There has been a fair bit of press as of late concerning Pete Rose and whether or not his lifetime ban will be lifted, allowing him to enter the Hall of Fame. With Deflategate currently reminding us that controversy plays a big part in how players are perceived and valued by the public, it seems like an opportune time to assess the current situation facing Pete Rose and whether or not he will ever be able to take his place in the Hall of Fame alongside other legendary baseball players of his caliber.
If you aren’t aware of the controversy surrounding Pete Rose, allow us to give you a quick history lesson. Rose, known sometimes as the “Hit King” or as “Charlie Hustle,” is known for his career with the Cincinnati Reds. In the mid-1980s he retired from his place on the diamond and became the team’s manager. However, his reputation was soiled just a few years later due to rumors that he had been betting on baseball games. He didn’t admit to his betting activities for about fifteen years, in 2004.
Had he told the truth earlier, there is no telling what would have happened. But his long-term denial got him nowhere. His lifetime ban from the MLB, as well as from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, stands to this day. But recently, there’s been buzz that this is finally set to change. Is this true? More importantly, should it be true? There’s not necessarily an answer as of yet, but we’ll explore both of these questions in detail below.
Why He Might Make the Hall of Fame
Pete Rose and the issue of whether or not his ban should be lifted comes up in the press every so often without much provocation, but the reason it’s been a particularly hot topic as of late is because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred declared a few weeks back that the former player and manager of the Reds would be allowed to participate in some capacity during July’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Now, this may not sound like a huge deal, but it really is. The commissioner of the same league that banned Pete Rose more than a quarter of a century ago is now willing to let him participate in major baseball events. If that’s not a sign that Manfred has at least considered reinstating the potential future Hall of Famer, then we aren’t sure what is. Granted, the MLB also cut him some slack during the World Series in 1999 when they let him participate in the All-Century team announcement, so it’s possible that we’re reading too much into things.
But even so, Pete Rose is beginning to take the spotlight a little bit more, especially since Fox News has given him a role this year as a baseball analyst. We don’t necessarily believe the saying that “any publicity is good publicity,” but a major news network allowing Rose to show off his knowledge of the sport seems like pretty good publicity no matter how you look at it. And the more positive publicity he gets, the more likely it seems that fans will become vocal in their belief that he needs to be reinstated. And as we’ve shown before in a much different context, fans can get pretty darn passionate.
And if you do the math, you’ll see pretty quickly just how much vocal support Pete Rose stands to receive in the coming months if this type of publicity continues. The press tends to milk the most out of every major story, which is probably why everything Rose has done since the commissioner’s announcement has led to a new slew of articles and reports on his potential for getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. If that continues, then he might receive this type of publicity until at least July 14, the date for which the All-Star Game is scheduled. That’s months’ worth of support right there.
To be fair, it might seem a bit hasty to suggest that publicity alone will get Rose into the Hall of Fame when he has been denied inclusion for over twenty-five years. But this isn’t just about how the public perceives Pete Rose. It’s also about how they perceive the MLB as an organization. And if lifting the ban will make good press for the MLB, then it seems as if they’d be crazy not to go for it. Of course, these are just the reasons that he might be inducted. Now, let’s talk about the reasons why he should be.
Why He Should Make the Hall of Fame
The Cincinnati Reds may not be one of the MLB’s most valuable teams, but Pete Rose is almost certainly one of the league’s most valuable players. He isn’t called the Hit King for no reason. He holds the records for both career hits and career singles, with totals of 4,256 and 3,215, respectively. No active players today even come close to measuring up against Pete Rose. Alex Rodriguez is behind on career hits by over a thousand, and Ichiro Suzuki is behind on career singles by over eight hundred.
In fact, forget about active players for a moment. Ty Cobb comes somewhat close to meeting both of the above records, but he’s only slightly less than one hundred behind on career hits and slightly more than one hundred behind on career singles. To be fair, that’s pretty impressive, since Cobb is far behind Pete Rose on both at-bats and games played. Pete Rose has had 14,053 at-bats across 3,562 games, compared to Cobb’s respective numbers of 11,434 and 3,034. Again, no active player even comes close to these numbers. Alex Rodriguez is behind by about a thousand on games played, and slightly more than four thousand behind on at-bats.
But good old Charlie Hustle wasn’t just known for his abilities as a slugger. He also holds records for 5,929 times on base and 15,890 career plate appearances. Over the course of his thousands of appearances, he made a total of 10,328 outs. Again, he is way ahead of just about every other player in the game, and even active players are behind him by well over a thousand in each category (if not thousands). The Silver Slugger has also won a host of accolades, becoming the 1973 National League’s MVP as well as MVP of the 1975 World Series (the year he received his second of three World Series Rings), not to mention multiple Golden Glove Awards, batting titles, and All-Star designations.
With these stats, one might think that literally the only reason to keep Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame would be the betting scandal. But if you know anything about us, then you probably shouldn’t expect us to come down too hard on someone for being an avid sports bettor. Not only have we dedicated time to teaching you how to bet at baseball, but we’ve also previously explored the numerous reasons that we believe there should be no stigma on sports betting.
In addition, it isn’t like he was betting against his team. If he was, then he wouldn’t have been setting so many records. He bet on his team to win, and he played with the gusto necessary to make sure that it would happen. As his nickname implies, he played with a hustle that very few players are able to imitate. Whether or not you think he disgraced the game, it’s hard to say that he had no respect for baseball whatsoever. Less statistically superior players are in the Hall of Fame, so why not Pete Rose? By sheer mathematics, it just doesn’t make sense.
Why He Might Not Make the Hall of Fame
This might sound like a petty thing to say, but let’s face it—baseball is all about tradition, and it seems that tradition in this case means banning Pete Rose. Yes, we did mention above that Manfred might be warm to the idea of reinstating him, but what we neglected to mention is that Manfred is not the first commissioner to look over Rose’s appeal. Rose appealed back in 1997, when the MLB was still under the purview of former Commissioner Bud Selig. And even though the two met each other five years later, Selig never granted the appeal.
You might not think that’s a big deal, and you may be right. A new commissioner might easily mean a new ruling. But bear in mind that Selig didn’t just refuse to grant the appeal, he actually neglected to rule one way or the other. Pete Rose is something of a touchy subject in the world of baseball, and there’s no telling if Manfred will actually make a decision. If you read our recent article about what’s happening in the NFL offseason right now, then you already know that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell takes a lot of heat whenever he becomes involved in the controversies of others. The MLB’s commissioners might be actively trying to avoid negative press of a similar kind.
There’s also the matter of precedent to be taken into account. Reinstating Pete Rose would not mean simply reducing the length of a penalty. It would mean lifting a lifetime ban. What if the MLB feels the need to impose similar sanctions upon other players in the future? How will their punishments hold any weight if players are left to believe that such penalties can be reversed? In the world at large, harsh penalties are generally supposed to act as a deterrent, aimed at keeping others from committing similar transgressions. Rose may have served well over twenty years of his sentence, but lifting it now still shows that the harshest sanction the MLB has to offer is, for better or for worse, 100% reversible.
Furthermore, we stated above that the fans might be able to play a part in coercing Manfred to lift Rose’s ban. If fans of players who get punished in the future learn that they might be able to effect change by creating a big enough stink, then suddenly the MLB has to worry about suffering backlash every time they punish a player for disgraceful acts. The whole thing is a pretty dangerous slippery slope, and giving in to fan demands might set a precedent that could put the league office in hot water the next time they have to make a similarly tough decision.
And even reinstatement wouldn’t necessarily mean that Pete Rose would see his name honored at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Because of how long he’s been in retirement, separate committees (which do not meet every year) would have to add his name to a list and vote him in with a three-fourths majority. It would be easier if he had never been banned, and could have been voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America rather than by a complex committee process, but that’s the risk he took when he decided to bet on his team. But let’s say that he gets reinstated, and the committees do have a chance to vote him in. Should they?
Why He Shouldn’t Make the Hall of Fame
We said above that we aren’t the types to judge a person for betting on baseball, and we also made mention of the fact that Rose was at least betting on his own team. But whether or not this actually justifies his actions is debatable. Bear in mind that the sports bettors upon whom we generally feel there should be no stigma are just average Joes with an interesting hobby, not athletes who are going to get paid regardless of whether or not their team wins. Pete Rose may have bet on his team, but trying to increase his profits for something he was already getting paid to do was an act of sheer avarice.
On top of that, don’t forget what we said earlier about Ty Cobb. He came closer to Rose’s career hits and singles than just about anyone, and he did it with far fewer at-bats and games played. So compared to at least some Hall of Famers, Rose’s statistics don’t really seem as impressive. Don’t get us wrong, he still set some amazing records. But if you really look at how long it took him to do it, it’s harder to say whether or not these numbers are astounding enough to justify ending the ban for a man who took his salary, and some might say the prestige of his sport, for granted.
In addition, we’ve expressed in the past that we sometimes find it difficult to respect a player whose ego takes the forefront of their dealings with the press, and Pete Rose was certainly one of those players. We’re not saying he was any more egotistical than Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb or Cap Anson, but it still factors into the discussion.
In fact, possibly more damaging than his ego was his dishonesty. We technically have no idea how long he was betting on the sport, and the notion that he only bet on his team came from his own mouth. Given that he spent fifteen years denying that he had ever bet on the sport at all, it’s possible that we’re putting too much stock in what he has to say. There have been more dishonest baseball players than Pete Rose to be sure, but whether or not other amoral men have gotten into the Hall of Fame in the past doesn’t mean that we can’t hold Hall of Famers to a higher standard in the present.
And that higher standard should include a level of remorse. Last year, when speaking on ESPN about Alex Rodriguez and his issue with performance enhancing drugs, Pete Rose came to A-Rod’s defense a little bit and had some very nice things to say about him. But he also went out of his way to compare his scandal to A-Rod’s and point out that his wasn’t as bad. It’s been a long time since the betting scandal started, and it isn’t surprising that many think the lifetime ban needs to be lifted. But jeez Louise, Pete…could you at least stop justifying your disgrace long enough for us to forgive you on our own? His cockiness just doesn’t help his case very much.
There are some compelling reasons to believe that Pete Rose could get reinstated and eventually initiated into the Hall of Fame, but there are also some decent reasons to suspect that it might not happen. In similar fashion, there are some strong arguments for why he should or shouldn’t have his ban lifted. While his stats speak well to his legendary status as a baseball player, one might argue that his legacy will survive no matter what happens. So while we won’t be entirely thrilled if the MLB decides that it needs to protect its dignity, we can’t say that we’ll be crushed, either.
The best we can do is hope that Pete Rose is remembered for the mark he left as a player during his twenty-four years in the majors, and that his reputation won’t be too tarnished by some ill-advised decisions made as a manager. It may be difficult to trust him, but we will always be able to look back on his career in admiration, and that’s more than enough to be able to respect the man he once was.