It’s hard to fathom spending 25 years chasing something that wants nothing to do with you. It’s hard to imagine being the architect of your own prison cell.
That’s Pete Rose’s life. Year after year, he tries to find a door that will open for him at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He petitions this person and writes to that one. He’ll talk to anyone who will listen to him, and he’ll sign his autograph on anything, for a price. It’s either the saddest sight in the world or the greatest marketing scam of all time.
A new baseball commissioner has taken over, and Rose is on him like pine tar. Rob Manfred, Bud Selig’s replacement, said Monday that baseball’s all-time hits leader has asked that his lifetime ban from the game be lifted. Rose wants Manfred to understand what his predecessors couldn’t, that his unfortunate decision to bet on baseball games as a manager should not preclude him from being eligible for the Hall as a player.
Rose was a great player. No one disputes that. The 4,256 hits, the headfirst slides, the lack of concern for his or anybody else’s safety … he was a show you didn’t want to miss. That he gambled on games as the manager of the Reds does not take away from what a terrific performer he was, but human nature being what it is, it’s very hard not to wonder whether he gambled on major-league games as a player.
None of his accomplishments as a player removes the stain of what he did as a manager. He does not deserve to be honored, and what is the Hall of Fame if not an honor society?
It’s impossible to separate Pete Rose the player from Pete Rose the manager. Why did the Reds make him their manager in 1984? Because of his illustrious playing career in Cincinnati.
We’re a nation of forgivers, especially when it comes to our sports stars. I’ve seen steroid cheats and convicted criminals get heroes’ welcomes from their home crowds. If Rose walked into any ballpark in America, he would be cheered. The bigger the star, the bigger the forgiveness. No, it’s not pretty.
Major League Baseball considers betting on the game its gravest sin. Gambling stirs up all sorts of ghosts from early in the 20th Century, when players threw games to make some money on the side. The 1919 Black Sox scandal still hangs over baseball. Every major-league clubhouse has a large sign on the wall warning against gambling on the game. It’s non-negotiable.
Rose has been trying to negotiate his way into the Hall of Fame since his banishment in 1989. For the longest time, he denied gambling on games. Then he admitted to it, including betting on his own team’s games. He waited 14 years to tell the truth, conveniently tied to the release of his new book. Why are we supposed to believe him on anything? And why are we to believe he didn’t make in-game decisions based on how he had gambled that day? The results of an MLB investigation alleged that Rose spent a minimum of $10,000 a day when he bet on 52 Reds games in 1987.
Manfred needs to stand firm in the face of what figures to be strong public sentiment to finally allow Rose to be eligible for admission to Cooperstown.
“I’m prepared to deal with that request on its merits,” Manfred said.
The merits seem straightforward. Rose bet on his team’s games, lied for years about it and then, when he thought it might help him get into the Hall, told the truth and threw himself at the mercy of the court. What in that timeline screams for reinstatement?
It takes a massive ego to continue doing what Rose does year after year. You have to make yourself believe that your accomplishments are so much bigger than your transgressions. It’s a torturous bit of mental gymnastics: What I did right remains as big as ever, while my wrongdoings shrink in size and meaning.
Rose has spent the past 25 years pursuing the Hall of Fame and thus, when he’s not being a huckster for all things Pete, disturbing his peace and making himself miserable. But his perseverance and his sadness are not reasons to admit him entrance. Nor is the public’s willingness to forgive. He chooses to live in that prison cell of unmet goals. His regret seems to have more to do with what it has cost him rather than what he did to the game.
There is nothing in the forgiveness handbook that says compassion should come with a plaque. Forgiveness can be reward enough. Paying for your crime is one thing. Getting the keys to the city is another.
As I alluded to earlier, perhaps Rose’s pursuit of the Hall is one big game meant to keep him in the public eye and earn him lots of money from endorsements and autographs. Maybe he’s the smartest guy in whatever room he’s in. As long as the room isn’t in the Hall of Fame, I’m fine with it.