Pete Rose is one of the greatest players in the long, storied history of the game of baseball. No one would dispute that. Top 5 all-time in my book. But he’s not in the Hall of Fame, is banned from baseball and, for a generation of baseball fans, is known for his tragically poor actions that have put him in baseball exile, not his astounding record of 4,256 hits.
Rose is back in the news this week as he has finally admitted that he bet on baseball as a player, something he denied in all previous admissions and denials.
A brief recap, very brief indeed, given how much has happened over the years.
Rose was a throwback in his era, which is now way back in history itself, having played his last game in 1986. Nobody played harder or made each and every contest a battle of attrition any more than Rose did. His idol, Ty Cobb, had that same reputation. But it is hard to say anybody gave his all more than Rose. Look at his numbers, including the record number of hits, the longevity, the World Series titles:
Rookie of the Year in 1963, MVP in 1973, the sparkplug on The Big Red Machine. Those are just some of the points of excellence. But the drive that made them possible wasn’t pretty. He blew up Ray Fosse trying to score in an All-Star Game. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
And he got caught betting on baseball.
In 1989, Rose was banned from baseball by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. The ugliness only got worse from there. Giamatti died just eight days later and Rose embarked on an odd, defiant path of trying to get back into baseball. If he thought that pissing off the baseball establishment would get him back in, he has done a fantastic job and has to wonder why reinstatement hasn’t happened already. (He does).
Rose made public statements about being banned from baseball for betting on Monday Night Football. He set up shop across the street from the Hall Of Fame when they inducted their new enshrines, signing autographs and trying to blame baseball for his plight.
In his 2004 autobiography, Rose admitted that he bet on baseball as a manger, but didn’t tell the whole story. He never does.
And now, Rose finally admits, at age 74, what we knew all along and what was clearly laid out in the Dowd Report so many years ago. He bet like a crazy asshole on baseball and anything else he could get action on.
If you’re surprised by this latest admission, I hope it is only because you never expected Pete to crack on this front. I really hope you didn’t believe any of his denials and fabrications over the years. This guy is more Type A than anyone you can possibly imagine. He did everything the best he possibly could and if a little was good, then enough to make the average guy puke was even better.
Of course he bet on baseball. Of course he bet on games he was a participant in, both as a player and as a manager. He couldn’t help himself. Pete Rose has a problem that isn’t any different, at its core, than the problems of any other addict. He went all the way to the wall, smashed the wall, then kept going. It was how he played and how he has lived. Even in his defense since being banned, if that is what it can be called. Rose has defended himself, but he has thrown out more defiance than contrition. He has admitted wrongdoing on occasion, but more often than not he has cast blame for his situation elsewhere.
It is hard to feel sorry for Pete Rose. Only those with a deep, romanticized feeling about the game can do that. In the USA, if someone admits guilt and shows remorse, we allow them to pick up the pieces and move on. Pete made that very difficult. His words and actions have been consistently combative and his apologies have been hard to accept at face value.
So what does baseball do with this latest public statement? Rose clearly wants to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame while he is alive. Should he be seen as a sympathetic figure because he has gotten old?
My feeling is that Rose should be one of new commissioner Rob Manfred’s first big moves and it should be to allow him into the Hall of Fame, however that meshes with reinstatement. Whether you like it or not, put him in and recognize him for what he did on the field. Put him in and be done with it.
But Manfred shouldn’t, under any circumstances, let Rose have any position in the game like manager, coach, advisor to a club or any other front office position.
Pete Rose had one of the greatest careers that any professional athlete in America has ever had. He should be treasured for this as long as he is still alive. That he hasn’t been, to this point, is his fault and only his fault. Not baseball’s, not Bart Giamatti’s, nobody else’s. Just his. Pete likes to take the bull by the horns. He should take all the blame on this and it shouldn’t have taken 26 years to get these admissions out of him. It did, because of how he has played this, and here he is.
What can Pete Rose offer baseball at this stage of his life? I’m not sure. There is talk of what a great ambassador he could be for the game. Really? After all this? That’s hard to imagine. Rose will ALWAYS be the guy who went through this whole mess.
But he should be in the Hall of Fame and we should stop worrying about the Hall like it is an automatic berth in Heaven. It’s just a shrine for the game’s greats. Did Pete cheat? Did he use PEDs? That isn’t on the table at this point. If he did, and I wouldn’t be surprised because of the company he kept while he was playing, then I would have a different opinion. Cheating is a deal-breaker.
Gambling, in this specific case, is different. It’s not good, but it is different. I have no doubt that Rose tried his absolute best every moment of his professional career. The sickness with the gambling is a huge, debilitating character flaw, but the way Rose played, it is hard for me to imagine that it would lead him down a path where he tries to lose. Pete Rose tried to get the most hits, score the most runs, win the most games. The gambling was a vice that caused turmoil for Rose off the field and led to this long, painful exile.
Could a player bet against his own team and then go out and tank? Absolutely. That’s how we got here, to the point where gambling is the most taboo subject in the sport and is posted as such in every clubhouse. I just can’t imagine Rose did this. I saw him play. I can’t think of anyone in the game today that plays harder. Pete wanted to win everything, all the time.
That doesn’t excuse his actions. His gambling and his behavior since 1989 are his cross to bear and they will follow him into history, even if he gets some sort of reinstatement and/or gets into the Hall.
But I’ve had enough with this debate. Put him in the Hall of Fame, let him have his day, and how he behaves after that is all on him. Just like it has been since his banishment. No day-to-day duties with any club or with the league. Just give him his bust in Cooperstown. If he acts like an asshole after that, and he probably will, so what.