Here’s one vote in support of Pete Rose for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hopefully, there will be others in sufficient numbers to bring him the distinction he has earned. The election is for baseball players, not paragons of virtue or nominations for canonization.
He should not be summarily disqualified unless it’s proven he sold out the game, got involved in a fix or bet on, or against, his home team. Rose, unfortunately, is a one-dimensional individual. He was adept at playing baseball--period. Not much else attracted his attention, unless it was a good looking filly, on or off the race track.
The Hall of Fame is to recognize outstanding ability, not to reward points for a good conduct medal. Rose, first a player and then manager of his hometown Cincinnati Reds, never dogged it on the field. He played in more winning games (1,972) and got the highest number of career hits (4,256) than any man in the history of a grand old sport that originated in 1839.
They are imposing, even gigantic, totals that cannot be discredited. He surpassed the hit figure of the legendary Ty Cobb, who, coincidentally, also was once in an alleged betting scrape that was never satisfactorily explained. The irony is that the charge against Cobb was made seven years after the reported incident, also involving Tris Speaker, was said to have occurred.
In a strange twist of circumstance, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis shortly thereafter put into writing a set of anti-gambling laws baseball still observes. They were: “Ineligibility for one year for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor had no duty to perform; permanent ineligibility for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor has any duty to perform.”
Cobb and Speaker were cleared of wrong-doing but a cloud remained. Now here’s Rose, the man who replaced Cobb in the all-time hit derby, coming in for scrutiny and possible disciplinary action 62 years after Landis created the regulation.
For Rose, unless he’s a total rock-head, there has to be a degree of humiliation over what has happened. But again, the case shouldn’t detract from what he was able to do as a player in amassing such imposing records.
The city of Cincinnati, which is a cradle of baseball since the Redlegs were the first professional team ever organized, has been stunned by the accusations and the inquiry. Peter Edward Rose has been a favorite son because he was a standout playing the game that is as much a part of Cincinnati as its German heritage or the Ohio River. It was a community that thought so much of Rose it formally christened the street alongside Riverfront Stadium with a prideful name--Pete Rose Way.
Rose has always been an approachable athlete, willing to spend time on interviews and answer almost any question. His eligibility for the Hall of Fame voting will come up in 1991 and he should be a unanimous selection. The sports writers will be measuring his performance on the field--not the reported involvement with gamblers that could stain his name.
To his everlasting credit, he never downgraded Cobb, the ghost of the man he chased, caught and surpassed in the hit column. “I will never say I was a better baseball player than Cobb,” Rose commented four years ago. “All I’ll say is I got more hits than he did.”
As with Cobb, he was driven, committed and nothing--not even personal or family problems--interfered with his play on the field. Once the first pitch was made, he blocked out other troubles and threw himself into the game with such intensity he was akin to a man possessed. The pressures of pursuing Cobb and the constant demands on his time would have confused, drained and even overwhelmed other players but not Rose, who was too strong of purpose to be even remotely concerned.
His father, who worked in a bank, wanted so much for his son to be a baseball player that even when Pete failed his second year in high school and could have made up the deficiencies by going to summer school, he refused to let him do it. That would have interfered with Pete’s playing baseball on the sandlots of Cincinnati, so he merely told the youngster to repeat the entire academic schedule when classes started up again the following September.
Now, after 24 seasons as a player in the National League and five campaigns as a manager, he confronts another crisis. But Pete Rose, even if guilt is assessed, will somehow prevail. Look for him in the Hall of Fame. His playing credentials cannot be denied or denigrated . . . nor should they be.