The board of directors for baseball's Hall of Fame yesterday moved resolutely toward preventing Pete Rose from being enshrined at Cooperstown, voting unanimously at a morning meeting in a New York City hotel to adopt a rule excluding players on the permanently ineligible list from consideration.
Rose, the game's all-time hit leader and a .303 career batter over 24 major league seasons, is the only living person on that list -- having been placed there in August 1989 by the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, who concluded after a six-month investigation that Rose bet on baseball games while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
The vote was 12-0, with four members of the board absent from the meeting -- including Commissioner Fay Vincent, who was vacationing in Jamaica and said last week that for him to vote on the matter would have been a conflict of interest. Only Rose's reinstatement by the commissioner would allow him to be placed on the ballot, which is sent each December to 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. None of the other 14 players to be banned -- including Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose .356 batting average is third highest all time -- has been reinstated.
Rose, who last played in 1986, would have been eligible for consideration for the first time in December. He can apply for reinstatement at any time, but has not yet attempted to do so. Theoretically, he may never be eligible for the Hall, since the writers consider only those players inactive for five to 20 seasons, and the Veterans Committee cannot rule on post-World War II players who failed to get 60 percent of the writers' vote at least once.
If Rose is not reinstated before December 2005, he could not reach the Hall under the current guidelines.
"The directors felt that it would be incongruous to have a person who has been declared ineligible by baseball to be eligible for baseball's highest honor," said Hall of Fame President Ed Stack. "It follows that if such individual is reinstated by baseball, then such individual would be a candidate for election."
Rose is living in a Cincinnati halfway house while completing a sentence for tax evasion that included a five-month prison term, and he was working as a gym teacher at an inner city elementary school as part of his 1,000 hours of community service when the decision was rendered. He did not express surprise at the verdict.
"I'm not in control of that, so there's not much I can do about it," Rose told reporters as he left the school yesterday afternoon. "I did my part."
"It's just another sad chapter to a sad, sad story," said Johnny Bench, a Hall-of-Famer and Rose's longtime Reds teammate. "I'm not sure it's the right decision, either. That's probably a guy that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, even with the gambling mess. He played the game as hard and as well as anyone ever did.
"I wouldn't be ashamed to have his plaque next to mine. . . . Of course, I didn't have a vote, so it doesn't really matter what I think."
Former American League President Lee MacPhail and current AL President Bobby Brown first proposed to keep Rose off the ballot last month, when a special committee voted by a 10-7 margin to refer the proposal to the Hall's board of directors. And they again voted for the rule yesterday.
"I had felt right from the start that if someone was ineligible, that person should not be considered for the Hall of Fame," Brown said yesterday.
Stack voted against the rule last month, but reversed his stance yesterday. Also voting were National League President Bill White, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former NL President Chub Feeney, Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, Detroit Tigers chairman Jim Campbell, former Montreal Expos president John McHale, Cooperstown Mayor Harold Hollis, Stephen Clark Jr. (son of the Hall of Fame founder) and St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bob Broeg.
Vincent, Boston Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey and Hall-of-Famers Roy Campanella and Charlie Gehringer were absent.