If this were a Hall of the Unflawed, there would be no debate about Pete Rose. If this were about character, human decency or our life’s resume, there also would be no debate about Ty Cobb, Orlando Cepeda, Charlie Comiskey and others remembered in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But this is about baseball, and in that sense there is no doubt about Pete Rose’s rightful place in the sport’s history. He is a Hall of Famer, or should be, and would be, if not for being banned by the sport’s gatekeepers, like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was lumped in with teammates for throwing a World Series despite hitting .375 and not committing an error.
Rose bet on sports. He bet on his own team, the Cincinnati Reds, as a player and manager. No evidence suggests he ever attempted to throw a game. It would conflict with the personality of someone known as “Charlie Hustle.” Rose was so competitive that he crashed into the other team’s catcher, Ray Fosse, in a meaningless All-Star game.
Baseball takes a gambling addiction more seriously than performance-enhancing drugs. The first is a disease. The second is a systematic and orchestrated attempt to cheat, inflate statistics and one’s own worth and feed the ego.
In a sport that embraces statistical plateaus more than any other, Rose has few peers. He holds career records for hits (4,256), games (3,562) and at-bats (14,053). He retired with a lifetime batting average of .303. He won an MVP award and three batting titles. He played on three World Series teams and was the MVP for one of them. He was an All-Star 17 times — while playing five positions.
There are obvious reasons for the no-gambling rules in sports. But each case must be judged individually. Rose bet, and he lied about it. He didn’t cheat the game. He didn’t damage the sport. His problem was (and is) an addiction. Lying about gambling habits parallel the lying an addict does to protect the disease.
Nothing on the back of Pete Rose’s baseball card was artificial. Nothing he did compromised the integrity of the sport. That’s not the case with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and so many others.
At some point, hopefully somebody in the commissioner’s office will realize that.