In Tony LaRussa’s speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York on Sunday, he quoted late manager and executive Paul Richards when he said, “When you manage, you’ll never have a completely happy day.”
LaRussa said the quote was true even as he became a part of baseball immortality. The day wasn’t completely happy for him for two reasons: his two daughters, Bianca and Devon, couldn’t be in attendance, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to mention everyone who had an impact on his career. Even on one of the happiest days of his life, he wasn’t completely happy.
Watching the induction ceremony from home, I couldn’t help but agree with LaRussa for a much different reason. I love watching baseball greats get inducted year after year, and I love the Hall in general. However, the day just wasn’t a completely happy one for me because as I looked at that stage full of legends, I couldn’t help but think of the legend that was missing: baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose.
Rose was still in Cooperstown over the weekend, signing autographs 100 feet from the sacred ground he has been banned from for over twenty years now.
The ritual has always had a tinge of sadness associated with it. It has become a yearly reminder that the man who succeeded at the plate more times than any other player, the man who collected 4,256 hits in his career, hasn’t received his proper due.
Yes, Rose broke the rules of the game by betting on baseball while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He knew what he was doing and he put a black cloud over the sport. There is no way around that, no way to condone his actions over those years.
However, the man has simply waited long enough.
It has been 25 years since Rose was placed on the ineligible list and 23 since the Hall of Fame voted to exclude him from eligibility. Over that time period, 106 men have been inducted into the Hall (counting Veteran’s Committee, Negro League selections), four men have been President and gas prices have gone up by an average of $2.00 a gallon. The #1 song on August 24, 1989, the day Rose was banned from baseball? Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx.
The point is, the man has done his time, and his ban is now extremely outdated. Baseball has gone through major scandals since then that have impacted the sanctity of the game far more than Pete Rose’s gambling. The most obvious one, the steroids scandal, led fans to question every achievement they were seeing on the field. Players like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez put up numbers that would have made them locks for Cooperstown, but either admitted (McGwire and Rodriguez) or have been implicated of using performance-enhancing drugs.
In addition to steroids, the 1994 strike truly hurt the popularity of the game far more than Rose did. The greed of MLB owners was enough to cancel the World Series, baseball’s crown jewel event. After 1994, attendance numbers and TV numbers plummeted as fans vowed to never watch the game again. It took a group of juicing, home run-hitting sluggers to bring baseball’s popularity back to pre-strike proportions, and that put an unfortunate black cloud over the sanctity of the sport forever.
Anyone who tries to insinuate that Pete Rose betting on games hurt the sport more than the steroid era or the cancellation of the World Series is sadly mistaken. One thing people forget is that Rose never bet against his team. What many overlook is that Rose never altered outcomes of games or the record books by sabotaging his Reds and making them lose on purpose. He was an ultra-competitive guy who had so much faith in his ballclub that he put $10,000 on the line every night. Was the gambling a major problem? Clearly. Rose even went to psychiatrists to seek help for his addiction. But was it the worst act in the history of sports? Absolutely not. Fans often complain about the casual, underachieving attitudes of today’s ballplayers, but they still decry the actions of a man who was arguably the most competitive player in the history of baseball. You simply cannot have it both ways.
Commissioner Bud Selig is retiring when his contract expires in January 2015. That gives him six months to make a powerful statement by reinstating Pete Rose and creating a positive lasting legacy for his commissionership. There have been many moments in Selig’s career that he most likely regrets; two big ones have been highlighted above. He’s already said that Pete Rose will be allowed to participate in the 2015 All-Star festivities in Cincinnati, so why not go the whole nine yards and let bygones be bygones?
Forgiveness and reconciliation is the way to go in this situation. The fans have made it clear at every public appearance Rose has made that they want to see him in the Hall of Fame. Isn’t the Hall for the fans in the first place? How great would it be for the fans to watch as Pete Rose, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz and Mike Piazza are all inducted in July 2015? That would be the best class since the first class of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth in 1939.
Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame moment is far overdue. He has done his time, thought long and hard about what he did, and has finally reached a stage of contrition. It’s time for outgoing commissioner Bud Selig to let “Charlie Hustle” back into baseball’s good graces on his way out. Pete Rose deserves to be reinstated by Major League Baseball.