Of course Pete Rose is back, knocking brazenly on baseball’s front door, asking new commissioner Rob Manfred to reconsider the sport’s 26-year-old position that he be banned permanently.
Now that everyone has kind of forgotten everything he did wrong and why he deserved what he got, could he please be reinstated to the game he disgraced?
Over the years, I have changed my mind repeatedly on whether Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Once, I even went to Cooperstown and stood at the spot where a Rose plaque might stand and spent a day asking fans what they thought.
But I’ve always been certain that Rose should never be let back into baseball.
Rose hopes that in a fragmented culture with a microscopic attention span and minuscule institutional memory, he can sob-sister and bully-boy his way back into the game with big-lie rewritings of poorly remembered history.
Sorry, Pete. Wish you hadn’t gambled on baseball.
Wish you hadn’t tormented commissioner Bart Giamatti. He agonized for months over how to punish you and minimize the wound you inflicted on baseball. He died of a heart attack eight days after he figured out how to get you to ban yourself for life.
Wish you hadn’t lied, claiming total innocence, for 15 years before finally confessing to everything — every single charge and more. You even confessed in a book, profits to you, excerpted in Sports Illustrated just as the 2004 Cooperstown class was named.
Wish that, all those years ago, you hadn’t viciously attacked the reputations of men whose job it was to gather evidence against you. They were right. You knew it. But you still haven’t apologized for the smears.
Like millions, I wish all those things because, as a great player and a flawed, funny, fascinating star, you were one of the most memorable characters ever.
Let’s make one thing clear. Rose in the Hall is thinkable and debatable. Rose reinstated in baseball, even at 73, is wrong and an idea to dismiss quickly.
By accident, Cooperstown and reinstatement are linked. In 1991, Hall voters decided that anyone on the game’s “permanently ineligible” list couldn’t be on the Hall ballot; Rose constitutes that entire list. That rule could, in theory, be changed, allowing a still-banned Rose into the Hall.
But the idea that Rose should ever be a member in full standing of the baseball community is a cruel inversion of justice.
Here’s the perverse lesson a Rose reinstatement would carry. If you whine, lie, lobby and switch strategies for 26 years; if you wait for honest adversaries to die, retire or disappear; if you pitch cheap sentiment stories to the media for decades and even have a cutesy Rose-in-the-Hall ad during the Super Bowl, you can get away with baseball’s greatest crime-against-the-game in the end.
Because memories fog, let’s recap why Rose deserved his ban.
He deserved it because gambling on the game is the single death-penalty rule in the entire sport — printed on the wall of every clubhouse in every generation with no other prohibition beside it, not even cheating.
If you throw a spitball, you impact a game — get caught, get suspended. But if you gamble on a sport that might have died after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when players paid by gamblers threw the World Series, then you profoundly damage the sport and its basic integrity.
Rose could, and did, gamble on every known sport. Baseball didn’t care. But he also gambled on the sport he claimed to love, and on the team he managed (at least 52 times and thousands of dollars at a time). Rose moans that he always bet on the Reds to win. So what? He could have burned up his bullpen three nights in a row to win bets, then not gambled the next night, knowing his Reds were shorthanded. In what universe is that not totally crooked?
Those now sympathetic to Rose, remember: He continued to hurt the sport for 15 years by screaming he’d been railroaded and that baseball’s 222-page report and seven volumes of supporting data on his transgressions should be on trial, not him.
The player who did more to jeopardize the game’s reputation for integrity than anybody since 1919 spent a decade, in every forum he could find, accusing MLB of being the one that lacked integrity.
Then he said, Oh, never mind; I lied. Tell that to Jim Gray, who got roasted nationwide for his aggressive TV interview with Rose in 1999. But Rose cares only about Rose. Collateral damage to others? Too bad.
The last thread of Rose’s defense is that he was a gambling addict. Didn’t baseball give second chances to all those cocaine addicts in the 1980s? You could have filled an all-star team with ’em. Why is his addiction different?
Many professions have third-rail vices that lead to expulsion, while the rest of human frailty is tolerated because we’re all imperfect. Doctor, lawyer, soldier, pilot, policeman or priest — all have specific misdeeds that can get them disbarred, court-martialed, defrocked, banished. In each profession, you know what’s forbidden above all else. Try plagiarism as a journalist.
In baseball, you’re banned for life for gambling on the game. It’s MLB’s unique sin. And should be. If you start letting baseball gamblers back in? Well, you can’t.
In a 1989 phone conversation during the gambling storm, Giamatti told me he thought he’d found the key to Rose’s character while reading the “The Maxims” of Francois de La Rochefoucauld. “Look at the passage on ‘self-love’ — the egotist,” he said.
Self-love “even goes over to the side of those who are at war with it; and . . . what is wonderful, joins them in [conspiring in] its own destruction,” wrote the French nobleman in 1665. “In short, it cares for nothing but its own existence, and, provided that it [can continue to] exist, will readily become its own enemy.”
Giamatti believed that Rose would accept lifetime banishment — and demand nothing in return — as long as he didn’t have to admit he’d bet on baseball. His self-love, self-delusions and public image (in his own mind, at least) could stay intact. To universal astonishment, Giamatti offered that deal and Rose grabbed it.
Giamatti also knew that Rose would never stop fighting, so he emphasized that the ban was forever. Rochefoucauld concludes: “Even when defeated, and supposed to be annihilated, we find [the egotist] triumphing in its own defeat. This is the picture of self-love, the whole existence of which is nothing but one long mighty agitation. The sea is a sensible image of it.”
Let Rose roar. Just don’t let him ashore.