Wherever I go lately, the first subject anybody mentions is Pete Rose. Specifically, they want to know . . . will I vote for him to be admitted to the Hall of Fame, and do I think he will appear on the required 75 percent of the ballots necessary for induction.
I always preface the answer by saying that I never make predictions in matters such as this. Rose won’t appear on the Hall of Fame ballot until 1992. By then the whole situation might be changed. He will have served his five months in prison for filing false tax returns, along with his three months in a halfway house, and will have paid his $50,000 fine and completed his 1,000 hours of community service. Maybe his lifetime ban from baseball even will have been lifted, although I doubt it.
Anyway, when I get the ballot with Rose’s name on it, I will handle it the same as I have every other in the 26 years I’ve been voting. I will carefully weigh all the facts, then vote with no prejudice whatsoever. Having said that, however, let me add that if the vote were to be taken today, Rose wouldn’t get mine.
Why? A number of reasons. In the first place, to me, more than anything else, the Hall of Fame is baseball. It is the honor every player strives for, the ultimate award the sport has to offer. If a player is barred from baseball, how can he possibly be admitted to the Hall of Fame, no matter how impressive his statistics?
In the second place, if you take your voting instructions seriously -- which I do -- you would have difficulty rationalizing a vote for the Pete Rose of this moment. The voting instructions very pointedly say you should give serious consideration to “a player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character.”
Sorry, but at this point, Rose just doesn’t measure up to that clause, at least as far as this voter is concerned. Again, how can a player be considered a credit to the game, if he is barred from it?
Yeah, I know a lot of people like to point out that the Hall of Fame has any number of inhabitants who were not what you would call role models. Babe Ruth was no saint, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker once were accused of betting on games, although they were later cleared, etc., etc. But no member of the Hall of Fame ever was a convicted felon, nor was one ever barred from the game.
I mentioned above that I doubt if Rose ever will be reinstated in baseball -- at least not in the near future. It would be something of an upset if he is. Fifteen players have been barred from baseball at one time or another, and none was reinstated. Certainly, Rose will not be reinstated this year, when his one-year wait for eligibility to apply is up, because he still will be in prison.
It is true that Rose never admitted to betting on baseball and wasn’t convicted of it. But then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti, a man who completely respected every facet of the game of baseball, was quoted as saying, “Yes, I have concluded he bet on baseball games, including those of the Reds,” the team Rose managed.
If Rose didn’t bet on baseball and could prove it, why did he agree to accept the maximum penalty Giamatti could give him, a lifetime ban from the game? From the start, Rose admitted no wrong until backed so far into a corner that there was no recourse but to admit guilt. There had to have been some plea bargaining involved in the wording of the ban and in the conclusion that Rose would be permitted to apply for reinstatement after one year.
Fay Vincent, Giamatti’s successor, impresses me as being much the same as Giamatti in regard to his love and respect for the game and its integrity. As Giamatti’s aide at the time, he was involved closely with the Rose investigation, and if Giamatti was convinced Rose bet on games involving the Reds, you can be sure Vincent is, too. That’s another reson I don’t like Rose’s chances of reinstatement.
No question about it, this is a sad situation. On his record, Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. I loved watching the guy play, the way he made the absolute most out of every ounce of his ability. He couldn’t run well, couldn’t throw, didn’t hit with much power, yet he made himself a great player. Former Reds Manager Sparky Anderson calls him the best competitor he ever managed, and there is no reason to doubt it.
I also admired the way he handled the pressure of closing in on Ty Cobb’s total-hit record. Whereas that type of pressure-cooker environment has all but consumed some athletes, Rose thrived on it, loved it. But somewhere in there you got the feeling he believed he was bigger than the game and could do what he wanted, because he was Pete Rose, future Hall of Famer.
That’s a mistake many athletes make, and often it is an attitude that eventually catches up with them. It caught up with Rose, but he has nobody to blame but himself. To paraphrase the old “Pogo” line, he met the enemy, and it was Pete Rose.
Maybe he will make it to the Hall of Fame someday. Few have had better statistical credentials. But, unless he is reinstated by baseball, or unless they change the instructions under which they ask us to vote, he won’t appear on my ballot. And there are enough voters who take the integrity clause as seriously as I do to make me doubt if he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame any time soon.