|Pete Rose' punishment was never intended as a lifetime ban|
Philadelphia Phillies fans who were around to enjoy the emergence of the team as a contender in the 2nd half of the 1970′s know the story well. Despite being contenders every season since 1975. Despite 3 straight N.L. East crowns. Despite franchise record-setting, back-to-back seasons of 101 victories in both 1977 and 1978, the Fightin’ Phils of Schmidt, Carlton, McGraw, Luzinski, Bowa, Boone, Maddox, et al simply could not win “the big one” in the post-season.
That team was clearly missing two ingredients. A manager who wasn’t afraid to tell them when they were playing like horsebleep, and wasn’t afraid to sit veterans on the bench for a couple of games in favor of younger players was one. And the other was a no-doubt-about-it locker room leader. A proven winner. Someone who had been over the hump in the post-season, knew what it took, and was fearless in voicing their opinion to other veterans during the difficult times that any team will inevitably face, no matter how much talent they possess.
In 1979, the Phillies satisfied both of those needs with a change in managers from the stoic Danny Ozark to the organizational firebrand Dallas Green, and with the signing of Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose as a free agent. By the following 1980 season, Green’s expletive-laden tirades were peeling the paint off the walls of the locker room when the players sagged, and he inserted rookies Lonnie Smith and Keith Moreland into the lineup for energy. It certainly was a big help.
But even Green would later admit, and nearly every player who was on the team at the time would speak of it over time: it was the veteran, winning, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners presence of Peter Edward Rose on the field at first base, in the lineup batting at or near the top of the order, and in the locker room building up and massaging egos and playing horse whisperer to future Hall of Famers that made the ultimate difference in finally winning the 1980 World Series.
Rose turned 38 years old at the beginning of his very first season with the Phillies in 1979. It was the first of five successful seasons with the club that would result in that 1980 World Series victory and another appearance in the Fall Classic in 1983. In his Phils years alone, on the back-end of his 24-season career, Rose hit for an overall .291 average at ages 38-42. He accumulated 826 hits, an average of more than 165 per season. He was an NL All-Star the first four years, received NL MVP votes twice in that span, and won an NL Silver Slugger Award at 1st base in 1981 at age 40.
Pete Rose is beloved by the vast majority of Philadelphia baseball fans who, like me, got to enjoy the entirety of that period. And he isn’t even really ours. We are Rose’s 2nd baseball family. Pete Rose is truly a Cincinnati Red. He broke into the majors there in 1963, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He would play in Cincy for 16 seasons, through 1978, and as the driving force atop the Big Red Machine of those years, Rose would lead the team to 5 NL West Division crowns, 4 National League Pennants, and back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 & 76. This included an NL playoffs victory over the Phils in ’76.
Rose was able to become one of the early beneficiaries of baseball free agency in the 1970′s, jumping to our Phillies for that 1979-83 run. He then played just over one season with the Montreal Expos before returning to the Reds to finish out his career with 2+ final seasons in Cincinnati. As a player in those 24 seasons, Rose was an NL All-Star a total of 17 times. From 1965 through 1982, Rose appeared in the Mid-Summer Classic in all but two seasons, and in those two non-All Star years he would end up receiving MVP votes each time, almost as if to say “I’m not an All-Star? Oh yeah? Watch this.” He was the most versatile All-Star of all-time, appearing at 5 different positions: 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, left field, and right field.
On his return to Cincinnati during the 1984 season, Rose was not just a returning player, he was installed as player-manager. He would manage the Reds for nearly five full seasons from August 1984 through August 1989, accumulating a win-loss record of 426-388 as the skipper. In each of his four full seasons as the Reds manager, the team finished in 2nd place in the N.L. West every time. As a player and as a manager, Pete Rose was one of the game’s all-time fiercest competitors, and he was one of its all-time winners.
Rose was the 1973 National League Most Valuable Player, the MVP of perhaps the greatest World Series of all-time in 1975, was a 3-time NL batting champion, won Gold Gloves in 1969 & 70, and won the league’s Roberto Clemente Award in 1976 which is given to the MLB player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
A switch-hitter, Rose would amass 4,256 hits in his career, more than any player ever in the game’s century-and-a-half existence. In addition to being the MLB all-time Hit King, Rose also set records for Games (3,562), At-Bats (14,053), and Singles (3,215) and he was a career .303 hitter. He is 6th on the all-time Runs Scored list with 2,165. He is 2nd all-time on the Doubles list with 746. He is 14th in Walks, and is scattered across the leaderboards of almost every record in baseball history.
Problems began to surface for Rose, at least publicly, when Sports Illustrated published a front-page article in its April 3rd, 1989 issue alleging that Rose had bet on baseball while still the manager of the Reds. Rose had been interviewed by outgoing Commissioner of Baseball Peter Ueberroth and his eventual replacement, A. Bartlett ‘Bart’ Giamatti, in regards to rumors of his gambling on the game a couple of months earlier. Rose denied the allegations, and the investigation was dropped. But Giamatti retained an investigator, lawyer John Dowd, to look further into the allegations.
The story of the lengthy investigation process would take too long here. Suffice it to say, evidence pointed to Rose having done what he was accused of doing, what he publicly denied: gambling on baseball while a player/manager, a well-known, for obvious reasons, taboo in sports. A settlement was reached wherein Rose accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list, and MLB would not make any formal finding in regards to the gambling charges. Rose was eligible to apply for reinstatement after one year, but there was no deal that this was simply a one-year suspension. Importantly, there was also no agreement or consideration that this was some “lifetime ban” from baseball.
The official Dowd Report establishes that “no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds“, and no such evidence has ever surfaced in the ensuing decades. People have alleged that they “believe” it happened, but the motives and agendas and biases of those making such statements have always been questioned, including such statements by Dowd himself. For fans of Rose, this is a vital point. It is hard to believe that someone who was such a competitor, for whom winning was literally everything, who it was believed would run his own mother over at home plate to score the winning run, could possibly bet against his beloved Reds to lose, let alone try to create any situation wherein such a loss would be more likely to occur.
Pete Rose has spent the last quarter century in baseball’s version of purgatory. Unfortunately, he is not alone. He is there with tens of millions of baseball fans around the country who believe that his continued ban from the game has itself become unjust. Pete Rose did not kill anyone. He did not rape anyone. He did not destroy anyone. He was a weak man who made a mistake, and who lied about it when caught. He was eventually caught in his lie, and he accepted, even if it was grudgingly and forced, an extremely harsh punishment. That punishment, reviewable after a year, has now drug into its 26th year.
On Febuary 4th, 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame voted to exclude anyone who was on the game’s “permanently ineligible” list from consideration for enshrinement in the Hall. In 2008, the 2nd year in which Rose would have been able to be considered by their group, the Veteran’s Committee also changed their rules to bar those on the “permanently ineligible” list from consideration. Both of these measures were clear “kick the can down the road” moves by these cowardly groups to keep them out of the decision-making process when evaluating the worthiness of the controversial Rose.
This weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame will enshrine a handful of very deserving men into its hallowed halls, into the ranks of the game’s immortals. The simple fact is that Pete Rose deserves to be one of them. He should have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame years, if not decades ago. Any honest evaluation of his playing career, if that is all that you were judging, would show this to be true.
But at the very least, it is long past time for the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, to lift the ban on Pete Rose. A brief statement could accompany such a gesture, not assigning any innocence to Rose, but simply saying that the punishment had fit the crime, and was now long enough. The statement could include a stern warning regarding any future involvement of players, coaches, umpires, managers, and others intimately involved in the games from gambling on those games in any way while still actively involved in the sport.
Lift the ban, Commissioner Selig. It would be a tremendous parting gift to fans on your way out the door in MLB as you retire from the game. And as for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Veteran’s Committee, and any other entity that has been perpetuating their own withdrawal from the Rose situation, I would call on their own immediate repeal of the Rose ban as soon as the Commissioner lifts the MLB ban. Allow Rose his full 15 years of consideration by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. Allow them to debate and vote on Rose, just as they do now with similarly controversial figures such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.