In his career from 1963 to 1986, most of it with the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose amassed 4,256 hits – the most in the history of Major League Baseball – played in 17 All-Star games, won National League batting titles in 1968, 1969 and 1973, and is the only major leaguer to play 500 games at five different positions – first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.
No one disputes that Rose is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Known as “Charlie Hustle,” the switch-hitter played with reckless abandon between the white lines.
Despite his prowess on the field, Pete Rose remains locked out of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. – because of what he did off the field.
He gambled on baseball games. While he played, and while he managed the Reds after his playing career ended. That’s a cardinal sin that the game has not forgiven him for.
His gambling, while a black mark on his record, did not affect his on-the-field performance (those banned for steroid use cannot claim that). It’s time to reinstate him to the game he still loves, and then enshrine him where he belongs – with the legends of the greatest game in America.
Rose stated his case on Sept. 24 to Rob Manfred, who became the Major League Baseball commissioner in January. Manfred is expected to announce his decision by the end of the year. Don’t expect the announcement before the World Series ends, since that would distract from baseball’s showcase event.
Rose fans should not hold their breath, however. Last month, Manfred denied an application to reinstate former Chicago White Sox outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Shoeless Joe was banned for life for accepting money to change the outcome of baseball games. He was one of eight “Black Sox” players accused of intentionally losing the 1919 World Series – to, ironically, the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won the Series, five games to three.
The parallels between Rose and Jackson are striking. Jackson, who played for Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago (all in the American League) from 1908 to 1920, finished his career with a .356 batting average, one of the highest ever. He earned his nickname “Shoeless” by playing a minor league game in his stockings because a new pair of cleats had given him blisters the previous day.
“I copied Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He’s the guy who made me a hitter.” No less a superstar than Babe Ruth said that about Shoeless Joe.
According to www.biography.com, Jackson helped the White Sox win the 1917 World Series. Although the White Sox were a powerhouse at the time, owner Charles Comiskey underpaid his players and did not pay out promised bonuses. Upset, eight players, including Jackson, agreed to accept payment for throwing the 1919 World Series.
Jackson was promised $20,000, a huge payout since his annual salary was $6,000. Still, in the 1919 World Series, he batted .375. When it ended, Jackson received only $5,000 for his part in the fix, according to biography.com. When the fix was discovered, all eight players were brought to trial. All of them were acquitted.
However, baseball’s first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis – appointed as a direct result of the Black Sox scandal – banned all eight players, including Shoeless Joe, from baseball for life. He remains banned to this day. (Jackson died in 1951.)
“Jackson’s fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning,” said Connie Mack, who managed Shoeless Joe in Philadelphia.
If current commissioner Manfred ruled against Shoeless Joe, how could he say yes to Rose? Jackson helped his team lose one eight-game series. Rose betted on numerous sports, including baseball, over time – and then for years denied betting on baseball while he played.
Attorney John M. Dowd, in his “Dowd Report,” investigated claims of Rose’s gambling. Dowd discovered, according to cheatsheet.com, that Rose bet on five to 10 games daily in basketball, football, hockey and baseball, at about $2,000 per game. He often was deeply in debt to bookies. Dowd presented his findings to then-commissioner Bart Giamatti in May 1989.
Giamatti banned Rose on Aug. 24, 1989, declaring, “One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts.”
Rose immediately was fired as manager of the Reds, and he’s been a baseball outcast since.
Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose are two of baseball’s best hitters, but you won’t find their busts in Cooperstown. Like many Americans, they bowed to the god of the almighty dollar. This is their sin.
Is that the unpardonable sin? It shouldn’t be. Manfred should reinstate them both. There are flawed people in the Hall of Fame. Let’s reward a lifetime of baseball achievement.