In the wake of deeply damaging revelations about high-tech cheating that will forever stain baseball’s 2017 world champions, and threatens to do the same to the 2018 World Series winners, the most infamous cheater in major league history says he should be reinstated.
And Pete Rose has a compelling argument.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has already ruled out what some have demanded: stripping the Astros of their championship. Of course, one wonders how that would even be done. While colleges have been forced to vacate athletic titles following scandalous revelations, it never happens in professional ranks. The closest parallel in baseball history would be the infamous 1919 Black Sox (the moniker for the crooked Chicago White Sox), but their efforts to throw the series resulted in their planned defeat.
Like the black mark on the national pastime of 101 years ago, the actions of baseball’s all-time hit leader were shocking and egregious. Rose broke baseball’s most cardinal rule, and the law, by betting on MLB games – including on his own team – while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was suspended indefinitely in August of 1989, making him ineligible for further employment in the game, and more importantly, excluded from consideration for the most coveted honor of all, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
It was thought at several junctures over the last 30 years that, if Rose was willing to come clean publicly, the league would seriously consider reinstatement. But Rose has refused to show contrition.
Nevertheless, if the Houston Astros are allowed to continue being recognized as 2017 world champions after we found out that, among other things, they used an illegal camera to steal signs and then signal their batters by whacking a garbage can – in the postseason, no less – is it viable to deny one of the sport’s greatest players ever the chance to be recognized for his accomplishments, tarnished as his managerial career may be?
A Towering Figure
How about the steroid cheaters who came after Rose, and before high-tech skullduggery? The likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco have been punished with shrunken vote totals by Hall of Fame voters for their transparent use of performance-enhancing drugs, but they are still eligible for Cooperstown, while Rose is not.
It is impossible to overstate what a towering figure Rose was in the game, with his 4256 hits, and how difficult it is to present the history of baseball in the 1970s by excluding the marquis player of the decade, warts and all.
Is it not now time to split the baby, so to speak, and separate out the behavior and accomplishments of a man who holds arguably baseball’s most important single record? Consider too that he did it by surpassing one of the most vicious racists ever to play the sport – who is in the Hall of Fame along with other bad actors – Ty Cobb.
Pete Rose could, and should, remain forever banned from participating in anything to do with professional baseball. But for MLB, which controls the Hall of Fame, to allow the Astros to keep their title while pretending that Rose never existed, to purge the remarkable career which headlined the sport for many years, is counter-productive at best, and ultimately detrimental to this greatest sport ever devised by man or God.
Read more from Tim Donner.