Voters can write Vincent's wrong by adding Rose to Hall of Fame ballot

John Steadman

December 18, 1991|By John Steadman

Between Vada Pinson and Bill Russell on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is enough white space to insert the name Pete Rose. It's a protest vote. And it won't count. Regrettable.

Still, Rose received this reporter's write-in nomination, not out of defiance for the authority of the commissioner but as a measure of civil and legal fairness. The ballot was subsequently submitted to the office of the Baseball Writers' Association for processing.

Other reporters may do the same or follow the lead of Mike Littwin, of The Sun, who told the organization he's not interested in being a part of any system that arbitrarily denies him the chance to render his own decision on Rose.

The Baseball Hall of Fame was obviously concerned that a portion of its voting constituency would evaluate Rose on what he accomplished on the field and, possibly, endorse his candidacy for the Halls of Cooperstown, along with all the other saints reposing there.

The strategy it implemented was to pre-empt such a possibility by tightening the rules to bar Rose and anyone else outlawed by the commissioner. Therefore, Rose, who reached the ultimate in the record book with most games played, at-bats and hits, is locked out. We've been led to presume that allegations he bet on games, which would have jeopardized the integrity of baseball, prevent him from qualifying for election.

But where's the proof? Baseball should spell out its case instead of allowing charges to circulate in an implied, nebulous state. Was he convicted? Is baseball telling us it's larger than the courts of the land, where every citizen has the inalienable right of due process.

Rose pulled five months in a federal institution for trying to beat the Internal Revenue Service out of money it was owed. He was incarcerated, made full restitution and spent time performing community service. That's known as paying the price. Ex-convicts in other areas of professional life, including doctors and lawyers, can return to practice and even accept awards for meritorious service after doing time.

Rose, he was actually prohibited from the opportunity to see if he would be approved by the Baseball Writers' Association. It's as if he never existed after playing 24 years in the National League.

He's wiped out as an eligible candidate when results of the commissioner's secret investigation ostensibly are held against him. Baseball achievements should be the entire criteria. Not citizenship or qualifications for canonization. Did he ever actually "throw" a game, go in the "tank" or attempt to arrange a deal with gamblers?

In the 1920s, Ty Cobb, whose career hit mark Rose surpassed, was accused, along with Tris Speaker, of being involved in a fix scheme between his team, the Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Indians.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, then the commissioner, ruled the statute of limitations had expired. So Cobb and Speaker walked away without having to face formal charges. They went on their way unimpeded to the Hall of Fame, where Rose is persona non grata.

Commissioner Fay Vincent has Rose in limbo, suspended from the game he played with fierce intensity. This means the Baseball Writers' Association was not allowed to place his name on the 1992 ballot in what should have been his first year of eligibility.

The good "Pope" Vincent and his "College of Cardinals," the Hall of Fame Committee, were obviously afraid the writers would elect Rose if given any kind of an opening. So Rose was omitted from the lineup, one step away from ordering "off with his head."

Had this been the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where the only condition for admittance is proficiency in the sport, Rose would have been elected. So maybe Pete played the wrong game. However, the College Football Hall of Fame bases part of its consideration on what a man has done with his life after he stops playing. And off-the-field conduct enters into it.

Oh, yes, there are 36 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Our other nine votes went to Tom Seaver, Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, Bobby Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Kaat, Tony Perez, Rusty Staub and Joe Torre. The most illustrious applicant of all, Peter Edward Rose, who achieved what no other man attained while in a batter's box, can't even get in the ballot box.

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