They said no write-in votes, but what are they going to do -- shoot me?
This is America, isn't it? Sic Semper Tyrannis, Don't Tread on Me, etc. So I started to write in Pete Rose's name in protest.
But that's the wrong protest. Dumping tea into a harbor is the wrong protest. Instead, when I received my Hall of Fame ballot in the mail the other day, I simply returned it along with this letter: "Please remove my name from your roster of Hall of Fame voters. Once they tell the writers they can't vote for certain players, they can, as the saying goes, include me out. Sincerely yours." Kind of dignified, huh?
I didn't want to write the letter. I didn't want to give up the vote.
In a perfect world, I'd vote for Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers and Orlando Cepeda and Pete Rose, all of whom belong. But since I can't vote for all of them, I'm not voting for any.
You have to be a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 10 years -- covering far too many Orioles losses -- to become a voter. That's a fairly exclusive club, with a fairly important mission that speaks to the very soul of baseball, the game for which past is prologue. But now the mission is compromised. When they said the writers could not vote for Rose, they said, in effect, they no longer trusted us to determine whose likeness belongs in the lovely little museum in the picturesque little town where baseball was supposed to have been invented -- but probably wasn't. The writers can vote for anyone so long as it's baseball's idea of who that anyone should be.
They were right not to trust me. I would have voted for Rose, although I think he would have fallen well short of the required 75 percent of the ballots. But the Lords of Baseball were taking no chances with an election in which each voter could search his or her conscience. Instead, they rigged the election.
Here's what happened: Bart Giamatti, the previous commissioner, had kicked Pete Rose out of baseball for life, allegedly for gambling, although his specific crimes against the game were never made public. But Fay Vincent, the present commissioner, has determined that Rose should not only be kicked out, but that he should also be made into a non-person, as if his 4,256 base hits never happened. And so, Vincent has ruled that Rose can't wear a baseball uniform in a movie and that he can't attend a minor-league function and that he can't be in the Hall of Fame. Technically, the commissioner can't decide who is eligible for the Hall, but, in fact, the commmissioner's office leaned heavily on the Hall, which caved in nicely.
Voila. Pete is history. The board put in the Pete Rose rule, which says, "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate."
It should be pointed out that Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, because they were greeters at Atlantic City casinos, were once suspended from baseball. They couldn't go to spring training. They couldn't play in old-timers' games. They were a short step away from the ineligible list. What if Bowie Kuhn had gone all the way, as he could have? Should Mays be ineligible for the Hall of Fame because, after his baseball days, he stood in front of a casino and shook hands?
Rose's sins are, of course, indisputable. As everyone knows, he went to jail for tax evasion in what was a significant, if deserved, penalty. And he apparently bet on games, although no one ever showed that he bet on his own team, or even that he bet on baseball games while he was a player.
In any case, the point of the Hall of Fame is what a player did while on the field, where Rose's work is properly legendary. I don't like Pete Rose. I don't admire him. I don't think he's a role model. I do think he was a hell of a baseball player.
He was a philanderer. He was a lousy father. He cheated on his taxes. And he knocked out 4,256 hits and played the game with an unmatched verve and style.
He is not a Hall of Fame person, but the Hall of Fame is for players, not people. The Hall of Fame is full of drunks, fools and worse whose plaques line the museum's halls. Though it says in the rules that voters should consider a candidate's character, no one does character checks. I don't know what kind of person, say, Rollie Fingers might be. I know about his mustache and his forkball, and that's plenty. If Rose had never bet on a game, if he'd never gone to jail, I still wouldn't want to vouch for his character. But I sure liked the way he'd slide head first.
If Rose doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, then no one does.
And if the people who run the Hall of Fame say the writers can't vote for him, then writers shouldn't vote for anyone.
The museum is supposed to be about baseball mythology, but now it's about vindictiveness. That's what is going on here, and why would anyone want to be a part of it?