Just-released Rose should be a Hall of Fame inmate, too

John Steadman

January 07, 1991|By John Steadman

Inmate 01832061 will turn in his khaki uniform, be processed for discharge and leave the federal prison camp at Marion, Ill., for a walk into a world that still wants to debase and demean him. Pete Rose, ordinarily, would be a free man, ready for a new beginning. But he carries a burden. There are those with hearts of stone unwilling to forgive and forget.

They obviously don't believe in giving a man with self-inflicted pain another chance. Nor do they take stock of the passage from the Bible that reminds us: "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone." -- John, Chapter 8, Verse 7.

Rose has served the last five months in a government institution for income tax evasion. Now he must contribute 1,000 hours of public service in his hometown of Cincinnati, the city that first hailed him as a boyhood hero, watched as he got more hits (4,256) than any player in history and witnessed his humiliating fall from grace.

The question now is: Will he be barred from the Baseball Hall of Fame? He is eligible for a place on next year's ballot. It's a honor that should be predicated on ability -- certainly not citizenship nor influenced by wrongdoing off the field, but the records he achieved with a bat and ball.

While Rose is returning to society, after having squared his debt, the Hall of Fame executives are attempting to rework the admission rules so he will be declared ineligible. If they are going to do that, then we sincerely urge they go back in history and clarify the Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker involvement of allegedly betting on games their teams played.

When that earlier issue came up, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the baseball commissioner, said the statute of limitations had expired. Case closed. Still the whispers persisted. Maybe it was only coincidence that Cobb and Speaker never managed again. But both are in the Hall of Fame, the same exalted place Rose aspires to be.

Some members of the Hall of Fame, ex-players, say they won't show up for the ceremonies at Cooperstown, N.Y., if Rose is included. They ought to step forth and identify themselves so all the world can recognize them for instant enshrinement in the Hypocrite Hall of Fame.

Last August, at that same baseball shrine, Bob Feller, one of the most notable of major-league pitchers, sought us out to challenge our earlier support of Rose. We asked if he believed in repentance and saying you're sorry. Feller didn't answer.

We wanted to ask him about the $109 he, Feller, still owes us for a trip to Cleveland some years ago to testify in his behalf after it was reported he took unauthorized use of a friend's private airplane. Feller was trying to sue for an enormous payment because he said there was slander involved. He wanted us to establish for the court, as an impartial witness, how he was held by the national media and the public at large.

Maybe he forgot the agreement to pay our transportation, but it was so insignificant there wasn't any reason to make a cause celebre out of it. Charge it off to experience. Forgive and forget. Yet Bob Feller apparently doesn't want to give Rose the same break.

Before Rose got out of the federal prison camp, we wrote him a letter, part of which said, ". . . these times have been tough but you will be a better man for it. Soon you can put it all behind you. Life holds many joys for the future.

"You were always a good two-strike hitter and you can handle it. You haven't cried or alibied and you shouldn't have to beg for the Hall of Fame. You deserve it. Ty Cobb was in a jam, but Judge Landis ruled time limitations had expired. Pete Rose for the Hall of Fame. Only the best in all endeavors."

We saw an earlier note Rose wrote to Arthur Richman, a former sportswriter, now a vice president of the New York Yankees. It carried a sorrowful tone, filled with remorse and regret. "I've have a lot of time to think," he said and, you knew, as with other prisoners, confinement is an occasion for deep reflection and, hopefully, a firm purpose of amendment.

Pete Rose didn't murder, rape or rob. He only hurt himself, no one else. The Hall of Fame is for baseball players, not a convocation of saints.

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