Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pete Rose: Hall of Famer

This was a paper I wrote for an English class... certainly nice to get to choose our own topics.

To this day, Pete Rose has the most hits in Major League Baseball History. Only two players in the history of Major League Baseball have finished their careers with 4,000 hits. Those two players are Ty Cobb, who is in the Hall of Fame and currently second on the all-time hit list, and Pete Rose. Despite this incredible record, since 1986, baseball has banned Rose from even being considered for baseball’s Hall of Fame. While Rose was managing, after he had retired, he committed what is considered to be the cardinal sin of America’s pastime: betting on baseball. Rule 21 in the MLB Rule Book is lengthy and verbose but essentially states anyone affiliated with any Major League Baseball team is forbidden from betting on baseball, with the punishment resulting in a lifetime ban from the game. This rule is misguided and oftentimes misinterpreted, which has kept Rose from being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball is acting hypocritically in its interpretation, as are the sports writers who vote for the Hall of Fame nominees. The Hall of Fame includes multiple admitted rule-breakers such as Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford. Rose was caught betting on baseball during his managing career, not his playing career by which he should be remembered. Rose is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, not a Hall-of-Fame caliber manager. Major League Baseball is committing an injustice not allowing this former marquee player into its Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose finished his playing career with 4,256 hits, the most in Major League Baseball history. He finished his managing career with a slightly above average record of 412-373. Rose committed his offense as a manager and was banned from baseball for life because of it. However, his accomplishments prior to the ban are important and should be a serious part of the conversation. While Rose does admit to betting on his team while managing, he is adamant that he never bet against it and there is no proof to suggest otherwise. In an interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (both now of NBC), Rose said, "I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game." No one has disputed these claims. Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame for what he achieved as a player, not a manager. He bet as a manager, he hit as a player.

Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford both currently have plaques in the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to breaking MLB rules during their playing careers. In 1920, baseball banned any doctoring of the baseball, as it gave an unfair advantage to the pitcher. Throughout his career and prior to his 1967 retirement it was widely known that Ford doctored the ball in order to gain a competitive advantage. Following the 1963 World Series, in which Ford’s Yankees were swept in four games by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ford was quoted as saying, according to ESPN, "I used enough mud to build a dam.” He was referring to using mud to doctor the baseball. Ford was the starting pitcher in games one and four.

Perry retired following the 1983 season, yet in a 1977 interview with Newsweek, Perry was quoted as saying "Greaseball, greaseball, greaseball, that's all I throw him [Rod Carew], and he still hits them. He's the only player in baseball who consistently hits my grease. He sees the ball so well, I guess he can pick out the dry side." Perry was clearly referring to his famous Vaseline ball, in which he would put Vaseline from inside his jersey that he had placed on his chest all over the ball. Both of these pitchers had very successful playing careers and sports writers voted both into the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to cheating while still playing, yet Pete Rose isn’t allowed into the Hall of Fame for breaking a rule of the same caliber while he was managing. As long as Major League Baseball celebrates certain cheaters and bans others, it will be an organization marred by hypocrisy.

There are those who believe what Rose did does not compare to what Perry and Ford did. They claim a much fairer comparison is that of one ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Jackson was the star player on the notorious 1919 Chicago Black Sox team that willingly threw the World Series in exchange for payment from Arnold Rothstein. Eight of the nine starting players accepted the payment, including Jackson. The heavily favored White Sox lost the best-of-nine series five games to three. Despite Jackson’s denials of throwing the Series, the league banned him from baseball during his prime, although he likely would have been a Hall of Famer. Those who believe Rose doesn’t belong argue this as an example that the principle of the two crimes is ultimately the same. Both bet on their teams, and both were banned from baseball.

However, there are critical differences between the two players and situations. First, Rose bet on his team to win while Jackson accepted a cash payment to ensure his team lost the World Series. Also, Jackson committed the offense in the middle of his career, and therefore was unable to increase his statistics. Therefore, Jackson’s career numbers don’t provide a legitimate case for Hall of Fame consideration. Pete Rose finished his playing career outright with nearly 2,500 more hits than Shoeless Joe did. Although both broke the same general rule, common sense dictates that is where the similarities between the offenses end. Additionally the issue is clearly more complicated and not black and white.

Over his 24-year playing career, Pete Rose earned a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he is being kept out for an offense he committed during his managing career. Clearly the Hall of Fame does not deal in moral absolutes when it allows the plaques of Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford to be prominently placed in the Hall of Fame with no mention of their offenses. It is unfair and duplicitous to leave Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Like all inductees, he deserves to be honored for his extraordinary accomplishments during his playing career and not remembered for the mistakes he made after his retirement.