Charlie Hustle…Pete Rose…Hall of Fame Inductee?
Enough is enough. I had the pleasure of playing baseball in my youth for several years. Had it not been for some unforseen circumstances, I probably would have had a chance to play at the professional level. I had the talent. I had the desire. I had the drive. What was missing was the direction. I played the game emulating those who played it best. To me, Pete Rose was one of the best. He played the game like a game is supposed to be played. He gave it his all, and wouldn’t stop until it was over. In other words, he tried his best to beat you, by himself if he had to. I soaked that up. I am still that way til this day, no matter what I’m competing in. I’m the one you didn’t want to see on the other side of the line. You knew I was going to give it 110%, til the end. Pete’s stats suggest that he be placed in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some believe that he shouldn’t be allowed in. All in the name of integrity. I believe former players believe differently. But enough about that. What’s most important here is the “integrity of the game” and what is best for baseball.
Let’s look first at the “integrity” of the game. As most baseball fans know, the current commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, is also the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. But what many fans don’t know, or don’t seem to remember, is that back in 1988 (around the same time MLB was investigating Pete) the MLB Players Association charged that Bud and his fellow owners were hurting the “integrity of the game” by acting in collusion to depress salaries, a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. Arbitrator Thomas Roberts agreed with the players, who received $280 million in damages from Bud and his fellow owners.
This action further widened the gap between players and owners, and in 1994, the players went on strike over what they perceived to be owners bargaining in bad faith. Selig, then the acting commissioner, responded by canceling the World Series and promising to use replacement players for the 1995 season. The players ended their strike on March 31, 1995 when a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that the owners had indeed once again bargained in bad faith.
Selig was also the driving force behind the 2001 “contraction” talks when MLB threatened to put two teams out of business. One of the teams on the chopping block was the Minnesota Twins, who’s disbandment was halted only by a Minnesota judge. The Twins responded by going to the playoffs. The idea was still being discussed in February 2003, even though the collective bargaining agreement called for 30 Major League teams during the life of the current deal. This time, Commissioner Selig told a group of Oakland businessmen that the A’s were still a contraction candidate, even though they have become a perennial playoff contender. Tell me, how can this be good for baseball?
Which brings us to the present. Last year, Selig and the Players Association were just barely able to avoid another disastrous stoppage of play. Yet they failed to address the biggest threat to the “integrity of the game” today; steroids and other performance enhancing drug use by Major League Baseball players. We currently have an abundance of bulked-up monsters as players, some of them even using corked bats for additional power, affecting the outcomes of games nightly; yet no one in baseball bats an eye. We also have wealthy owners cutting their team’s payroll and trading away their top players, while holding cities hostage for new, publicly funded stadiums. These owners claim they need new facilities to compete with higher payroll ball clubs; yet when the new facilities are built, these same owners continue cutting payroll and trading away the team’s top players while their teams continue to fail to compete. (Sound familiar Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, etc.?)
This same group, led by Commissioner Selig, continues to tell us that there is nothing more damaging to the sport than gambling. Yet they continue to reap billons of advertising dollars from casinos, state lotteries, racetracks, and other forms of gambling. They say that Pete Rose can never be a part of MLB again, yet they shamelessly trot him out on the field whenever a large enough sponsor, like MasterCard with it’s All-Century Team and Most Memorable Moments promotions, tell them to. Where is the “integrity” there?
Sure, Pete Rose may have bet on baseball, but Selig and his owners have done much more to hurt “the integrity of the game” than he ever could.
Which brings us to the question of what is best for baseball.
Major League Baseball Rule 21 (d), the rule covering betting on baseball, is one of a kind in the sports world. It was established in response to the notorious 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in which the Chicago White Sox were found to have conspired with known bookmakers to throw the 1919 World Series. It bans any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who bets on any baseball game in which the bettor has a duty to perform, from Major League Baseball forever. To me, this makes perfect sense if someone throws a game.
But betting on your own team to win? Personally, I think it would probably be a great thing for baseball if everyone connected with a game had money riding on it. We’d see a lot less half-assing, that’s for sure. And spare me the garbage about how bad it is for a manager to bet on his team to win; about how it may force him to use too many pitchers or use players who are hurt, further injuring them. Pete Rose played every game he was ever in with one purpose: to win. I don’t doubt he managed the same way, as any manager worth his salt should. But I doubt that even as a gambler, any manager is going to do anything to hurt his players if for no other reason, so he can win with them in the future. Besides, what is more hurtful to a player (or any person) than ignoring rampant drug use, as so many in and around the sport do right now? Gambling is not baseball’s biggest worry, in fact it’s pretty far from it.
I think, as a fan, Baseball Rule 21(d) is due for a change. A lifetime ban could still be imposed for anyone found guilty of being any part of an effort to throw a game. After all, the “integrity” of the game must still be protected, and I think this is a fair way to do it. But gambling, even on baseball, is perfectly legal in our society, and MLB does in fact promote it. A lifetime ban for betting on your team to win is just too much. Still, I understand MLB cannot condone betting on baseball among the participants, so I think the rule should be amended as follows:
Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for a period of 15 years, at which time they will be eligible for reinstatement.
Think about it, if you get 15 years for anything, it’s a lot more than just a slap on the wrist. (Rapists and murders can get out of jail in less time.) And if you take the type of money that players are making today (the average player makes over $2 million a year, and many make far more than that), and suspend him for 15 years, that’s at least $30 million he’s going to lose, if not much more. That is still a very powerful deterrent if you ask me, and more importantly a fair one.
I know many people will disagree with my opinions, but I really can’t understand why. They act like baseball is some holy entity that only the most pious of individuals can participate in. They stand in judgment over Pete Rose as if their pasts are without mistakes, as if they have no skeletons of their own. People, baseball is a game. And as a fan, I can say it was a hell of a lot more exciting with Pete Rose than it has been without him. As Pete himself said in his ABC Primetime interview, “I watch every (Reds) game every night that I can. And it drives me crazy, like, when I put the Reds on, and there’s 20,000 empty seats. I want them to be like the Cubs, or like the Yankees, or like Boston.” I only wish those currently running the Reds felt the same way.
I really don’t want to minimize what he did, but he has paid one hell of a price for his transgressions. He spent five months in prison away from his family, something most people can’t and don’t want to imagine. He has been stripped of his livelihood for the past 15 years. He has been denied his proper place among baseball’s greats in the Hall of Fame. All because he has a gambling problem. How does it help him or baseball by denying him a second chance? He has paid his debt, and no matter what, will continue to do so for the rest of his life.
Pete says he quit betting on baseball after he got suspended, and there is no evidence to the contrary. So what if he still occasionally goes to the track? Lots of baseball players, coaches, and umpires go to the track. Betting on the ponies is perfectly legal. Betting on the ponies is not betting on baseball. Why then, should there be a double standard for Pete? He doesn’t run around with scumbags anymore, and is involved in several successful business ventures. He has reconfigured his life, which is what Commissioner Giamatti said had to happen for him to gain reinstatement. So far, he has done everything asked of him, and there is no reason to believe he will not continue to do so.
What Pete did to baseball is no worse than what many others have done and continue to do to the game. All he is asking for is a second chance, and I think he has earned it. It’s time for Major League Baseball to end the hypocrisy. It’s time to forgive Pete Rose.
“I’d go through hell in a gasoline suit to play ball.” — Pete Rose
Pete Rose’s Career Statistics
Games AB Hits 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SB BA Slug
3562 14053 4256 746 135 160 2165 1314 1566 198 .303 .409
All-time Major League record for most career hits – 4,256
All-time Major League record for most games played – 3,562
All-time Major League record for most at bats – 14,053
All-time Major League record for most singles – 3,315
All-time Major League record for most total bases by a switch hitter – 5,752
All-time Major League record for most seasons of 200 or more hits – 10
All-time Major League record for most consecutive seasons of 100 or more hits – 23
All-time Major League record for most seasons of 600 or more at bats – 17
All-time Major League record for most seasons of 150 or more games – 17
All-time Major League record for most seasons of 100 or more games – 23
Only player in Major League history to play more than 500 games at five different positions:
1st Base – 939
2nd Base – 628
3rd Base – 634
Left Field – 671
Right Field – 595
Major League record for playing most winning games – 1,972
All-time National League record for most years played – 24
All-time National League record for most consecutive years played – 24
All-time National League record for most career runs – 2,165
All-time National League record for most career doubles – 746
All-time National League record for most games 5 or more hits – 10
Modern National League record for longest consecutive game hitting streak – 44 (June 14 – July 31, 1978)
Modern National League record for most consecutive game hitting streaks of 20 or more games – 7
That’s a helluva resume. Put any Hall of Famer’s up against this one, and theirs will probably be lacking. One of the greatest to EVER play the game. His gambling on the game came after his playing days. As a player, you won’t find many who played it like he did. It’s time to put this man in his proper place, the Hall of Fame. But that’s just my thoughts. What’s yours?
( January 12th, 2004 )
Excerpts by Matthew McGowan