NFL Hall would greet Rose with open arms

John Steadman

February 06, 1991|By John Steadman

If Pete Rose's credentials could be correlated to pro football, not baseball, he would already be in the Hall of Fame. No questions asked. Maybe Pete picked the wrong sport.

This is just another slice of unfortunate incongruity that bedevils a man who paid a debt to society by spending five months in federal prison and yet is confronted with a new set of rules devised exclusively to bar him from being considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While creating a hypothetical case for Rose, portending he had made his reputation in football and not baseball, let it be said with unqualified conviction the Pro Football Hall of Fame would welcome him with trumpets blaring and drums rolling. It has no clause governing personal conduct or character traits of the individual being voted upon. This is as it should be. The Hall of Fame is for athletes and shouldn't be confused with the convocation of saints.

As a for instance, when Paul Hornung was selected for pro football enshrinement, it was never mentioned he had once been suspended from the Green Bay Packers for gambling on games. The selection committee focused entirely on his playing ability. How do we know? Because, it was our responsibility, along with the rest of the board of selectors, to make the judgment.

And the same with Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns, who was involved in numerous scrapes, including accusations he once tried to throw a woman off a balcony. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is for accomplishments in competition, how a player performs. Not on gentility, manners or scholarship. He doesn't have to read or write or even know right from wrong.

The assessment is made on football achievements; not good conduct medals. If a pro football player admits at this late date to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby or robbing banks with Willie Sutton, it would not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Only the athletic record is considered.

The College Football Hall of Fame, however, is different. It puts emphasis on citizenship. An outstanding college player, if he makes a disaster of his life by being arrested or getting in a jam, would be ineligible. In fact, in the case of Billy Cannon, a former Heisman Trophy winner, he was formally announced as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

However, before he could be officially inducted, the Hall withdrew the honor after it was learned Cannon, a doctor of dentistry, was involved in a counterfeit money scam that eventually resulted in a prison term.

Back to Rose. What has happened is an abomination to anyone with an awareness of why and how the Baseball Hall of Fame was established. It was based on playing talent. We'd be more inclined to reject the Rose candidacy if it could be explained to full satisfaction why Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were permitted to enter the Hall after being accused, and then excused by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball, for allegations they had entered into a gambling fix to throw an American League game.

Landis, conveniently, decided the matter need not be addressed because the statute of limitations expired. Yet Cobb and Speaker never managed after the charges became public. As for Rose, he played in more games and accounted for the all-time record number of hits.

Oddly enough in Rose's own book, written with author Hal McCoy, he says, "I wonder whether I could have made it as a pro football player. Hey, I might have been a Cincinnati Bengal. I started early enough -- as mascot for my father's semi-pro team."

Rose later became a starting halfback, as a freshman at Western Hills High School in 1958, had a touchdown run of 68 yards and insists he was a better prospect for football than baseball. So had he proceeded in football, in concert with the hypothesis outlined, it would have meant the doors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have been opened to him.

As another contradictory gesture, the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., will keep displaying his bats, balls and other noted memorabilia. But the man is persona non grata . . . in flesh or on a bronze plaque, yet his equipment is there even if he's ostracized.

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