It’s OK, Pete. All is forgiven.
Kind of. Sort of. Um, not really.
I am talking about Pete Rose, the man who had more base hits than anyone in major league baseball history but remains outside the Hall of Fame for the very simple reason that he is ineligible.
He has been formally ineligible since Feb. 4, 1991. On that date the powers that be at the Baseball Hall of Fame formally voted to “exclude individuals on the permanently ineligible list from being inducted into the Hall of Fame by way of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote.” There had been “a long-standing unwritten rule already barring permanently ineligible players from enshrinement.”
And just to make sure any such miscreants would not fall between the cracks, in 2008 the Veterans Committee officially barred players and managers on the ineligible list from consideration.
With the recent reinstatement of pitcher Jenrry Mejia, there remains only one player or manager on that ineligible list: Peter Edward Rose.
Pete’s crime is well-known and amply documented. He bet on baseball games while he was both manager and player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. This was walking on a baseball third rail. Gambling has been a baseball no-no for a century, or ever since eight members of the Chicago White Sox were caught conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series to, as luck would have it, the Cincinnati Reds. Walk into any baseball clubhouse and you will see, in two languages, a firm prohibition of gambling.
Rose denied the charges for years, not coming clean until he explained himself in a 2004 autobiography entitled, “My Prison Without Bars.”
He still defended himself, the rationale being that he never bet against his team, only on the Reds to win. That didn’t matter. There are valid reasons why it makes no difference. He had violated a sacred baseball rule and thus he would remain ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame.
But things have changed. Major League Baseball has reexamined its attitude toward gambling. MLB announced on Nov. 27, 2018, that MGM had become its “official gaming partner.”
How about that?
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred offered this explanation: “There’s been a huge change in public opinion on sports gambling.”
Interesting. You don’t suppose that the owners saw that there was some money to be made with this association and decided they’d like what they consider to be their fair share? Or am I being overly cynical?
Then came the clincher. “We have to take advantage of every opportunity to drive engagement by the fans,” Manfred explained. The fans, of course. How silly of me not to know it was all about the fans.
This is Pete Rose we are talking about. He was more than just the accumulator of base hits. He was Charlie Hustle, the man who ran to first base after receiving a base on balls and who reintroduced the headfirst slide into baseball after a 30-year absence — it may not have been a prudent thing, but it was undeniably his thing. In his prime he was the greatest living and breathing ambassador for his sport.
Oh, boy, was he a writer’s friend. My personal memory was a batting cage conversation I had with him while covering a 1976 series between the Reds and Phillies. We were discussing Fred Lynn and his sensational 1975 Rookie of the Year/MVP season. I mentioned that the number that had stood out with me was 47, Lynn’s doubles total.
“I’ve led the league in doubles the last three years,” Rose said. “And half of ’em were singles.”
No. 1, he was correct. He was indeed the National League doubles leader in 1974, 1975, and 1976. No. 2, I knew, and you know, exactly what he meant.
Pete Rose is a frustratingly flawed human being. He may indeed love baseball more than anyone on the planet, but he probably loves gambling more. But let’s not kid anybody. Were such a flawed individual to enter the Hall of Fame, he would be a member of a large fraternity of flawed baseball greats. If you can’t forgive him for lying, that’s one thing. But keeping him out because of gambling when you are now officially in partnership with gambling interests is hypocrisy of the highest order.
Pete Rose didn’t come back to baseball. Baseball came back to him. Give the Hit King his plaque.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.