It’s sad more than anything.
The average person who hasn’t been following closely might sympathize with Pete Rose and think he’s suffered long enough. That at 81, it’s time for baseball to forgive and forget. Put it back in. Make him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Except for Rose, it’s never that easy.
Commissioner Rob Manfred would be unwise to reverse Rose’s lifetime ban, which the all-time hit king received in 1989 from the late Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti for betting on baseball. Rose is a wild card that could embarrass Manfred and the sport at any time. Manfred, an employment lawyer, is not the type to take such a risk. Neither should he.
Even if Manfred were willing to lift the ban, Rose would hardly be guaranteed entry to the hall. He would not even be eligible for the exam until December 2024. And he would only have a shot at recording if Hall does Historical Survey Committee put him on the ballot for the Classic Baseball Era election, covering players before 1980.
Rose is back in the news because of a apology letter and plea for forgiveness he sent to Manfred earlier this month. It wasn’t the first time he had expressed such feelings. And typically for Rose, it didn’t stay private. TMZ published the letter on Friday and said Rose sent it to Manfred four days earlier. Crazy things happen in the reporting, but it seems unlikely that the commissioner’s office released the letter to TMZ. Rose did not respond to a request for comment.
“Despite my many mistakes, I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished as a baseball player — I’m the Hit King and my dream is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Rose wrote in his letter. “Like all of us, I believe in accountability. I am 81 years old and I know that I have been held accountable and that I hold myself accountable. I am writing now to ask for another chance.”
Sounds reasonable right? Major League Baseball now works with gambling companies. Ditto for his broadcasting partners, including my other employer Fox Sports. But while the sport’s attitude towards gambling has waned due to the financial benefit, his rules prohibiting players, referees and any club or league official or staff from betting on matches.
Another problem: Too often, Rose’s words sound hollow. Too often he can’t avoid himself.
In August, the Commissioner’s Office allowed Rose to attend Phillies Alumni weekend celebrating the 1980 World Series title he helped make possible. It was Rose’s first appearance at a Philadelphia ballpark since he was banned more than three decades ago. The Phillies planned to add him to their Wall of Fame in 2017, but canceled his inclusion following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl in the 1970s. A woman according to a court document that she had sexual encounters with Rose beginning in 1973, when she was 14 or 15; Rose said his relationship with her began when she was 16, the age of consent in Ohio. (Fox, where I worked with Rose from April 2015 to August 2017, cut off contact with him around the same time.) The statute of limitations had expired and Rose was never charged with a crime.
The reunion of Rose and his former teammates should have been a happy occasion. Instead, Rose made it tumultuous. When Alex Coffey, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked him about it Responding to the statutory rape allegations, Rose said: “No, I’m not here to talk about it. I’m sorry for that. That was 55 years ago, baby.” He later said, “Who cares what happened 50 years ago?” He did too occurred in the Phillies TV booth, cursing and making a crude joke about John Kruk’s testicular cancer.
Three months later, Rose wrote his letter to Manfred saying he held himself accountable. But for Rose, frivolous behavior is nothing new. He spent the first 14 years of his ban denies betting on baseball, including his 1989 autobiography Pete Rose: My Story. He served five months in prison in 1990 for filing false income tax returns. A secret meeting in Milwaukee in 2002 with former commissioner Bud Selig, at which he admitted he first bet on baseball as a manager, also apparently went awry. News of the meeting leaked out and Rose promptly followed with an appearance at a Las Vegas sportsbook.
Two years later, Rose published a second autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, as the Hall of Fame prepared to welcome two new inductees, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Rose said the timing wasn’t his fault. Nothing is ever his fault.
On the day Giamatti announced Rose’s ban, he said, “The burden of showing a rerouted, reconfigured, rehabilitated life is entirely on Pete Rose.” Rose has encountered that burden only sporadically.
Others are in Cooperstown’s purgatory, too, but let’s not draw equivalences between Rose and players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who allegedly used steroids before the league issued penalties for such behavior. Rose broke the cardinal rule that had been in the books for so long. Perhaps he could have created a path to reinstatement by quietly staying on the good side of the league. But acting discreetly, following a process… that’s not his role.
Manfred, who became commissioner in January 2015, declined a request by Rose for reinstatement the following December, saying Rose was “far behind”. to fulfil the requirements. From what Manfred knows, he could use Rose again and then be exposed to another bomb. Rose has admitted he only bet on baseball after he retired. But in June 2015, ESPN received copies of Betting Records dating back to 1986, which provided the first written confirmation that Rose had gambled on games when the Red player manager. It’s always something.
The Hall of Fame, that’s what Rose wants. Judging by his achievements as a player — his record 4,256 hits, three World Series titles and 17 All-Star Game selections at five different positions — it’s also what he deserves. But the hall passed a rule in 1991 that barred players on the ineligible baseball list from admission to Cooperstown. Before Rose could even be considered, Manfred had to take the lead by removing Rose from the ineligible list. Again, induction would not necessarily follow.
The Historic Overview Committee that creates the Classic Era ballot consists of 11 members from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Maybe Rose would get past that group who would just nominate him for the exam. But would the Classic Era Committee, a combination of 16 living Hall of Famers, executives, and historians/writers, actually vote for him? And if so, would any living Hall of Famer boycott his induction ceremony in protest?
These questions wouldn’t even be relevant until December 2024. If Rose were not elected, he would have to wait another three years for the next Classic Era election. He can continue to beg Manfred, appeal to public sympathy. But Rose, to borrow a term from horse racing, one of his favorite sports, is left at the gate. His race to Cooperstown remains permanently stalled, and it’s nobody’s fault but himself.
(Photo: Matt Rourke / Associated Press)