A Hall of Fame Pitch for Rose
I bring this up not to brag--it’s no big deal--but I’m in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.
To be sure, I’m in the writers’ wing, not the players’.
But, the point is, I’m in it.
And Pete Rose is not.
Think about that for a minute. I mean, I have a lot of difficulty juxtaposing those two ideas.
I mean, I never slid home with the winning run in an All-Star game, I never played in seven league championship series and six World Series.
But why pick on me? There are lots of guys in the Baseball Hall of Fame who never did any of those things. There are guys in the Hall of Fame who hit .258 in their careers. Rabbit Maranville. There are guys in there who never got 2,000 hits. Lots of them.
Pete Rose got 4,256 hits--in 3,562 games. Pete Rose had more hits than anyone who ever played baseball. He’s one of only two guys in history who had more than 4,000 hits. Ty Cobb, no less, is the other.
Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame. On the very first ballot they had.
Pete Rose had more than a hit a game. He holds the National League record for consecutive games hit in: 44. He had more than 200 hits in a season 10 times. He is second all-time in doubles. Tris Speaker is first. But Rose is ahead of Stan Musial (third), Cobb (fourth) and Napoleon Lajoie. They’re all in the Hall of Fame.
Rose didn’t have a career, he had a parade. He’s fourth in runs scored. He almost never struck out--26 times one year, 27 another, that kind of thing. Mickey Mantle struck out that many times in a week.
So why is Rose out in the cold, barred from Cooperstown, a Valhalla he richly deserves admittance to? He’s almost a one-man Hall of Fame. You name it, he did it. He played wherever they wanted him to. He hit all kinds of pitching with equal degrees of skill and enthusiasm. He played the game with such boyish skill and zest they nicknamed him “Charlie Hustle.” You think anyone is ever going to nickname Albert Belle “Charlie Hustle”?
Maybe the public demands Rose be banned from the game he loves? Well, I watched with amazement the other weekend at the City of Hope Victor Awards at the Las Vegas Hilton when a blase audience full of skilled athletes, surgeons, financiers, lawyers, scientists and show biz types stood and applauded for five minutes when Rose was introduced. Earlier, a comedienne drew thunderous applause when she remarked that the next time she stood there she hoped to see Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.
Why isn’t he? It’s like the Pope being locked out of the Vatican.
So why is Rose a pariah? Well, it’s hard to fathom. The rap against him was largely compiled by the late commissioner Bart Giamatti. So far as I know, it was never properly adjudicated. You know, with DNA, eyewitnesses, whereases, cross-examination, all the legal jargon. The only really damning point is that Rose never fought the banishment with any vigor. Uncharacteristically, for once in his life he just kind of stood there with his bat on his shoulder.
He acted against the best interests of baseball, the commissioner ruled. But it was a little like Nathan Detroit rolling the dice in his hat and calling out the results. Giamatti was judge, jury and executioner.
Rose did go to jail. He was sentenced for income tax evasion, which is the other great American pastime. But so did Darryl Strawberry. Rose was sentenced to prison in Marion County, Ohio. Strawberry was sentenced to Palm Springs. His own home.
Rose was adjudged to have besmirched the game of baseball. Giamatti decreed that he was not to be employed, indeed declared unemployable, by any team or broadcast organization associated with baseball. He could not even participate in any old-timers game. He could not set foot in any clubhouse, dugout or front office. He could not even attend a baseball dinner. He was a non-person to baseball. If it could be enforced, he would even have been barred from even attending a game.
His sin was, he dishonored the game. But Darryl Strawberry and Steve Howe were banned from the game for cocaine abuse, which hardly honored the grand old game. Howe was reinstated seven times. Strawberry is currently a member of the pennant-bound New York Yankees. He can step in every clubhouse in the game. So can Dwight Gooden, who also was reinstated by that great rehab center in the Bronx, otherwise known as Yankee Stadium.
Rose bet. That’s an addiction. But so is cocaine.
Did he bet on the game? Probably. Rose bet on the color of the next car coming down the street. Rose was an addict. But odds were his addiction, not street drugs. Rose doesn’t even drink.
But betting on games is hardly fixing games. The only other players banned for life from the game are the 1919 Black Sox. They were crooks, not addicts.
I caught up with Rose after the Victor Awards. Was he bitter? Did he feel he had been mistreated, singled out where others were forgiven? Rose wasn’t having any. “Nah, I’m not bitter,” he said. “Listen! I made some mistakes. I know it. I got in with a bad crowd. You tend to do that when you gamble. Not many saints in that game. I was friends with Bart Giamatti. I saw his side. I was dumb. I should have known better. No one should think he’s untouchable.”
Not even when you get more hits than anyone who ever played the game. Does he plan to sue for reinstatement? “To whom?” Rose asks. “I got to wait till there’s a commissioner in place. In the meantime, I got my radio show. It’s nationwide. I got my restaurant in Boca Raton and I’m opening one in Las Vegas soon. I’d love to be in the Hall of Fame, but I’m not blaming anybody because I’m not.”
Maybe so. But I wish he’d come join me there. I feel very uncomfortable being in a Baseball Hall of Fame where Pete Rose is not. So should Rabbit Maranville. Shucks! Rose can have our place.
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