Double standard: MLB lets cheating Astros keep 2017 World Series title, but won’t forgive Pete Rose his sins

Watered-down sanctions against Houston should open the door to Rose’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

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Pete Rose Speaks To Media After Lifetime Ban Upheld

If Major League Baseball isn’t going to take away the 2017 World Series title from the Astros, who cheated that season, perhaps Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I never thought I’d write the following sentence, but then Monday happened:

Maybe Pete Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For the longest time, I had zero tolerance for the lying, gambling, hair-dyeing Rose. Major League Baseball had given him a lifetime ban for wagering on big-league games as a player and as a manager, making him ineligible for Cooperstown induction. With a laptop in one hand and a Hall ballot in the other, I railed against him. He had damaged the game, and there was no place for him wherever honors were being handed out.

But then Monday happened. Major League Baseball punished the Astros for their enthusiastic cheating on the way to the 2017 World Series title. It suspended manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season for their part in a sign-stealing scandal, fined the franchise $5 million and took away its next two first- and second-round draft picks. Soon after the announcement, the Astros fired both men.

That might seem like a harsh punishment, but it doesn’t address the result of all that cheating: the World Series title. Winning one is the ultimate team accomplishment in baseball. There’s no way to dilute the fact that Houston conned its way to a championship. An MLB investigation showed that the Astros used the sign-stealing system during the 2017 regular season and into the postseason.

The scheme, which involved a center-field camera connected to a dugout monitor, allowed the Astros to see the signs opposing catchers were giving to pitchers. Then-Houston bench coach Alex Cora developed the system, which involved using a bat and a trash can to alert Astros hitters when a breaking ball was coming. MLB is expected to give Cora, now Boston’s manager, similar treatment for a 2018 sign-stealing scandal with the Red Sox. They won the World Series that season.

The best response would have been to strip the Astros of their championship and give it to the Dodgers, who lost the World Series in seven games. But that would have been MLB taking a bat to the integrity of the sport and thus to its moneymaking capability. It wasn’t going to happen. That’s how we arrived at commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement Monday about the scandal:

“While it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game.”

There’s no “perception’’ of what the cheating might have produced, commissioner. There’s only cheating.

All of this paves the way, at least intellectually, for the recognition of Rose in the Hall of Fame. He and the Astros both committed cardinal sins in the eyes of baseball, but only one of them is a complete pariah.

The Hall will be forced to acknowledge in some way that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title, and possibly Boston’s 2018 title, was tainted by cheating. But a lifetime ban means Rose can’t get inducted into the Hall. The scales of justice seem to have some balance issues.

Here’s another sentence I never thought I’d write:

Maybe there should be a special wing in the Hall for steroids users.

Steroids poisoned baseball in the 1990s and beyond, and that’s reflected in the absence of Barry Bonds, the career home-run leader, and Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, in the Hall.

I’ve been one of the many who have used their votes to keep the steroid cheats out of Cooperstown. The integrity of the game was more important than they were, we argued. Others suggested that, because performance-enhancing drugs were rampant in the sport when Bonds was amassing his numbers, the Hall of Fame should acknowledge the Steroid Era by allowing in the best of the juicers, perhaps with asterisks by their names.

My counterargument was a question: So because everybody was cheating, it was OK?

Monday’s punishments opened my eyes to the reality that because there are so many varying degrees of cheating, so many varying degrees of punishments, it’s ridiculous to single out Rose and the steroid users. MLB and the Hall of Fame are separate entities. MLB has kept out Rose, and Hall voters such as me have kept out Bonds, et al. Yet in the public’s eye, MLB and the Hall are intertwined like yarn. Perception is like that.

The Astros are going to keep their title, no matter how tainted it might be. The Hall of Fame exhibit honoring their 2017 World Series championship is part of a permanent installment there. I’m sure some mention of the cheating scandal will be added. All that will do is beg the question why Rose and the steroid cheaters can’t be part of the Hall, too. Why can’t they have Hall busts that include their accomplishments and their transgressions?

I never expected to have my baseball worldview challenged so dramatically. But then Monday happened.

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