Pete Rose really isn’t worth this sentence.
I’m referring to the sentence I just wrote, not the sentence he’s currently serving. The only reason I’m wasting my time on Pete Rose is because this is the weekend and traffic’s going to be down, so I’ll save my worthwhile stuff for a higher-traffic day.
If you’ve never heard of Pete Rose, be glad. If you wish to lose your innocence, here’s Pete Rose in a nutshell: Pete Rose was a baseball player. He played baseball more than 20 years, mostly for the Cincinnati Reds. He holds the record for the most hits recorded by a baseball player. The previous record had stood for nearly 60 years when Rose broke it. (The previous record-holder, Ty Cobb, was a horse’s… backside, but he was honest.) Rose was banned from baseball for life in 1989 for betting on the game. He bet on baseball 400 times. Since that time, he’s been convicted of tax fraud and served time, and he’s also been accused of drug trafficking.
So how was he as a player? His nickname was Charlie Hustle. It wasn’t a term of endearment. Early in his career, other players didn’t like him much. He didn’t have a lot of natural ability. People talk about how Rose was an All-Star at five different positions. What they forget is that he was an All-Star at five different positions because he was one of those players who could play a lot of positions badly. The Reds played him where they could hide him. But to Rose’s credit, he ran out every ball he hit–no doubt some of his hits would have been outs with a more lackadaisical player running–and he took reasonably good care of himself, so he wasn’t hurt a lot and he was still able to play, albeit with severely diminished skills, into his 40s.
But that was part of the problem. As player-manager of the Reds, Rose kept penciling his name into the lineup long after he’d accomplished everything he was going to accomplish as a player, to the detriment of the team. Gary Redus, his center fielder, complained Rose was hurting the Reds by playing himself at first base in 1985, when he could have played slugger Nick Esasky at first base and opened up left field for the fleet-footed Eddie Milner, or for a prospect like Eric Davis or Paul O’Neill. But Pete Rose was too busy chasing glory to do anything like that.
In the 1970 All Star game, Pete Rose barrelled over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse. Fosse, the best young catcher in the game at the time, was injured in the play and never was the same after that. Rose ruined Fosse’s career, in a game that didn’t even count.
Baseball fans, let’s face it: Pete Rose was David Eckstein without the class.
Rose apologists are quick to point out that none of this is particularly relevant. And to a degree they’re right. Ty Cobb barrelled over more than a few players in his day, and Detroit’s left fielder hated Cobb so much that the team moved Cobb from center field to right field just to keep the two of them away from each other. You don’t ban a guy for life for being a jerk or a poor judge of his own ability or a bad fielder. And Rose apologists point out that Dads pointed to Pete Rose and told their kids they should play baseball like him. (Except for my dad. My dad pointed to Pete Rose and told me if he ever caught me playing baseball like him, he’d beat me senseless. My dad told me to be like George Brett, who played just as hard, was a better hitter anyway, and had class.)
But there’s something a lot of people forget about. A little rule that’s posted in every baseball clubhouse.
The rule, restated simply, says that if you’re involved in any way with a baseball team and you bet on baseball games, you’re banned for a year. And if you’re involved in any way with a baseball team and bet on a game involving your own team, you’re banned for life.
The evidence against Pete Rose isn’t all available to the public. There’s a lot of hearsay that Rose bet on his own team. But even if Rose didn’t, according to the letter of the law, Rose should have been banned for 400 years.
That wouldn’t have been a lifetime ban for Methuselah (assuming he was under age 569 at the time of the last bet), but it would be for Pete Rose and me. And probably you too.
There is a precedent. In 1920, eight members of the Chicago White Sox–pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams; infielders Buck Weaver, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, and Charles “Swede” Risberg; and outfielders Oscar “Happy” Felsch and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson–were banned from baseball for life for conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series (ironically, against the Cincinnati Reds). Although found innocent in a federal court of law, their statistics were struck off the record books and they could never so much as buy a ticket for a professional baseball game.
The ringleaders were Cicotte and Gandil. Most people believe that Jackson and Weaver were innocent–that Weaver knew about it and didn’t tell, and that Jackson knew about it, told, and went so far as to ask to be benched, but took money from the gamblers.
The ban stood until Jackson’s death in 1951.
Of the eight, the only likely Hall of Famer was Jackson. Lefty Williams was only in his fifth full season, and Cicotte would be a questionable candidate if he were eligible, though extrapolated out to a 20-year-career, both pitchers probably would have made it. But since people aren’t elected to the Hall based on what might have been, neither is likely. But Jackson had already distinguished himself by hitting .408 at age 21. Every other player who ever hit .400 over the course of a full season in the modern era is in the Hall of Fame.
Not that it matters any, but some guy nobody’s ever heard of, a guy named Babe Ruth, claimed he learned his batting style by watching Shoeless Joe.
I’m sure by now you’ve sensed my disdain for Rose and at least a small bit of admiration for Jackson.
So I’m going to surprise you by saying I believe Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Anyone who hits 3,215 singles belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Sensing a problem, I asked my evil twin, R. Collins Farquhar IV, what he thought. This is a transcript of what he said:
I, of course, have a Solomon-like solution. (One of my favorite things about myself is that I’m so wise. One of my other favorite things about myself is that I’m so humble.) Pete Rose is banned from American Cricket for life. This also disqualifies him from the game’s quaint Hall of Fame. For life. When Pete Rose dies, his life is over, and thus his ban is over. So the simpletons should just wait until Pete Rose dies, and then elect him to the Hall of Fame.
I of course find it disturbing that I agree with everything R. Collins Farquhar IV said about Pete Rose, though not quite everything he said about himself.
What Pete Rose wants most is attention. What Pete Rose needs least is attention. Rose agreed in 1989 to a lifetime ban, and “lifetime” doesn’t mean 13 years. Rose received more than he deserved by getting the privelige of agreeing to it. Joe Jackson didn’t get to agree to his ban.
Had Rose ever shown any signs of remorse, it would probably be different. Steve Howe showed remorse. Darryl Strawberry showed remorse. When they messed up one too many times (or maybe it was because they were just too old to have any chance of being able to come back and be effective ballplayers), baseball sent them packing. Rose apologists point to both of them. But Rose has always been defiant, not remorseful. If he’s sorry, he’s sorry he got caught.
Put Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame. He’s been dead 51 years. He’s paid his dues.
Let Pete Rose watch Joe Jackson go in. Then let him slither back under that rock he came from and ignore him. And after he dies, there’s no need to wait 51 years. Just put him on the ballot, and the people who saw him play can go on and on about what a great hitter he was, and how fun it was to watch him play the game (A David Eckstein without class can still be fun to watch), and he can go through the same voting process everyone else goes through, and he’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame, likely on the first ballot, and more likely in a red uniform than an orange one.
And then, finally, justice will all be served.