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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pete Rose? I Think It's Time

I was called up to the major leagues in September of 1976. One of the first—and still one of the best—teams I played against was the ’76 Cincinnati Reds, who were just coming off a dramatic World Series victory against the Red Sox the previous year. Nicknamed the “Big Red Machine,” the Reds were absolutely stacked with talent, including one of the best players I ever played against, Pete Rose.

A lot of negative things have been said about Pete over the years, of course, despite his legendary career. I’m often asked whether I think Pete should be in the Hall of Fame, and, truthfully, it’s not an easy question to answer. Here’s my take. As we know, Pete is serving a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for gambling on the Reds as a player-manager, which also means he’s ineligible for the Hall of Fame. I can’t say I disagree with the way the votes have come down against him over the years: rules against gambling are necessary to protect the integrity of the game, and they must be enforced if they’re to be useful. Gambling cannot be taken lightly.

However, I think Pete has already paid perhaps the highest possible price for his bad decisions—he never had another career opportunity in baseball. To me, then, the question comes down to the scope of the lifetime-ban rule. As it stands now, if you’re caught gambling (regardless of whether you were betting on your team to win or lose), you’re given a ban that 1) prohibits you from being employed by Major League Baseball again, in any capacity, and 2) is in effect until the day you die.

The first part makes perfect sense to me, because to preserve the integrity of the game MLB simply cannot employ players and managers with a history of betting on games, period. And I agree that the direction of the bet shouldn’t matter. If you bet on your team to lose, well, that’s obviously a problem. Less obviously, if you bet on your team to win, you still compromise the essence of the game. For example, if you’re the manager, you may rush your star closer out there before you would otherwise, perhaps even if he needs to rest that day. Your best pitchers may get too many innings for their own good. Being too invested (literally) in controlling the outcome of the game is sure to put people and intelligent decisions at risk.

In my opinion, however, part 2 doesn't make quite as much sense as part 1. A “lifetime” ban seems excessive. Will it really be necessary to keep Pete out of the game when he’s in his 80s? I mean, really? He’s already lost any chance to have another job in baseball, and as I see it, that’s the essential point of the punishment anyway, to hurt the offender in terms of their career and livelihood. That’s a steep penalty to suffer—as it should be. But a ban that persists long after retirement age? What if, as an alternative, we take the amount of time Pete’s been out of the game so far—22 years—and make that the standard punishment? Maybe round it up to 25 years and call it the “Pete Rose” rule. In my view, this would accomplish everything the lifetime ban was created to do (25 years out of the game will pretty much ruin any career).

Pete’s clearly paid for his poor decisions, so I think the time has come to look at his career and legacy in a fresh light. He served his punishment—he never had another job in baseball and he likely never will. Just think about that for a minute. We do and should believe in justice, and violations should be reprimanded. But isn’t it possible that, at this point, keeping Pete out of the Hall of Fame may say more about us than it does about him?


  1. Dale, I agree with your comments, for the most part. Your argument in favor of the ban, regardless of the direction, is something that many people overlook.

    I disagree with changing the duration. While Pete's direct livelihood has been severly crippled, his indirect income from memorabilia and other "I'm Pete Rose" outlets continue, though likely diminished.

    When I think of this issue, I like to reflect upon Shoeless Joe. Depending on the account, he either did, or did not, knowingly participate in throwing the 1919 World Series. At the absolute least, he deserved punishment for not coming forward when he knew what was happening. His ban lasted until he died, 30 years after he was banned.

    The precedent was set with Shoeless Joe and it was well known. Pete knew and he still did it, repeatedly. The ban needs to stay lifetime.

    I will say that the argument over the Hall of Fame is separate. I've always been torn on that issue. I've always felt that all the character issues that have been keeping Pete out should have gotten you into the Hall.

    My 2+ cents.


  2. Given what's going on in baseball now -- steroids, complete lack of competitive balance, it's VERY silly to me that they won't let Pete Rose in the Hall.

  3. I was at the '99 World Series when they lifted the ban on Pete for one day so that he could be named to the "Team of the Century". The applause that he received that night was on par with Ted Williams. Fans have certainly forgiven him and MLB needs to take a hard look at its policy and the price that Pete has paid.

  4. I think of Pete Rose the same as the so called steroid era players. They should go in the Hall of Fame because of their records on the field and then the players who we know did steroids and the same with Pete Rose can have materials talking about the darker side to their careers. It's a great teaching situation for kids and adults alike. Whitewashing the issues away makes no sense to me.

  5. Good argument, Murphy. Pete Rose absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  6. I believe Pete Rose should be in the hall however I do not think it should be while he is still alive or for that fact any of the steriod era greats that have tested positive for such. There are too many issues for players to deal with while they are alive. Too many discussions on what happend and why. That alone takes away from everything the enshrinment day is and the days going forward for the hall. If selected for such an honor after the player has passed on then he would be remembered for what he did in his playing years not his personal life. Pete Rose hall of Fame yes Arod yes McGwire yes but after they have passed away and wont take away from the hall
    Ryan B. from Alabama

  7. Good Afternoon Dale,

    I just finished listening to your interview with the guys on 610WIP radio in Philly. What a great interview. I grew up in the late 70s and 80s, watching you and Mike Schmidt go back and forth every year with home run titles. You were a great player to watch.

    As far as Pete Rose goes, I agree with you that keeping him out ultimately may be more of a statement about us than him. But, I think what bothers most people is that it took him more than 20 years to finally admit that he bet on baseball, after denying it for so many years. I think if he has admitted it much earlier, he would have been reinstated.

    The interesting thing is that the Hall of Fame is not a part of MLB. MLB has no control over the Hall. So, even though MLB banned Pete for life, the Hall does not have to abide by that ruling as far as their membership. But, the Hall has that morality clause that states that a player, in addition to his play on the field, must also be judged based on his conduct off the field, which the voters must take into account. Because of this, I don't think that Pete will get in.

    But, I agree with your premise that it is a shame that it ever came to this.

  8. Murph,
    I disagree with you on this. The lifetime ban is crucial to letting players/managers/coaches know how serious MLB is about keeping gambling out of the game.
    In fact, one of the best points you ever made to me in talking about how to keep steroids out of baseball was an automatic ban, as you said then, "Just like gambling" to show how serious MLB is about keeping players clean.
    I really don't see any difference. I think players/manager/coaches have seen how Rose has been treated, how there is absolutely no shot of him going in the Hall while he's alive, and they think/know, "I wouldn't want that to be me."
    And remember, he did what he did knowing the consequences of his actions.

  9. Murph,

    I agree Pete Rose deserves a spot in the Hall, but for slightly different reasons. I think we need to celebrate the accomplishments on the field without necessarily celebrating the people. My only stipulation is that the game had to be played cleanly, as in steroid-free. I wrote my position on Pete Rose here http://hallornohall.com/2009/09/pete-rose

    One problem I have with your reasoning behind your 25-year ban solution is the livelihood issue. With the amount of money thrown around on contracts, all it takes is a few years of honest play before a bank account is stacked and the game no longer serves a financial purpose. A lifetime ban won't cripple a players livelihood in that respects. It will cripple their ability to garner more positive celebrity--not notoriety.

    Anyway, glad you're posting. You still are my favorite ball player of all time. I'm glad you're making the leap into social media so fans like me can hear your voice and see a glimpse of your life.

  10. I absolutely believe Pete should be in the HOF. While I don’t approve of betting on baseball, no one can deny the records he has broken and still holds!

    I truly believe that the drive and determination that earned him the name “Charlie Hustle” on the field was also the fuel that made betting such a problem for him later in life. His “need to win” is simply part of his DNA and that drive is what made him great.

    Growing up, Pete was (and still is) one of my heroes. He proved that you can do anything if you work hard at it, and no one worked as hard as Pete Rose.

    On my latest CD, I wrote and recorded a song about Pete; it’s called “You Bet”

    The hook of the song is: “Does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame…….I say You Bet!”

    Baseball is a better game because Pete Rose played it. How many other players can you "truly" say that about?

  11. I wonder whether people here understand what a threat gambling is to MLB. Gambling almost destroyed it in 1919-1920. Hence the ban. Rose actively and knowingly undermined the integrity of the game. He did it consistently over a considerable period. And then he lied about it for years.

    One can harbor forgiveness for Rose as a person while believing that he should remain banned and kept out of the Hall. It's questionable whether it's even in Rose's best interest for the ban to be lifted. Does he really need something else to "win"? Is being vindicated going to make him a better person? Embracing the consequences for his actions would do him some good.

    It's better for MLB to have rules that it sticks by, in my opinion.

  12. Thanks for your thought on this...great comments!

  13. Does anyone no how to get ahold of Pete Rose ? I would love to get a message to him ?

  14. Dale I love your post. I am 22 year old college student in Milledgeville GA and I like to do some blog writing on the side. I mentioned this post today and I hope that is ok. My blog can be found at http://benandpaper.wordpress.com/ and I would love to hear your comments on my most recent post and any of the others. Thanks, Ben Carroll