A friend of mine cut through all the accumulated flotsam on Tuesday and asked me a simple question: "If you were the Commissioner, what would you do?"
For a long time, my answer would have been, "I would re-open the investigation of Pete Rose's illegal gambling, and I would present all of the evidence to the public."
Nobody cares, though. Nobody cares if Pete Rose really did bet on Reds games. Most of the people probably think he did bet on Reds games, but that he should be in the Hall of Fame anyway. And most of the rest of the people probably think that he did bet on baseball, but should be forgiven, and elected to the Hall of Fame, if only he'll admit it.
So while re-opening the investigation, or at least re-examining the evidence already at hand, would satisfy the curiosity of a few people, it wouldn't be worth the trouble. Anybody who really cares to do the research will discover that the evidence against Rose is significant: he bet on baseball games, and he quite probably bet on Reds games while he was managing them.
But like I said, nobody cares. So the question remains: "What would you do?"
If I were the Commissioner, I'd rather just ignore Pete Rose.
Pete Rose is, by most measures, a truly awful person. I know a lot of people think he's admirable because he hustled for 24 seasons, but I think that admirable quality is more than balanced by the credible allegations that he gulped amphetamines, went through money like it was water, cheated on his wives with something like obsessive abandon, and was generally a lousy father. Oh, and for his entire career as a player and manager, 26 years' worth, Rose consorted with a variety of shady characters involved with illegal gambling. And those are just the highlights.
Otherwise, he was a lovely human being.
Of course, none of those negatives make him less than a deserving Hall of Fame candidate. They do make me wonder why so many otherwise sensible people seem to think the sun rises and sets with Pete Rose.
If I were the Commissioner, though, I wouldn't let my personal feelings about Pete Rose get in the way. If I were the Commissioner, I should have one thing in mind, and one thing only: What is good for Baseball? Letting the Pete Rose Issue just sit there in limbo isn't good for Baseball, because it's like the 600-pound gorilla: When it walks into the room, it's all anybody can talk about. And letting the conversation be dominated by a single negative issue isn't good for Baseball.
What's good for Baseball, I think, is this: Baseball's Rules and Regulations regarding gambling should be rewritten.
Rule 21 covers various sorts of "Misconduct," and here's the relevant section:
(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
The rationale for the permanent suspension has always been that if a player is betting on baseball games and he runs up big losses, the bookies will have their hooks into him. But if that's such a serious consideration, then why is the penalty for betting on baseball games not involving your team just one year?
Clearly, what's particularly worrisome is the possibility that a player or manager will do something, in the interest of winning his bet, to affect the outcome of a game in which he is playing or managing. And while it's certainly easy to come up with reasons why a player or manager shouldn't bet on his own team to win, is that really as bad as betting on his own team to lose?
Clearly, it's not. And yet the penalty is the same for both.
That doesn't make any sense.
So if I were the Commissioner, I would leave most of Rule 21(d) alone. A one-year suspension for betting on baseball games? If anything, that's a little too lenient. But we'll let it stand. A permanent suspension (and I do mean permanent) for betting against your own team? You'd better believe it.
But there's got to be some room in the middle for what Pete Rose did. He certainly bet on baseball games and he probably bet on his own team, so he deserved a significant penalty. But a permanent suspension? That probably doesn't make a lot of sense.
So if I were the Commissioner, I would turn the second section of 21(d) into a second and a third section:
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared ineligible FOR FIVE YEARS, IF HE BETS ON THE TEAM BY WHICH HE IS EMPLOYED.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible, IF HE BETS AGAINST THE TEAM BY WHICH HE IS EMPLOYED.
And if I were the Commissioner, after changing Rule 21(d) I would immediately let Pete Rose off, with time served. And all the while, I'd be holding my nose.
In case you missed it, Pete Rose hit the headlines again Tuesday when our friends over at Baseball Prospectus reported that
Rose and Major League Baseball have reached an agreement that will remove Rose from MLB's permanently ineligible list, and
does not require Rose to admit any wrongdoing, and
will allow him to work for a baseball team in 2004, and
will allow him to manage a baseball team in 2005.
I believe the big part of this story is essentially correct, and the small parts are essentially incorrect.
MLB's protestations notwithstanding, I think it's very likely that an agreement is in place for Rose's reinstatement. There might not actually be a signed agreement -- this permits deniability for everyone involved -- but I believe there is an agreement. Pete Rose will be elected to the Hall of Fame within the next two years.
And Pete Rose's continuing denials notwithstanding, I think it's very likely that Rose will admit to betting on baseball games. In detail. What makes me so sure? Because Commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't have it any other way. The reason Selig takes so long to get anything done is because he doesn't really have any power. What power he does wield is the result of consensus, so he's not going to move on the matter of Pete Rose until he's got a consensus. If you've been following the story over the years, you know that many of Rose's peers want him pardoned ... but only if he'll admit what he did.
Bud Selig loves old baseball players, especially old baseball players with lots and lots of hits. Bud Selig knows that Pete Rose is a lousy person, but he also knows that Pete Rose got lots and lots of hits. So Bud Selig loves Pete Rose. But he also loves Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench and Bob Feller and all those other old ballplayers. And those other old ballplayers want Pete Rose to admit what he did.
So Bud Selig has found a consensus. He's got millions of baseball fans who want Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, no matter what. He's got hundreds of old baseball players who want Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, if only he'll admit what he did. And now he's got Pete Rose, who is finally ready to admit what he did.
Add it all up, and you've got a plaque in Cooperstown with Charlie Hustle's mug on it. There is an agreement, and after the World Series you're going to read all about it.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.