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Pete “Rose,” and then Fell From Grace

Pete “Rose,” and then Fell From Grace
March 25
10:28 2015

BaseballBy John Christian Hopkins

For many in baseball the bloom is off the Rose.

But now that Pete Rose has officially asked to be allowed back into Major League Baseball’s good graces, let the debate begin.

Does baseball’s all-time hits leader (4,256) deserve a welcome back with open arms, or was his transgression – he bet on baseball games – so egregious that he must remained banned from the National Pastime for life?

After years of denying he bet on the sport, Rose finally admitted it and accepted the lifetime ban that was imposed on him. But part of that agreement was that he could apply for reinstatement.

Now, after being banned since 1989, he has made that first move – again.

After being banned by the late Bert Giamatti, Rose has sought reinstatement from commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig. Both denied him.

But will new Commissioner Rob Manfred lift the yoke from Rose’s stiff neck? Manfred only said that he expects to “have a conversation” with Rose.

John Dowd, the former special counsel who led the Rose investigation, is firmly against it.

“Pete committed the capital crime of baseball,” Dowd told the Cincinnati Enquirer recently.

Betting became baseball’s Achilles’ heel in 1920 when the news exploded that eight members of the Chicago White Sox had worked with gamblers to “throw” the 1919 World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds.

Prior to that, betting on baseball games was not uncommon, but this development – coupled with sinking attendance – threatened to destroy the very game itself.

Baseball officials acted quickly, hiring Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the game’s first commissioner.. Despite being exonerated in court, the eight Chicago players were banned from the game for life.

The line in the sand had been drawn. Bet on a baseball game and you were out.

The prohibition against wagering on games is posted in every clubhouse today. Everyone knows the rule.

And Rose broke it.

But there is a difference between Rose’s actions and the infamous Black Sox; Rose insists that he bet on his team to win.

As a manager, it would have been easy for Rose to bet against his team, after all, he could sit a star player, start a scrub pitcher or make any number of decisions to jeopardize his team’s chance to win.

But Pete Rose was never about losing. Anyone who remembers “Charley Hustle” running the bases with abandon knows that Peter Edward Rose only cared about winning.

That doesn’t sway Dowd. He argued that he issue isn’t just about Rose, but the very integrity of the game.

That’s a tougher sell when the game’s all-time home-run king is widely suspected of having used steroids to slug his way past Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.

Some the biggest stars of the past two decades – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens – have all been tainted by rumors or admission of using illicit drugs to aid their performances. But none of them are banned from the game.

But, Rose’s transgressions were not confined to betting, but included tax evasion and providing cash for cocaine, Dowd said. By the end, Rose owed $500,000 to “some pretty unsavory people” who were allowed in the clubhouse, he continued.

“To be honest,” Dowd told the Enquirer, “it doesn’t really matter whether he bet for or against the Reds, or as a player or just a manager.”

The Rose situation is a tragic story, Dowd said. But, hopefully, it will stand as an example for all of baseball, he added.

With the All-Star game in Cincinnati this year, the Reds have announced that Rose will be part of the ceremonies. Baseball made an earlier exception to Rose’s ban in 1999 when the All Century team – including Rose – was honored in Atlanta during the World Series.

But one place without exceptions is Cooperstown. As long as his name is on the ineligibility list, Rose cannot be inducted into the Hall of Fame. If his name is removed from the ineligible list, Rose’s case would have to be considered by the Hall’s Expansion Committee – which next meets in 2016.

Half of the 16 members on the committee are former Hall of Fame players, and the question of how they would react to enshrining Rose could be a sticking point.

Committee members tend to be reluctant to overlook potential problems, because it is easier to induct someone in the Hall than it is to kick someone out.

Not that it’s easy to get in. It would take 12 of the 16 Expansion Committee voters to approve Rose.

Shoeless-Joe-Jackson-Featured

Shoeless Joe Jackson with Cleveland

And, then if you forgive rose, the next logical question is: What about Shoeless Joe Jackson?

Jackson – his .356 lifetime batting average is third all-time – wasa no-doubt Hall of Famer when he was booted from the game. Though accused of “throwing” the series, Jackson led all players with hits and batting average, committed no errors and hit the only home run of the 1919 Series. Hardly the stats of a man trying to lose.

Then there is the argument that Jackson tried to warn team owner Charlie Commiskey about the fix, but the notoriously tight-fisted owner refused to see him.

Another player with Hall of Fame potential was White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte. When he signed his contract for 1919 Commiskey included a bonus – Cicotte would earn an extra $5,000 if he won 30 games that year.

With just over two weeks left in the season, Cicotte won his 29th game; and then the owner ordered his manager not to let Cicotte pitch again until the World Series!

Is it ironic then that when debating integrity, both Jackson and Cicotte are banned for life, while Commiskey is a Hall of Famer?

 

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