It must be remembered that in last August's binding agreement between baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose it was never spelled out that Rose bet on baseball games, the sin for which he was banished from the game.
He was not accused of it, and his hot denials figured in the daily dairy of the case that lingered for six months. Why, then, did Rose agree to accept baseball's maximum punishment -- exile forever? Because they were dancing around all the implicits of the agreement: that Rose had been caught betting on ball games and was getting baseball's life sentence. It was to gain his end that Giamatti agreed to make no definite charges, and additionally specified that Rose could apply for reinstatement in a year.
It worked. Rose, who recognized the weight of evidence against him, knew he was a dead duck, and grasped at the face-saving factor of the right to reapply, which would give his case a better light.
But that last condition was merely part of the charades. Fifteen men have been barred from baseball, and none was reinstated. After his pact with Rose, Giamatti the next day said of Rose, "Yes, I have concluded he bet on baseball games, including those of the Reds."
The reapply-in-a-year stuff was put in best perspective by a high source in the commisssioner's office who said "we won't quibble about the language if Rose is agreeing to accept the electric chair." Rose's chances of being reinstated in a year, or ever, it must be concluded, are about as rosey as Pete's next five months.
That prison sentence he drew for filing false tax returns immediately raised the question of Rose's prospect of ever being voted into baseball's Hall of Fame, for which he would be eligible in 1992. Is he so tarnished that Cooperstown would be diminished by Pete Rose's induction? There are all shades of opinion, voiced immediatedly in the newspapers, on television, on talk shows, all of which started the Pete Rose thing as an intriguing topic.
The case is made, of course, that Cooperstown is populated by heroes who were no models of deportment. Babe Ruth and some others were known to be egregious womanizers; Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were accused of betting on ball games (they were cleared). But no convicted felon was ever honored with enshrinement at Coopertown. That line against Rose may have been drawn long ago.
Rose has made election to Cooperstown a passion, saying his glorious baseball record, including the 4,256 hits that surpassed Cobb's record, should be a consideration (some spoilsports would note that it took Rose more than 2,000 more times at bat than Cobb needed to set the record). But there can be no gainsaying what Rose did on the diamond. He was a great ballplayer. The opinions on Rose have been coming in from everywhere. Even former president Nixon chipped in with the belief that Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, which may or may not be a plus; many writers with the ballot would vote against Rose now, but say they could reconsider in a few years.
A most poignant opinion was voiced by the Houston Chronicle's Harry Shattuck: "I'm still inclined to vote for him because he has Hall of Fame credentials as a player. But I hope the good people at Cooperstown put his statue and memorabilia in a dark corner of the museum with a sign that says 'Off Limits To Children' because he is no role model."
For a study in anomaly give heed to the Pete Rose scenario. He maintains his innocence of the charge while at the same time accepting permanent blacklisting for baseball's unpardonable sin of betting on games. Something irregular here.
It is to be remembered that the Hall of Fame voting must be based, in a large measure, on "a player's integrity, sportsmanship and character." In addition to the commissioner's office, Uncle Sam would also be a hostile witness in those important matters.
The Hall of Fame is for heroes. Pete Rose is no hero. He was a great ballplayer, but hardly a person to evoke admiration and appoint to the game's highest honor. Who now would want to elevate Pete Rose? He will not get my vote.