The Despised

Baseball, under the oft-reviled commissioner Bud Selig, has seen its fair share of change. Interleague play, expansion, the threat of retraction, and an extra playoff round are only a few examples of the different hats baseball has worn under his tenure. For better or worse, Selig has not been afraid to experiment with the structure of baseball. His legacy, however, remains undetermined. He could be remembered for changing baseball for the better, or for canceling the 1994 World Series.

Throughout his term, Pete Rose has been one of Selig’s biggest headaches. Rose knows that his years of Hall of Fame eligibility are numbered, and that his only hope lies with Selig reinstating him. For years, fans have stubbornly supported Pete Rose. Some believed he never bet on baseball, others believe he should be admitted to the hall regardless, based solely on the strength of his playing record. During on field ceremonies and presentations Rose was continually cheered while Selig was booed.

And then Pete Rose confessed.

Now Selig may have more public opinion on his side. While it still may not be a popular decision with the admission-based-on-playing-record-crowd, he has firmer ground to stand on. Selig has a unique opportunity to positively impact baseball and be remembered for doing what is right in the face of what is popular. He has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of two great commissioners; Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who set the precedent on gambling with the permanent expulsion of all the players involved in the Black Sox Scandal, and Bartlett Giammati, who handed down Rose’s lifetime ban.

The single most important reason why Rose should never be reinstated or allowed on a Hall of Fame ballot is because he committed a heinous crime against baseball. Pete Rose isn’t your average gambler. He was the manager of a Major League Baseball team. A position, that fairly or not, holds its members to a higher standard. No credible evidence exists that points toward Rose having bet against the Reds. But he has confessed to betting on them. Having money riding on any single game undoubtedly changed his managerial decisions. An overworked pitcher, a hamstrung outfielder, and the good of the team over the long run were all in a position to be compromised by the prospect of a winning bet. Rose claims his gambling had no effect on him managing; given the everyday decisions managers make I find that difficult to believe.

Rose says he began betting on baseball because he thought he “wouldn’t get caught.” He displayed a flagrant lack of respect for the game, for the fans, and for the players he managed and played with. He believed he was bigger than rule 21d. He painted himself as a martyr and ignored the lessons of baseball history that have been ruthless on gamblers. Rose deliberately and willfully wounded the game. It’s a crime on par with treason. You don’t pardon Benedict Arnold and you can’t reinstate Pete Rose.

Moreover, he has not shown a shred of remorse. He even admits that he’s not the kind of person to be sorry for what he did. He concludes his pitiful attempt at an apology by saying, “let’s move on.” How about we not move on, eh? No real baseball fan can continue to support Rose in his quest for the Hall as he continues to disrespect baseball. Rose owes the game everything. Without baseball Pete Rose would be just another balding middle age man with a gambling problem. By continuing to sell out for a cheap betting buck, Roses has melded his admirable persona of Charlie Hustle with the seedy and despicable Charlie the Hustler.

Some would argue that Rose has already done the time for the crime. Sure he has. We would all love to do time like Rose has. Continued fame, lack of job, and a more than comfortable income, much of which he squandered at the racetrack, hardly count as suffering. The subtitle of his book describes his life as “My Prison Without Bars.” To quote Lewis Black, “You know what most people call that? Not prison!”

As if the web of disrespect and disregard for the game are not enough, he keeps spinning. He timed his confession and book release to coincide with the announcement of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. Two very classy players, Dennis Eckersly and Paul Molitor, were chosen under the shadow of Rose’s media blitz. Classy is something no one will ever accuse Rose of being. His timing teamed his lack of respect for baseball with a lack of respect for the Hall of Fame.

Peter Gammons called Pete Rose “perhaps the lowest figure in baseball in my 32 years of covering the sport.” Strong words from a former Rose supporter. If admission to the Hall were based purely on playing ability, Rose would be in. But it is not. Also to be considered are “integrity, sportsmanship, and character,” traits Rose certainly has never displayed. Granted, Ty Cobb wasn’t the greatest guy and his cleats were always flying, but he never set out to harm baseball. Baseball and the Hall of Fame have their fair share of drug dealers, thugs, and wife beaters. Is it more damaging to baseball to have a gambler or a wife beater in the Hall? I can’t say. But I do know that betting on baseball is infinitely worse than not betting on baseball. Keep in mind that it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame, not the Positive Contribution to Society Hall of Fame.

In denying Rose reinstatement baseball would certainly be giving up a surefire drawing power. Rose would be able to pack every stadium he visited. He would rivet the sports media attention fully on baseball. In a sport that’s losing much of its fan base to football and the NBA, it doesn’t seem like a bad deal. However, reinstating Rose is not worth cashing in on his appeal. Nearly every decision businesses make is motivated by a dollar sign. If baseball does what is right instead of what is fiscally attractive, it will have taken an important step forward in restoring the chip in its clear coat that Rose left. Then, baseball and Bud Selig can talk about defending the integrity of the game. As far as legacies go, Selig could do a lot worse.

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