Has MLB closed the book on Pete Rose?
ESPN's Buster Olney explains why MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to maintain Pete Rose's ban from baseball doesn't close the door on the all-time hits leader to be a member of the Hall of Fame.
The fact that Pete Rose is not a Hall of Famer has not prevented him from camping out in Cooperstown, New York, during Hall of Fame induction week, donning his latest trademark and selling autographs. This practice has caused much grumbling by his peers, who have hated how Rose has used the moment and the institution to make money while drawing attention away from the actual Hall of Famers.
But the Baseball Hall of Fame should take the opportunity it has to use Rose -- still banned by Major League Baseball, as commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday -- as a way to get itself back to what it should be: a museum that neutrally presents history.
Manfred's statement Monday outlined what a lot of casual fans do not fully understand, that the commissioner has the power to keep him out of Major League Baseball, with no actual jurisdiction over the question of whether Rose, 74, can be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That is up to the folks at the Hall, who can make up their own rules and adjust them as they see fit -- as they have done in recent years, changing the criteria for voter eligibility and the number of years candidates can appear on the ballot.
The Hall of Fame could use Rose to get itself out of the ridiculous box because of the so-called character clause, which has seemingly shifted the place from the simple mission of reflecting baseball history to a bastion of tangled morality.
A review of that slippery slope on which the Hall currently stands: The character clause is believed to have been written by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the former commissioner who labored, in his last years, to keep the sport segregated. For years, the character clause was almost entirely ignored by the baseball writers, who apparently recognized the fact that they were voting on humans with human foibles -- racists, drunks, womanizers, criminals and users of performance-enhancing drugs -- and generally picked the best baseball players. Anybody can Google the names of current Hall of Famers to dig into their various histories, if it's really important.
But once Mark McGwire's name reached the ballot, the character clause suddenly became relevant in the eyes of the latest generation of voters, and the Hall of Fame, with its rules machinations -- such as its refusal to adjust the number of names a voter can vote for -- has seemed to work against some of the steroid-era candidates.
The inconsistency and the folly in this has now put the Hall in a position where its relevancy has been questioned, because at the moment, there are no plaques in the Hall for the all-time home run king, Barry Bonds, or arguably the greatest pitcher ever, Roger Clemens, or the all-time hits leader in Rose. There are folks in baseball who chuckle at the hypocrisy of all of this, given their belief that past users of steroids -- as well as other human beings guilty of doing some of the worst things humans can do -- are already in the Hall of Fame. This is not a house of the holy; it's a baseball museum.
What the Hall can do, through Rose, is to get back on course, using the history to its advantage. In whatever way it chooses, it can make Rose eligible for induction, either by rewriting its rules and putting him up for a vote among the writers or by placing his name before a veterans committee.
Then, if Rose is elected, they can present his entire history, neutrally. Because as former commissioner Fay Vincent has said, in paraphrasing Justice Louis Brandeis, sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. Just present the truth.
Imagine the power of the moment if Jane Forbes Clark leaned into the microphone and read Pete Rose's plaque, speaking words like these:
Peter Edward Rose, player for the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos, 1963 to 1989. The player known as Charlie Hustle exuded passion and work ethic as he amassed more hits than any player in Major League Baseball history, with 4,256. The all-time leader in games and plate appearances; MVP in 1973, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 10 different seasons. A 17-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner. In 1989, Rose agreed to a lifetime suspension from the game after information that he had bet on baseball and violated Rule 21.
If Rose was still alive at the time of election, he might be offended by this. Maybe he wouldn't show up. Maybe he would show up, and other Hall of Famers would refuse to show up.
So be it.
This is the history of Pete Rose: One of the greatest ballplayers ever, but kicked out of the sport for breaking a rule central to maintaining the integrity of the game. If Rose were to be inducted, the character clause would be effectively obsolete; for the Hall of Fame, the sooner that happens, the better.
Bonds has a complicated history, as does Clemens, and Landis, and Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Gaylord Perry and just about every player. They aren't perfect people, but their importance on the landscape of baseball is undeniable.
The Hall of Fame has the platform to present all of that history, neutrally, and can leave it to the patrons to decide for themselves what it all means.
Getting back to the Manfred decision itself, on the day that commissioner Bart Giamatti formally announced that Rose would be moved to baseball's ineligible list, he presented the route by which Rose could get back in the game: by reconfiguring his life. You can see it here.
This was not some arbitrary or idle phrase, and the sport is filled with people who have reconfigured their lives in order to have a place in the sport. Don Newcombe, the National League's Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player in 1956, overcame a drinking problem and served as a counselor for generations of players, and he has been a constant at Dodger Stadium through the years; on Newcombe's own website, there is a reference to his alcoholism. Near the end of Mickey Mantle's life, when past mistakes had all but killed him, he changed, and he presented himself as a cautionary tale.
Rose had every opportunity to be forgiven in the past 26 years, every opportunity to get back into the sport. But Rose was out of baseball because he bet on baseball, and he lied about it for years afterward, and he continues to bet on baseball, as he acknowledged to the commissioner -- only after first saying he doesn't bet on baseball. Really, he gave no choice to Manfred, who has made what likely will be the final decision from Major League Baseball on Rose in Rose's lifetime.
But the Hall of Fame also has a choice with Rose, who could unwittingly rescue the museum from its character-clause problem.
This is how it ends for Rose, writes Jayson Stark.
Rose is more marketable without reinstatement, writes Darren Rovell.
Rose is what he is: a serial liar who seems out of touch with reality, and someone who, earlier in his life, was among the greatest ballplayers ever.
Other Reds were saddened by the decision.