I'd like to volunteer for a job no one in baseball will ever hire me to do.
I'd like to be the guy who writes Pete Rose's Hall of Fame plaque.
It would be the most challenging 100 words I've written in my life.
Peter Edward Rose. His 4,256 hits were the most in baseball history. His tenacity, energy and relentless spirit earned him the iconic nickname "Charlie Hustle." He was a driving force behind three World Series champions. Still remembered for bowling over AL catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game.
OK, so far, so simple. But now here comes the key word on the entire plaque.
But was later banned from baseball for life for betting. Proclaimed his innocence multiple times over parts of four decades despite overwhelming evidence. Finally elected to the Hall of Fame in a special election in which he agreed to allow his mistakes to be listed on his plaque.
So there you go. What do you think?
I want to write that plaque. But even more, I want to read that plaque. I want to see it hanging in Cooperstown someday.
If we could ever find a way to make that happen, I think baseball would be better for it. I think the Hit King would be better for it. And I think, especially, the Hall of Fame would be better for it.
I really believe that, too. I'm not writing this just to stir up a reaction to the latest developments in the story of one of the great lightning rods in the history of civilization. But this week's Pete Rose news is just one more reason to ask a question I think about all the time:
How can you have a Hall of Fame without the Hit King in it?
What kind of Hall of Fame is this if baseball's hits leader isn't in there? And just for the record, I feel the same way about the home run king (Mr. Barry Bonds, ladies and gentlemen).
Not to mention the man who won more Cy Youngs than any pitcher who ever lived (Roger Clemens). And the man who broke Roger Maris' hallowed home run record (Mark McGwire). And -- well, you get the idea.
Don't we need to have this conversation? Don't we need to stop doing this ridiculous dance around the real history of this sport, while we hip-hop along to a song we're only pretending to hear?
I'm well aware of Pete Rose's crimes against baseball. I've been covering this story for more than 25 years now. So I got the memo. My feeling that he belongs in the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with forgiveness.
Nope, this is about history. This is about having a Hall of Fame that tells the true story of what has happened in baseball through the years: the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the inspiring. the embarrassing. All of it.
That's what history museums do, right? They tell the story of a period of time. And they tell all of it. They don't pretend certain stuff never happened just because it's inconvenient.
This just in: Pete Rose's career happened. Every hit. Every belly flop into third base. Every betting slip.
All 4,256 of the Hit King's hits counted, right? Not one of them has ever been stripped, asterisked up or erased from the record books.
He never had to give back his MVP trophy or his rookie of the year award. Never turned in his World Series rings. Never had a single game he played in -- 3,645 of them, counting All-Star Games and October classics -- ruled by the proper authorities not to have happened.
It all happened.
So why is it so painful to contemplate a Hall of Fame that would recognize that it happened -- and tell the full story of Peter Edward Rose in every way it could be told?
If you want to believe that that gallery in Cooperstown is a shrine to sainthood and purity, great -- feel free. You'd have to ignore a lot of unpleasant facts about many of the players whose plaques hang there. But many folks seem to enjoy doing that. So I hate to trample on their illusions.
The trouble is, every year now, when the ballot arrives, all of us with a vote are asked to try to prolong that fairy tale. And there's only one problem with that assignment:
It can't be done.
We can't keep all the "cheaters" out for the rest of time. Not enough accurate evidence to do that. And no one seems to want to start tossing out the bat-corkers, ball-scuffers and rapscallions who are already in there.
So wouldn't it be simpler just to admit the obvious? Wouldn't it be a less duplicitous world if only we could construct a Hall of Fame that admitted a truth we all know anyway, deep in the recesses of our brains?
That history is complicated? That the story of baseball is complicated? And especially, that no player in that history was more complicated than the man who got more hits than anyone who ever lived?
Why can't we have a Hall of Fame that's honest about that -- a Hall that lays out the facts and lets people decide for themselves what was right and wrong?
There's nothing to be afraid of. Remember that saying, "the truth will set you free"? I believe in that. So let the man in and tell his story, his whole story. His true story.
Tell it right there on the plaque.
And if you feel as though you just can't find the right words to tell it? Hey, I'd be happy to help with that.