Though he's far from a saint, Rose deserves a seat on high

On-field deeds make right to spot in Hall undisputed

Commentary

Baseball

January 08, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Pete Rose was a great ballplayer, a pretty good manager, a lousy gambler and - for the past 14 years - a very poor liar.

He remains a duplicitous, opportunistic self-promoter whose recent confession-for-profit rang hollow even to those who wanted to believe him ... who wanted to see his long exile from Major League Baseball finally end.

It isn't clear just how the revelations of the past few days will affect Rose's chances of being reinstated by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, but one thing is as true now as it was the day in 1989 that he was banned from baseball for gambling:

Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Sure, his nickname - "Charlie Hustle" - never seemed more fitting than it does today, but there are 4,256 reasons why his name should be placed on next year's Hall of Fame ballot. He got more hits than anybody else in the history of the game, and that should be enough to rate a bronze plaque in Cooperstown regardless of anything that happened after he retired.

No one has accused him of betting on games as a player. No one has proved he ever did anything to alter his team's chances of winning a ballgame to win a bet. Short of some damaging disclosure that taints his playing career, there is little justification for keeping him out when so many other imperfect people already have gotten in.

The Hall of Fame isn't exactly a choir loft. Ty Cobb, whose career hits record was broken by Rose in 1985, once bragged he had beaten a man to death and gotten away with it, but there was little debate about his suitability for the Hall at the time of his induction.

Babe Ruth's off-field behavior was the stuff of bawdy legend, but no one ever suggested his profligate lifestyle precluded him from admission.

Of course, there is room to argue this is an entirely different case. Rose committed the cardinal sin of uniformed baseball personnel. He bet on his own team. Even in the wake of his public act of contrition on ABC's Primetime tonight, that transgression will cause a lot of the baseball writers who are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame to ignore Rose if he is placed on the ballot.

Not this one.

It's just not that simple, because there are two Pete Roses.

There is the one who could bet on baseball games and insist for 14 years that he didn't - the one who could come clean and still leave the rest of us feeling soiled.

There also is the Pete Rose who once represented the American Dream to millions of baseball fans - the one who arrived in the major leagues with average athletic talent and became a superstar through sheer hard work and determination.

That's the Pete Rose who belongs in the Hall of Fame. That's the guy who was the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine. That was the guy who played so hard that he knocked the stuffing out of Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Even then, he evoked mixed emotions. The image of Rose crashing into Fosse at home plate remains an enduring reminder of his tough-as-nails style of play, but he was criticized for taking the All-Star Game too seriously and putting Fosse's career in jeopardy.

In retrospect, you have to wonder if that was one of the few truly honest things that Rose ever did, but that doesn't change the fact that he was one of the greatest players of his - or any - era. That he also is one of the most controversial figures in baseball history only makes it more imperative that he eventually be inducted at Cooperstown.

There must be a reason they call it the Hall of Fame instead of the Hall of Great Players With Impeccable Character.

It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition for Selig. He can lift the ban for the purpose of allowing Rose to be on the Hall of Fame ballot while protecting the integrity of the game by prohibiting him from managing again.

That way, Rose's accomplishments as a player can be properly immortalized without awarding him blanket amnesty for his shortcomings as a human being.

Rule 21

Major League Baseball posts the rule against gambling in every clubhouse. The text of MLB Rule 21 (d):

Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

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