Just days after he left federal prison as a tax-cheating inmate who also was permanently banned from baseball, Pete Rose has been causing a new commotion in the game. More accurately, his name has. Unless Rose comes off the "banned for life" list, his name should not appear on the ballot for the Hall of Fame voting, according to Thursday's recommendation by a special committee newly created to make such novel judgments.
Without reference to the merit of Pete Rose's qualifications for Cooperstown, there's something wrong here. The sticking point is that all of a sudden the Hall of Fame people are saying the 450 Baseball Writers Association of America members, who for 54 years have been conducting the ballot, are no longer to be trusted to do the right thing, to make the sound choices.
So they have preempted us with this newfangled conclusion that the writers may be incompetent in the matter of Pete Rose. Oh, they point out that their decision will be reviewed by the Hall of Fame directors, but a veto there is about as likely as sunrise in the west tomorrow.
What they have done is to strip the epaulets from Rose a second time by permanently banning permanently banished players from election to Cooperstown. This, because of their fear that the writers will make their own judgment that Pete's sins are separate from his super performance as a ballplayer with massive Cooperstown credentials.
It is by no means certain Rose would win the required 75 percent of the writers' vote, but the Hall of Fame people want no risks. They want it spelled out that Cooperstown shall be saved from the aroma of Rose, tax-cheat and considered guilty of baseball's mortal sin, betting on games, perhaps his team's.
Rose has many times stated the importance, to him, of being elected to Cooperstown, sometimes to the point that it seems he lives for it, as balm for his disgrace otherwise. In truth, all baseball players zest for the honor. They know it is their signature triumph as a figure in the game. Always, it is highest in the obituaries, " . . . a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame . . . ."
A gripe of the baseball commissioner's office, which banished Rose for life, is that he still denies he bet on games. The anomaly is that while making those denials Rose accepted the life ban from late commissioner Bart Giamatti, a believer that Rose was betting. Fay Vincent, the new commissioner, made light of the fact that the accusation of betting was omitted from the ban-agreement with Rose, telling me at one time, "If Rose was willing to accept the electric chair, why quibble about the language?"
The point is often made that the Hall of Fame is not exclusively for altar boys and is populated somewhat by womanizers, alcoholics, maybe wife-beaters and such. But, ha, not by any player banished from baseball for all time.
That the committee was taking dead aim at Rose is seen in the truth that the Hall of Fame people never saw need for taking similar action in the case of Joe Jackson, another lifer. Jackson was never officially ruled ineligible for Cooperstown. Now he is, or his name is, thanks to the committee's distaste for Rose.
There has never been dispute of Rose's on-the-field credentials. But there is some annoyance here about the avalanche of honors bestowed on him for breaking Ty Cobb's record for the most major league hits. Too little attention was given to the fact that to surpass Cobb, Rose required nearly 2,600 more at-bats, no small factor.
Anyway, it was always errant nonsense to compare Rose to Cobb. The best year at bat Rose ever had, .348, would be considered a slump for Cobb, who had a career .367 average to Rose's .303, and for every base that Rose, Charlie Hustle, stole, Cobb stole four and a half. Give Rose his due, but beware of speaking of him in terms of Ty Cobb.
Thus, a gripe now off this chest. As for Rose belonging in Cooperstown, the yes is outweighed by the no. The basic Hall of Fame requirements are considered performance, character and integrity. Poor Pete flunked two out of three. This voter would be a naysayer.