Major League Baseball Spring Training Games – it’s the most exciting time of the year. Every team is hopeful and optimistic and every fan thinks this is the year. In many ways, baseball is the most difficult of all sports because every player must be able to everything – run, throw, catch, hit, field. And players can become stars quickly. Teams can get good out of nowhere. That makes these the days of big hearts and open minds. Anything is possible …
Which leads me to my annual plea – It’s time to let Pete Rose back in Major League Baseball.
When he was first banned from the sport for gambling more than 31 years ago, I thought the lifetime sentence was just. Gambling strikes at the core of the sport’s integrity. If there is any doubt that what you are seeing on the field is a true and fair competition amongst athletes who are genuine in their desire to win, you’ve got nothing.
Pete gambled. On baseball. Even on his own games.
Baseball knew it. They had the evidence. Reports were that his fingerprints were on betting slips, although that was all squashed in the agreement. That Pete signed. Pete denied doing it even after he had agreed to the lifetime ban. Denied it for years. Two years after the agreed-to ban, the Hall Of Fame decreed that those banned from participating in the game permanently, would also be ineligible for induction into the Hall. Rose is the only living member of that dubious club.
So he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Hasn’t been allowed around many baseball functions or events in over 30 years. Has not been allowed to manage or even advise a team. Even though he still holds 19 major league records including most hits, most games played, most seasons with at least 150 games played, and the National League record for consecutive games with a hit. He also retired with the highest career fielding percentage for a right fielder, over 99%. There’s no disputing his credentials.
In many ways, the steroid issue is at least as damaging to the game’s integrity as gambling because you have players gaining an unfair advantage. It’s that simple.
And not one of them is officially banned from the Hall.
If the Astros and Red Sox get to keep their World Series trophies after the 2017 and 2018 scandals around sign-stealing – and the handful of sure-fire hall of famers on those teams will waltz in, there has to be room for Rose.
Who knows if Rose would be a successful manager after all these years or if he even wants to. He turned 80 last week. The game never really changes but the players sure do. Could he handle those egos? Could they handle him? So maybe that part is moot. But he should be around the game. The game and its players should know him.
I read a story about an incident during Pete’s rookie season with the Cincinnati Reds. He was at bat and the writer looked down and looked back up – Pete was sliding into first base. Someone that was a crazy play and the writer said that’s not all that unusual for Pete. The guy said yeah, but he drew a walk. That was Pete Rose. They called him Charlie Hustle and he was emphatically one of the best the game has ever seen. And he’s still around. But he’s 80.
He’s served a long sentence for his mistakes. Mistakes he has by now acknowledged and apologized for. Despite his stain on it, the game was better because he played. He belongs. It’s time.
Just saying …