August 04, 2002
Pete Rose

Frank Deford, who used to be a good writer, makes the inevitable case for Pete Rose to be placed in baseball's Hall of Fame. In doing so, he makes the usual arguments about how the guy with the most career hits isn't in the Hall of Fame, then goes on to reach a really amazing conclusion:

Rose sets up shop every August right down from the Hallowed Hall and sells his autograph at handsome prices. I have watched as the line for Pete's John Hancock wound around, out into the parking lot, while, across the way, all sorts of great Hall of Famers sat pretty much alone, at tables, looking forlorn, like neighborhood kids trying to peddle lemonade to uninterested commuters. Now there is even a permanent Cooperstown store that pays tribute to the Official Pariah of Baseball, Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles, on Main Street. He is also the star of a whole Pony sporting-goods campaign: "Why isn't Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame?" Billboards. Ads. Rose even went on The Today Show to talk about it.

Doesn't baseball understand? The best thing that ever happened to Pete was to be denied a passport to Cooperstown. If ever he goes in, he goes away. Then he's just another George Kell, another Rod Carew, another Golden Oldie, another bump Down Memory Lane. Yesterday's newspaper.

So in other words, the best way to punish Pete Rose is to give him exactly what he wants. I sure hope Deford never writes a text about parenting.

Like everybody who argues that Pete Rose belongs in Cooperstown, Deford ignores the reason why Rose is persona non grata. He ignores it because if you really face it, you realize that you just can't explain or wish it away. So what he does is try to dismiss it as a nonissue:

Of course Pete Rose is guilty of betting on baseball. He's as guilty as, well, Paul Hornung, who bet on NFL games while playing in the NFL but is properly plaqued in Canton. He's as guilty as all sorts of putative baseball immortals who stoke up on steroids. But Rose was guilty only when he was a manager. Even if he bet on baseball, even if he disobeyed the infield fly rule or shot Cock Robin, there is not a scintilla of evidence that he did anything untoward when he was playing the game.

The facts of the case are pretty simple, and readily accessible even to Frank Deford. There's a nice FAQ of the case by Sean Lanham that spells it all out. The evidence strongly indicates that Pete Rose bet on baseball games, including Reds games while he was their manager. Rose has never offered a plausible alternate explanation for this evidence, though he denies the allegation. He never bet on the Reds to lose, but I daresay there's quite a few people who would call the fact that he was betting at all "untoward".

There's a damn good reason why baseball is so fanatical about gambling. You may have heard of it, it has to do with the 1919 World Series. Baseball's strictures about gambling are much more strict than the NFL's, which is why a gambler like Paul Hornung is in the NFL Hall of Fame and Pete Rose is not in MLB's. Baseball has One Big Rule: Thou Shalt Not Gamble. Pete Rose broke that rule. Why am I supposed to feel sorry for him?

In the end, Pete Rose signed an agreement in which he agreed to his punishment. Here it is in black and white from the agreement Rose signed:

Peter Edward Rose acknowledges that the Commissioner has a factual basis to impose the penalty provided herein, and hereby accepts the penalty imposed on him by the Commissioner and agrees not to challenge that penalty in court or otherwise. He also agrees he will not institute any legal proceedings of any nature against the Commissioner of any of his representatives, either Major League or any Major League Club.

Pete Rose not only agreed to his punishment, he agreed that then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti was right to impose it. He agreed not to sue to have this punishment overturned by a court.

Which is why he's been the gadfly pain-in-the-ass to baseball ever since. The only avenue he has is to convince dupes like Frank Deford that he got screwed. Maybe if the Frank Defords of the world knew and understood the facts of the case, they wouldn't abet Rose in his quest.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 04, 2002 to Baseball

I think the basic problem is that too many people see the hall of Fame as a reward strictly for on field achievements. In that light, Rose clearly belongs.

However, count me among those that believes the Hall of Fame must represent the best a sport has to offer both on and off the field. The Hall of Fame should be a listing of people that baseball is proud to represent it. How can baseball be proud to have a man who bet on the game represent it?

And while we are at it, let's take out Ty Cobb...

Posted by: kevin on August 4, 2002 6:05 PM

For better or worse, baseball has no rule against being a racist jerk. If there were, Ty Cobb and Cap Anson would be the first ones out of the Hall of Fame.

Many people invoke the Cobb-was-a-racist-jerkwad argument in support of Pete Rose's enshrinement: Hey, Rose may have been a degenerate gambler, but at least he wasn't as bad a person as Ty Cobb. True, but irrelevant. Cobb didn't break baseball's One Big Rule. Rose did.

I'd have more patience for Frank Deford's argument if he tried to make the case that baseball's One Big Rule is overkill and should be modified. I may or may not buy such an argument, but at least it would directly address the reason why Pete Rose isn't in Cooperstown. Until then, it's just hot air.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 4, 2002 8:31 PM

I agree with you; DeFord's off his nut (we obviously both subscribe to SI). There's a sign in every clubhouse where the "don't gamble" rules are posted; Rose had been seeing those signs for 25 years, and he didn't get it?

Oh, anyone who has gone to the trouble of setting up a category for Baseball is alright in my book, and the design of the blog ain't bad either...grins.

Posted by: Linkmeister on August 5, 2002 8:07 PM

Thanks, Linkmeister. I like your site design, too. :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 5, 2002 8:43 PM

I don't believe Pete Rose was a gambling addict when baseball drafted him as a kid.gambeling is a dreg on the human race now,with the advent of lotterys, off track betting,like they tell the army,you created him,you clean him needs to be more responcible,not hide behind,rules from the 20's,I do not condone Rose's behavior,but baseball said this guy was unredeemable,threw him out,what's that say to a family who's struggling with a gambeling addict that they love and care about,throw him out?hell yes they lie,cheat,some even steal from family members,I know my dad was one,we didn't give up,even when he insisted he didn't have a problem and refused help.we persisted got threw to him,he turned out to be a wonderfull father

Posted by: Tom Gaines on January 9, 2004 1:41 PM