Why Pete Rose Doesn't Belong in the Hall of Fame
James Leroy Wilson changes his mind.
by James Leroy Wilson
January 12, 2004
Otherwise, like Shoeless Joe Jackson, he will never die. No one is alive today who knows exactly what happened in the 1919 World Series dive by the White Sox. But the illiterate star of the team has been seen as a victim by many for his permanent banishment from major league baseball for being in on the conspiracy. The legend of Jackson persists, if not grows. But Pete Rose ought to be put to rest, the sooner the better.
Rose, the all-time hits leader in base hits, isn’t in baseball’s Hall of Fame because of his conduct as a manager. As we all know now, by his own admittance, he bet on games when he was manager of the Reds. And that he bet on his own team.
This can be forgiven on one condition: if he had begun to bet on his own team as a manager, he should have bet either at least the same amount, or ever-increasing amounts, on his own team for each and every game he managed. For, as sports-radio host Jim Rome put it, with all the “inside” information Rose had on his team, any day in which he didn’t bet on his own team, was itself a message to the gambling community to bet against the Reds. That is the serious breach to the integrity of the game. Although Rose denies it (and he has no credibility anyway), there is no way to know the degree to which his gambling interests affected his managing decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously.
For most of these years, however, I thought Rose still deserved to get into the Hall of Fame for what he did as a player. One of the games’ greatest players ought to be recognized as such, I thought. Why have a Hall of Fame to honor greatness, if the all-time hits leader who was a valuable player on three World Series champion teams, isn’t in it? If Rose had tarnished the integrity of the game as a player, I could understand why he’d be prevented from induction. But his misconduct was as a manager, after his playing days were over. I thought he should be honored as one of the all-time greats for what he did as a player. For he was not only a great player, but a great competitor who earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle.”
I’m beginning to “get it” just now. Ultimately, this is the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not Hall of the Best. Not Hall of the Toughest Competitors. There are many other places, besides the Hall of Fame, to learn of baseball’s history and greatest players. No one has suggested removing Pete Rose’s records from the record books. He will always be an integral part of the Big Red Machine and that rare Phillies championship.
And I’m probably the youngest person left on earth who still, when he hears the name “Michael Jackson,” thinks of the Billie Jean video, where we see Michael as the coolest cat who ever walked the earth instead of today’s creepy freak who sleeps with little boys. When I hear the name “O.J. Simpson,” I think of the man-gazelle in the Buffalo Bills uniform sliding on wet astro-turf in a Monday Night Football highlight. I think, 2003 yards in 14 games. I don’t think “murderer.” And when I hear “Pete Rose” I think, all-time hits leader. I don’t think “gambler.”
But, since I am the youngest person to still think this way, the Hall of Fame has a responsibility to think of the future. Pete Rose, not just by his initial crimes of betting on baseball, but on his 14-year’s worth of lies, has placed himself out of Baseball’s Hall of Fame and into America’s Hall of Infamy. Bob Uecker, for crying out loud, is in baseball’s Hall of Fame, because of how he’s helped the sport not as a player, but as a broadcaster. A generation from now, Pete Rose’s accomplishments as a player will fade from memory (they always do) and he will be known mainly as the guy who bet on his own team and lied about it.
And I’m beginning to see how this matters. Many who have not swung a bat in a major league game: Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck, Harry Carey, have advanced the interests of the sport of baseball as a whole and Major League Baseball in particular. But the Pete Rose “situation” which is going on fifteen years, inverses the whole equation. The tremendous good Rose did for the sport as a player made him famous. His desire to gamble, even on baseball games, even as a manager of a baseball team, is not, in reality, his biggest crime against the game. It is rather the fifteen-year campaign of denial, and now, after finally “coming clean” and being at least somewhat honest about the gambling on baseball, still revealing no remorse and admitting that he still gambles.
He was placed on the “permanently ineligible” list. He has provided no reason why he should be taken off of it.
I finally get it. The Hall of Fame isn’t about who were the greatest players, or greatest managers, or greatest executives, or greatest broadcasters or journalists. The Hall of Fame honors the greatest ambassadors of the sport of Major League Baseball, the people whose net contributions to the game are overwhelmingly positive. People who receive “honors” like this are, generally, honorable people, people of integrity.
The tremendous good Pete Rose gave to the game is outweighed, not just by his unethical behavior as a manager, but his own inability to own up to and apologize for that behavior for all of these years. Pete Rose is a distraction to Baseball, an embarrassment. Pete Rose is now only “infamous” and not worthy of the Hall of “Fame,” of those who, by whatever means, advanced the best interests of baseball.
Rose has not, in any way, shape, or form, advanced the best interest of baseball, but has provided, through his own will and intention over the last fifteen years, the exact opposite. Most Hall of Fame elections are now distracted by the very real presence, but official non-presence, of Pete Rose.
Rose has harmed the game more in the last 17 seasons to a far greater extent than he helped it in the his 24 previous years as a player. It is not Pete Rose aka “Charlie Hustle” who gets into the Hall of Fame. Nor is it Pete Rose the gambling-addicted manager who gets into the Hall of fame. Nor is it Pete Rose the two-faced, lying, autograph-selling, money-grubber who gets into the Hall of Fame.
It is Pete Rose, the ambassador of baseball, who gets in, or not. And he does not belong. The good he did for the game as a player is offset by the damage he did later, and future generations will remember him more for the latter. And this is not good for baseball.
About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson reserves the right to change his mind again on this issue.
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