Should Rose be in? Bet on it!

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Pete Rose bet on baseball.

In other news, the sun may rise at some point tomorrow morning.


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Yep, the long-awaited and long-known declaration is finally here. After hiding for 14 years the most well-known secret since steroid use in professional wrestling, Rose has come clean, admitting that he started betting on baseball in 1987.

Will he finally be reinstated? Will baseball’s all-time hit king with 4,256 on-basers, who won the 1973 National League Rookie of the Year in 1963, helped Cincinnati and Philadelphia to three World Series titles and would have probably been one of the most sought-after managers in history had he not agreed to a lifetime ban from the game he so loved in 1989 get to the Hall of Fame? Could this simple admission finally put to rest one of the biggest travesties in sports history?

The answer seems an obvious yes. What Rose did was wrong. Betting on baseball and then lying about it for over a decade is a horrible deed. But it doesn’t detract from the fact that Rose was perhaps the hardest-working individual of the past 20 years.

Did Rose make it a habit of spiking other opponents, spend time in jail for a knifing, brag about killing someone, and once jump into the stands to beat the tobacco juice out of an armless fan? Ty Cobb did, and he was the first-ever Hall of Fame inductee. Did Rose spend half his playing career drunk as a college student on a Friday night, and a good part of it frequenting flophouses? Babe Ruth did, and he’s an &uot;American legend.&uot; What about Cap Anson and Enos Slaughter, who did everything they could to keep black players out of the major leagues? They’re in there, and so is Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the &uot;legendary&uot; commissioner who was as big a believer in segregation as George Wallace.

Those are just the most extreme of examples. What about the alcoholics, drug users, wife-beaters, absentee fathers and other players who let their dark sides show off the field that happen to fill the Cooperstown building? If moral perfection were a prerequisite for admission to the Hall of Fame, the place would probably be about 1/100th as big as it is now.

&uot;Don’t talk to us about them,&uot; baseball has said for 14 years. &uot;We have our enemy in the crosshairs, and he’s the worst of all. Those players you mention might have hurt themselves, but what Rose did was most harmful to our sport.&uot;

And it’s not just baseball. &uot;He committed the biggest atrocity that can be committed against the sport, the worst crime that can be committed,&uot; wrote said Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News. &uot;I don’t think anything can be done to disgrace the game more than what he did.&uot;

Oh, really? Baseball’s overflowing with integrity and goodness? Did anyone feel that way two seasons ago when the players threw their almost annual temper tantrum about not making enough money and almost went on strike! Is that how people feel every time a superstar decides to put his soul on the prostitute-like selling block of free agency and go to the highest bidder, rather than sticking around, not worrying about money (lord knows that a guy who only makes $2 million, as the average major leaguer does, is on the brink of bankruptcy already), and actually looking out for his team, rather than his own overpaid self?

Think about this – if a baseball player tests positive for drugs, he heads to rehab, maybe gets suspended for a year, then comes back good to go! Remember Steve Howe? He may not be in the Hall of Fame, but the Dodgers, Twins, Yankees, Rangers, and Mexican League pitcher was suspended seven times for drug use (including a &uot;lifetime&uot; ban in 1992 that lasted all of five months) and allowed to finish out his career. But to people like Ringolsby (and apparently former commissioners Bartlett Giammatti and Fay Vincent), what Rose did was worse than that.

Funny, but last time I checked, it wasn’t right to tell America’s kids that it was OK to use drugs, drink alcohol, beat or cheat on their wives, abandon their kids, throw a hissy fit if they didn’t always get their way, base their life around the Almighty Dollar, and generally just act like a spoiled brat all the time. Rose didn’t do any of that.

Contrary to popular belief (or at least popular opinion, which is usually scapegoat-biased), Rose DIDN’T hurt the integrity of baseball (what little there is). He bet on baseball. Fine, many do, few get caught. That does not mean that he bet on his own team to lose. It doesn’t mean that he ever fixed a game (and don’t get me started on why Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in there with Pete, either). There’s no proof that his gambling hurt anyone but him – and it did so in abundance, costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars. But baseball just had to heap on some more punishment.

Why would a guy want to hurt the very sport that had made him an icon to millions? When he worked like a dog for all those years on the diamond and from the dugout, was that all part of his overall plan – to screw with the game after he’d left it? I don’t think so.

But forget all that for a moment. I’m not here to put one player ahead of another on the goodness list. Rose was the embodiment of what a baseball player should be. When he was on the field, he gave everything he had. That’s not an opinion; Rose spent nearly a quarter-century on the baseball fields of the major leagues, cranking out hit after hit to reach Cobb’s record, once thought untouchable. He played in 3,562 games and came to bat 14,053 times – no one else has done either as often.

Rose gave his all to the game; now baseball is doing everything it can to steal even more, and take what it doesn’t need or deserve.

Yes, Pete Rose screwed up. But he’s paid more than dearly for it.

And that’s a sure bet.