In Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds came to bat in the 11th inning and said to Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" One inning later, Fisk hit the foul-pole homer we've seen so many times.
Now, Fisk and Rose are about to share another memorable juncture in baseball history. Once again, Fisk may feel like jumping and waving his arms, and Rose will end up on the wrong side of baseball history.
Fisk is on the verge of making the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. Meanwhile, Rose is finally figuring out that, until he owns up to his sins, he'll never live long enough to get into Cooperstown without a ticket. In both cases, that's exactly how it should be.
Early next month, Fisk probably will be the only player voted into the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers in 2000. Last year, Pudge fell just 43 votes shy of the 373 (75 percent) required for induction. When you get that close the first time--and you've hit more homers and played more games that any catcher ever--you're just about in.
Fisk has luck with him this time, just as it was against him last year. Then, he faced too much competition--from Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount. For the first time since the initial Hall of Fame class of 1936, the writers picked three players in their first year of eligibility.
Actually, Fisk deserved to make the Hall as much as any of the '98 inductees. Why? Because, all things being equal, the most important position on the field is, and always has been, catcher. That's why another Pudge--Ivan Rodriguez--was the American League MVP this season. He couldn't match offensive stats with Manny Ramirez and others. He didn't have to. Six months behind the plate erodes any man's batting performance. So, to measure true baseball value, add 20-plus percent to any catcher's offensive numbers.
That's why Fisk's 376 home runs and 1,330 RBI as an 11-time all-star catcher count for as much as 500 homers and 1,600-plus RBI at an easier position. Perhaps that will help explain why, in a few weeks, Tony Perez (379 homers, 1,652 RBI), Jim Rice (382 and 1,451) and Dale Murphy (398 and 1,266) are still left out in the Cooperstown cold while Fisk, with his mere .269 average, is suddenly an immortal.
Fisk's election may also help another catcher--Gary Carter. Ultimately, famous hitters--such as Steve Garvey and Dave Parker, whose candidacies are languishing--always get their due in Hall balloting. It's middle infielders, relievers and catchers who need a helpful push. Carter, in his third year on the ballot, is a prime example.
Like Fisk, he made 11 all-star teams, reached one World Series and has Gold Gloves at home. However, from 1977 through 1987, Carter dominated his position in his league more than Fisk ever did. The Kid, brash and not always popular, is the player who deserves more discussion, and credit, than he's getting. Like Perez, he's right on the edge and, ultimately, should probably get into the Hall.
The player who is not on the edge of the Hall, or anywhere close to it, is Rose.
At the World Series when the 100 Greatest Players were introduced, Rose got more applause than anybody else. Then, support rolled in for him after Jim Gray's right-question-at-the-wrong-time TV interview. Emboldened by all this, Rose has been beating the drum recently for reinstatement into baseball and a place on the Hall ballot. Recently, the Internet was his forum for pleading for fan support.
Every time Rose's gambling on his own team is brought up, he has two responses. 1) I never admitted it and there was no "official finding" by baseball. 2) Where is the evidence? The second question is the one that matters. All the evidence is in the Dowd Report. Ten years ago, I read it--twice. It's longer than "War and Peace." Rose acts as if it doesn't exist because he assumes few have bothered to read it.
More to the point, the late commissioner Bart Giamatti believed the Dowd Report. He also died of a heart attack a week after ending his exhausting investigation, in which Pete fought the facts like a wise guy every inch of the way.
As far as Rose's future goes, here's what really matters: Virtually everybody at the top of baseball is in agreement. On what? On everything. They believe Rose gambled on the Reds, that he has never adequately addressed his gambling problem and still gambles extensively. To them, letting him back in any dugout is unthinkable. His "reinstatement" isn't in the top 1 million items on baseball's agenda. It comes somewhere after "Let's all eat broken glass."
However, the chasm between Rose and baseball is wider and deeper, so much deeper, than this. Rose hurt the game enormously and knew it, yet cared only about protecting himself. In retrospect, Giamatti put his health at risk to clean up the mess, worthy of any Augean Stable, that Rose made. Sure, if Bart hadn't smoked and weighed 30 pounds less, he might still be alive. But that's not how many people in baseball feel. To them, one of the best people in the game died in the process of fixing what one of the worst men broke. As if anything could be rawer than that, Rose has spent 10 years implying Giamatti was a liar or a deceiver on the "gambled on baseball" issue.
So, is it revenge--basic gut-level, deeply personal revenge--that Rose is not on the Hall of Fame ballot? I think so. And, right or wrong, it's understandable.
Rose is remorseless. He wants his old job back. And he also wants the highest honor his profession can bestow--the Hall of Fame.
There's only one rational question remaining about Rose. Why does anybody--let alone so many people--still support him? Are we so gullible and sentimental toward our sports heroes that we join them in their self-delusions and denial? If anybody in any other profession had acted as Rose has, who in his right mind would say: "Hey, here's an idea. Let's let bygones be bygones. Let's bring this guy back. And while we're at it, why not put him in our Hall of Fame?"