worse than poor Pete Rose, yet they are still getting their day in court because they are included on the HOF ballot. Fine, you can have that side of the argument, but rules – like the one posted in every clubhouse saying that you cannot bet on games – are rules. Those bad guys who injected themselves with horse urine, steroids and slathered testosterone cream all over their bodies have not yet been banished from the game of baseball for life. Pete Rose readily, and confidently accepted his lifetime banishment from the game, and thus a lifetime banishment from inclusion in the Hall of Fame because he thought that he was bigger than the game.
His last big bet of accepting the banishment because he could apply for reinstatement a year later was a serious losing one.
Pete Rose got caught, then denied doing anything wrong and when faced with the facts that baseball had on him he cut a deal. The deal was a life sentence with the possibility of parole. I believe that possibility was directly tied to baseball sitting around waiting for Pete to come clean, tell the truth and show some contrition. Instead, he chose to tell more lies, point the finger of blame at everyone but the guy in the mirror – yesterday during a radio interview he blamed his lawyer for the lifetime banishment – and now he believes that because sufficient time has passed and the offenses of others appear to be worse, that his pardon and parole are seemingly imminent.
But that parole is not coming any time soon because Pete Rose is simply not capable of telling the truth or showing any humility.
And baseball deserves, no, requires truth and humility. It is that kind of game. Cheaters might get away with it for a while, but they are always caught and most certainly punished. And what is the purpose of a punishment if not to inflict some pain and suffering on the offender and also to serve as a warning for those who might consider doing the same thing? Pete Rose accepted his sentence and now he wants it commuted, but it’s just not going to happen.
Baseball is a grand, wonderful sport. It is a sport that brings about joy and sorrow and Peter Edward Rose was a player responsible for so much of that joy that it truly saddens me to carry around the opinion that I have about him. I love the highlights of him flying around the bases, sliding head-first into third and even spiking the baseball on the hard turf after out number three.
But he is never getting reinstated and he will never be in the Hall of Fame.
Because baseball is bigger than Pete Rose.