25 years is an unfathomably long amount of time to a 20-year old college kid. Trying to understand a period of time that stretches further than all of my minutes on this fine planet of ours is almost impossible. You can start to grasp just how long 25 years is if you recall that in 1989 Ronald Reagan said his final farewells as President of the United States, “Tank Man” gave the figurative bird to the Chinese militia as they knocked on the gates of Tian’anmen, and Michael Jackson officially was crowned the “King of Pop.”
There is one man for whom the past 25 years could not have possibly passed any more slowly and that is baseball’s all-time leader in hits (4,256) and games played (3,562), Pete Rose. A legacy of heroic proportions and a future in our nation’s pastime were both pitifully signed away by Charlie Hustle two and a half decades ago this last August 24th when Rose voluntarily agreed to be placed on Major League Baseball’s permanent ineligibility list as punishment for betting on games as a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds. The agreement included terms that said Rose could appeal his ban after one year on the list, but after that year passed, Rose was shunned and no commissioner has touched the issue since. I don’t blame them.
Ever since “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox was canned in 1920 for being associated with the Black Sox Scandal, in which several members of the Sox attempted to fix the 1919 World Series, the rules against betting on baseball have been clear as day—if you bet on baseball and get caught you’re banned for life.
In our modern age of the game, we are getting quite used to the game’s greatest players falling out of grace due to this or that scandal, overwhelmingly because of steroid use. The game’s all-time home run leader and single-season home run leader Barry Bonds will forever have an asterisk next to his names in the record books. Former phenom Alex Rodriguez will never be mentioned without a sour quip about his recurrent juicing. But what I want to do is separate Rose from the rest of the cheaters.
Rose broke baseball law. There is no denying that fact and there is no denying that it was extremely foolish to try a rule that dates back to the years just after the end of World War I. Even with that in mind, though, Rose should not be bunched into the same category of MLB enemies that includes steroid abusers. What Rose did was definitely wrong, but how can betting on your own team to win games draw a harsher sentence than blatantly cheating to gain an unfair advantage? The fact that A-Rod can be caught using steroids once and then turn around and get caught again, but still have a chance to return to the game is ludicrous. If Rose can be torn from the game for life for betting on his own team to win (which in my mind really would lead him to do even more as a player and manager to help his team succeed), cheating in the most obvious way by using performance enhancing drugs should carry a similarly weighted decision—but for now the gap in punishment is glaringly large.
The most logical anti-Rose response says that his ban isn’t really even about him. It is about keeping the deterrent from betting on baseball strong. If Rose was let off the hook, he could be inducted to the Hall of Fame and regain the glory he lost when he was busted, which in turn would cause some kind of rampant rise in gambling within MLB circles as players and managers realized they could get a second chance. As hasty and exaggerated as this claim is, making Rose once again eligible to be employed by an MLB team and for induction into the Hall of Fame would, admittedly, show others that second chances are possible. But given Rose’s famously publicized crucifixion, it would take a player or manager with serious gall and a severe lack of passion for the game to risk the same prolonged excommunication. Taking Rose off the ineligibility list would not destroy the credibility of the MLB rulebook. If anything, the return of repeat steroid offenders to the game is the greater threat to MLB validity.
I am in no way saying that Rose should be thrown directly into the Hall of Fame and apologized to for all the years of exile. The Hall of Fame voters can decide his fate on that front and the Reds can do as they please in terms of welcoming him back to baseball, but someone whose only offense pales in comparison to those of A-Rod or Ryan Braun should not be permanently expunged. Had he betted on his team losing and made moves to help that outcome occur, that would be another story, but Rose did nothing to purposely sabotage his team.
Some bylaws would have to be rewritten so that betting on one’s own team carried a lesser sentence (it could still be stiff, but not as stiff as a lifetime ban), but with the current density of MLB’s laws, what is a few edits to some select clauses?
MLB’s new commissioner starting next January, Rob Manfred, will most likely elect to maintain the silence on the issue during his debut in the boss’s chair, but it would be a positive turn of events if he gave Pete some consideration. If MLB wants to take such a hardline stance on betting, the lifetime bans need to become a staple for all kinds of cheating. As that assuredly will not be instituted, the only equitable move is to allow Rose his return.