It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Saints: The case for Pete Rose

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By Bill Juneau, April 30, 2023

It was just about 35 years ago that the baseball world got ripped with the news that Pete Rose who was then a player-manager for the Cincinnati Reds, had been betting on major league baseball games in violation of an unbendable written rule.

Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti called him onto the carpet. He drilled the the cocky Rose about his betting with bookies on MLB games, even on games when the “Big Red Machine” (as the Reds were called by sportswriters) was playing. “Betting by me,” said Rose, “never happened. All lies by competitors out to get me and bring the team down.”

But the evidence against the rough-talking baseball icon who had become an American hero, was overwhelming and irrefutable. Regularly in the spotlight and often quoted by sportswriters, Rose had become the game’s hit king. But Rose’s celebrity and sensational diamond achievements were not changing the hard-nosed Giamatti’s determination to make the lying Rose pay for his malicious disregard for the nobility and rules of the game.

Along with being the MLB all-time hits leader, Pete Rose was an integral part of the famed “Big Red Machine,” the Reds teams that from 1970 to 1976 won five division titles, four NL pennants, and World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. / Getty Images

Betting and breaking the game rules did not merit legal prosecution since no criminal laws were broken. But Commissioner Giamatti brought the hammer down in a way which was reminiscent of the punishment spooned out to the notorious “Black Sox” players who took a fall in the 1919 World Series.

Giamatti ordered that Rose be banned from baseball for the rest of his life. He had him “branded” like a piece of cattle as “permanently ineligible” for induction into the prestigious Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York. Giamatti died in 1989 and his successors, Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and then Rob Manfred, refused formal and informal requests from Rose to back off or reduce the Giamatti sanction which provided that Rose would never be a member of the sacred Hall.

Rose persisted in talks and in interviews in denying that he had ever bet on baseball games. However, in 2004, he authored an autobiography, and “came clean” acknowledging that he had bet on games due to his gambling addiction–and always bet on the Reds to win. He said that he regretted his misconduct and his lying, and hoped that some day he could be forgiven for his wrongdoings, indiscretions, foibles and mistakes, and be given a second chance.

In 2015 and then again in November of 2022, Rose beseeched Commissioner Manfred in letters to show mercy and to forgive him for his rule breaking as his conduct was wrong, but not such as deserving of the horrendous punishment given him. Rose importuned the new commissioner, elected in 2015, to forgive his betting on games, and give him a second chance — and permit him to be a candidate for induction into the Hall of Fame.

In 2015, Manfred issued a quick no to Rose’s request for some mercy and understanding, noting that Rose lacks a “mature understanding of his wrongful conduct…. and has not yet accepted full responsibility for it.”

NO doubt but that Rose was wrong in breaking baseball rules and for his mendacity which made matters worse. But then what about his accomplishments as a ballplayer? Should not performance be the standard for admission to the Hall of Fame? After all, some players enshrined, like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and a bunch of others, are not worthy of canonization. It is the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Saints.

So how about Rose on the ballfield? He batted from both sides of the plate, ran like a deer, played five different positions and finished his career with more hits (4,256) and more games played (3,215) than any other player in the history of the Grand Old Game. Until Rose, Ty Cobb had been the all time Hit King.

So how about Rose on the ballfield? He batted from both sides of the plate, ran like a deer, played five different positions and finished his career with more hits (4,256) and more games played (3,215) than any other player in the history of the Grand Old Game. Until Rose, Ty Cobb had been the all time Hit King.

He won three batting titles, an MVP award, and was Rookie of the Year in his first year in the majors. Affectionately called “Charlie Hustle” by sports writers, he was named to 17 all-star teams and is the recipient of a number of gold glove awards. He had a 303 lifetime batting average.

He became an illustrious national figure with millions of fans of all ages. In Cincinnati during Rose’s 24 years, he led the “Big Red Machine” to four national league pennants and victories in three world series. He has been enshrined in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and in the mind and hearts of baseball fans the world over who have forgiven him and believe that he should be a member of the Hall of Fame

The Ohio state legislature has passed a bill calling for his induction into the Cooperstown Hall.

In his letter to Manfred in November of last year, Rose poured his heart out importuning Manfred for mercy, forgiveness and a chance at his being inducted into the Hall of Fame. In response to reporters, Manfred said that he himself believed that the ban was for life — period. Nevertheless, he seemed to leave the door open a crack for a possible change.

The question of “eligibility,” said Manfred, when questioned a few weeks ago by Cincinnati newsmen, belongs in a “conversation” among members on the board of the Hall of Fame. Manfred, noting that he has a seat on that board, said “its just not appropriate for me to get in front of those talks.” The positions of MLB leaders and of the board of the Hall of Fame are not necessarily the same, he said.

So the door for Rose is again closed — at least for now. But there is always a possibility that the board of the Hall of Fame may withdraw its sword. Rose’s extraordinary record on the baseball diamond cannot be denied. America has always been a kind and generous nation, and maybe its long arm of forgiveness will extend to the 82-year-old Pete Rose.

Bill Juneau worked for 25 years as a reporter and night city editor at the Chicago Tribune. Subsequently he became a partner in a law firm and also served as a village prosecutor and as a consultant to the Cook County Circuit Court and to the Cook County Medical Examiner. He is currently writing columns and the ‘Florida Bill‘ blog.