By Michael LeCompte
With a new commissioner at the helm, the All-Star game being held in Cincinnati this year, and the Ohio State Legislature acting on his behalf, there is rampant speculation that Pete Rose could soon be re-instated by Major League Baseball.
Playing for the Reds and Phillies from 1963-86, Rose certainly put up Hall of Fame numbers. He was a career .303 hitter, made 17 All-Star games at 5 different positions, won 3 World Series titles, and is the Majors’ all-time leader in hits with 4,256.
However, Major League Baseball conducted an exhaustive investigation of Rose in 1989 when he was manager of the Reds, due to allegations of gambling. Rose’s bookies were interviewed and provided detailed accounts of his gambling over the course of the 1985 and 1986 seasons, claiming he wagered between $2,000 and $10,000 a day on professional sports, including baseball. The investigation also revealed that Rose bet on 52 Reds games during the 1987 season.
A. Bartlett Giamatti served as Commissioner of Baseball for less than 6 months, but his decision to ban Rose for life in 1989 has been debated for decades.
On August 24, 1989 Rose accepted designation on Baseball’s Permanent Ineligible List and in return Major League Baseball agreed to make no formal finding on its investigation into his gambling. As part of his banishment Rose was allowed to apply for re-instatement once a year after an initial 10 year period.
In 1991 the Hall of Fame decided to ban those on the Permanently Ineligible list from induction.
Since his banishment Rose has been to prison for tax evasion, enjoyed a few stints on tour with the WWE, married a Playboy model, starred in a reality show, and currently earns more than $1 million a year attending autograph shows. Although he dutifully applies for re-instatement every year, banishment was clearly the best thing that could have happened to Rose, post-baseball.
Without his banishment there is no spectacle, no curiosity to Rose. If “Charlie Hustle” couldn’t play the victim, wronged by the game he loved, there would have been no book deal or business opportunities, the public wouldn’t care about yet another overweight ex-jock.
However, the debate over whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not has kept Rose relevant, kept him in the public eye. Interestingly, if he were actually in the Hall, Rose would largely be forgotten by now. He would be a great talent among many in the Hall. People would remember him as a hard-nosed player, the guy with the most hits ever, but he wouldn’t be constantly looming over baseball, hovering in the public consciousness.
Baseball, the game and its fans, have largely moved on from Rose, much like they have distanced themselves from players of the recent steroid era. Eventually the Hall of Fame will face a crisis over whether or not certain players who definitely impacted the game, despite certain moral flaws should be let in.
An interesting scenario could also allow Rose to be inducted into the Hall of Fame without being re-instated by Major League Baseball. The Hall of Fame is an independent entity, one not operated by Major League Baseball, which means that, although they voted to bar him in 1991, the Hall could put Rose on an induction ballot any time they saw fit to do so.
Whether the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (who have been loathe to vote for players with any ties to controversy, such as the steroid era recently), would consider voting for Rose’s induction is unclear.
Rose has said that he would like to meet with new Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Commissioner’s office is in the process of reviewing all of its original case against Rose. Although Rose will be allowed to participate in the All-Star game festivities in Cincinnati, it is unclear which way Manfred is leaning regarding re-instatement. In March the Commissioner stated that, “…baseball’s rules for gambling have been in place for literally decades. They’re clear and spell out specific penalties. The reason those rules exist is that gambling is corrosive in a number of ways, including raising the specter of somebody not doing everything they can to win.”
Whether Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not, the fact is that he did bet on baseball, which does “violate or tarnish the integrity of the game” and which is a banishable offense.
Whether he is ultimately re-instated or not, the debate over Rose will continue, but for now banishment from baseball may just be the best gift he ever received. Now 73, Rose can be a millionaire just by being Pete Rose and signing his name.