I grew up in the 1980s and 90s as a Cincinnati Reds fan (except for a brief stint as a Pirates fan in the late 80s to early 90s. I thought Jose Lind was cool, sue me). As a young baseball fanatic, I thought the sun rose and set with Pete Rose. I wanted to play like him. Being a smaller ball player with little power, I saw Rose roping singles and doubles around the ball yard year in and year out, and I just knew there was a place in the game for me. I read Rose’s books on hitting. I studied the way he ran around the bases. Pete Rose, Charlie Hustle, embodied the ballplayer I wanted to be.
What We Forget About Pete Rose
Since the early 20th century, betting on baseball has been the rule of rules that you just don’t break. In the wake of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, baseball cracked down on gambling by players and managers in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the game. Nearly a hundred years later and on the outer edges of a steroid-ridden era of the game, some have forgotten that old rule and what it still means to the game. I have always heard (and I can’t currently verify this) that there was a sign posted in every MLB locker room advising players of the consequences of gambling on the game they play. Every professional baseball player is aware of the outcome should they decide to gamble on baseball and get caught. Rose knew the rules. Rose knew the consequences.
Whenever a new Baseball Hall of Fame class is inducted, I start seeing it pop up on social media sites: “How are these steroid freaks and cheaters allowed on the ballot but Pete Rose isn’t?”; “How did Rose cheat the game any more than Bonds, Clemens or Sosa?” Look, we can argue the validity of each rule and the value of each as it pertains to the effect on the game. But, that’s missing the point, and it’s letting Rose off the hook.
We could also bring up the argument that Rose never bet against the teams he was playing for or managing. Okay, sure, but the rules don’t provide caveats for whom you bet for or against. The rules state that you just don’t do it. Period. Lastly, we can argue that Rose was hoodwinked by the late Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti into signing a statement of admission of guilt under the pretense that he would someday be allowed back in the game. Point taken. However, there is and always has been one consequence to gambling on baseball as a Major League Baseball player or manager: a lifetime ban. That’s never been a secret.
Was Pete Rose the best hitter the game has ever seen? Arguably. Ted Williams and Ty Cobb may have a few things to say about that. Do his athletic accomplishments deserve accolades? Absolutely. But let’s not forget this fact: Pete Rose knowingly broke the most hallowed rule in all the game. He knew what would happen if he got caught breaking this rule. Yet he did it anyway. Rose is guilty. Rose was banned for life. It’s not a matter of whether or not we believe he belongs back in Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame. Until further notice, he is not eligible for either.
As a fan of Charlie Hustle this is, without question, a bummer. I do hope to see him recognized accordingly in my lifetime. Unfortunately, I don’t think Pete Rose will get to see his enshrinement or reinstatement in his.
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