When he was playing baseball, Pete Rose knew only one speed. He went all out, every day. He wanted to win.
I guess that tenacious drive to win — which was so admired by baseball fans — was what got him in trouble 25 years ago. On this day in 1989, Commissioner Bart Giamatti accepted what was called Rose's "voluntary ineligibility" from baseball for violating its prohibition on gambling.
What that meant, in simple language, was a lifetime ban from major–league baseball.
And a lifetime ban from baseball is exactly what it sounds like, too. It's for someone's lifetime — and then some. Nearly all the time, he has been prohibited from even being in a major–league ballpark. In one of the rare exceptions that comes to my mind was in the summer of 1999, he was part of the All–Century squad that was honored prior to the All–Star game at Fenway Park.
Rose was given a standing ovation from the fans that evening, by the way.
Rose was alleged to have made bets on games involving his own team, a charge he denied for 15 years — but finally admitted in 2004.
There's been considerable debate over the years over whether Shoeless Joe Jackson participated in the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series; if he did, his performance in the Series didn't show it (at the plate, he had 12 base hits and the only home run for either team; in the field, he committed no errors). Yet his ban remains in effect, nearly 100 years later — and more than 60 years after his death.
Shoeless Joe went to his grave insisting that he wasn't involved in the conspiracy — but you won't see his bust at Cooperstown.
Rose, now 73, knows there is virtually no chance that he will be reinstated, that even though he is still the all–time hits leader (and likely to remain so — his closest active competition is 40–year–old Derek Jeter, who is retiring at the end of this season and should still be at least 750 hits behind Rose when he does), he will never be enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame.
And he appears to be at peace with that.
"I'm the one that screwed up," he told Keith Olbermann during last year's World Series. "I'm not mad at anybody. I'm not mad at [present Commissioner] Bud [Selig] or Bart [Giamatti]. I haven't given up on Bud giving me a second chance. I know he's retiring after [the current season], but I'll continue to be a great ambassador for the game of baseball and try to keep selling the game of baseball because I love the game."
ESPN recently reported that Rose still hasn't given up on being reinstated. At least, he says he hasn't.
My thoughts on Pete Rose have changed over the years. When the ban was put into effect, I was fully in favor of it. I remember saying to a friend, "When Shoeless Joe Jackson is allowed into the Hall of Fame, we can talk about Pete Rose."
I guess I still feel that way — to a certain extent. I don't think it would be right for Rose to be eligible to be enshrined at Cooperstown and Shoeless Joe not to be. I wanted Rose to admit what he had done, and I was angry that he did not when all the evidence pointed to his guilt. But he has since admitted betting on his team, and I'm willing to accept the last decade as his penalty for that.
I was primarily opposed to enshrining Rose, not continuing to ban Jackson, and my position today is that both should be enshrined — or, at least, they should be eligible for it. Whether they are or not should depend upon their body of work as baseball players; on that, I think we can all agree that they not only meet but exceed requirements. Their contributions to the game should be recognized, not denied because of a mistake that one made and unsupported allegations against the other.
Enough is enough.
I don't know how everyone in the sports media feels about Shoeless Joe, but I can report that there is a growing consensus that Rose should be eligible for a spot in Cooperstown.
Briana Altergott of the Atlanta Journal–Constitution takes no sides but summarizes what has been written recently in the sports press. The headline on Altergott's piece asked the question many in sports media are asking: "Does Pete Rose deserve a second chance?"
"If Selig wanted Rose's banishment to serve as a deterrent for those inside the game who were thinking about betting on it," writes John Erardi of USA Today, "Selig got it — a quarter of a century's worth."
Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News writes, "Rose has admitted mistakes and served his time. Twenty–five years. Time to make him eligible for the Hall of Fame. Leave it up to the process to determine if he's worthy.
"Frankly, I think he's deserving, just as I did 35 years ago and 25 years ago and last week. For better or worse, there's never been another player like him."
I'll go along with that. I saw him play in person once when I was a kid. He was electrifying to watch, whether you were pulling for him or against him. He wants to be part of baseball again. I believe he has learned from his years in the wilderness. "The last thing in the world I'd do now is bet on baseball," he told ESPN. "I would be the cleanest guy in the world when it comes to that because of the scrutiny I would go through. You may think I'm crazy, but I think baseball is in a better place if I'm in it."
Pete Rose has paid his debt to baseball for gambling. Baseball has a chance to be generous and forgiving now.