It’s sad, more than anything.
The average person who has not followed along closely might sympathize with Pete Rose, believing he has suffered long enough. That at 81, it’s time for baseball to forgive and forget. Reinstate him. Make him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Except with Rose, it’s never that simple.
Commissioner Rob Manfred would be unwise to lift Rose’s lifetime ban, which the game’s all-time hit king received from the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in 1989 for betting on baseball. Rose is a wild card who could embarrass Manfred and the sport at any minute. Manfred, a labor lawyer, is not the type to take such a risk. Nor should he.
Even if Manfred was willing to remove the ban, Rose hardly would be guaranteed entry to the Hall. He would not even be eligible for consideration until Dec. 2024. And he only would stand a chance for induction if the Hall’s Historic Overview Committee put him on the ballot for the Classic Baseball Era election, which covers players prior to 1980.
Rose is in the news again because of a letter of apology and request for forgiveness he sent Manfred earlier this month. It wasn’t the first time he expressed such sentiment. And typical of Rose, it didn’t stay private. TMZ published the letter Friday, saying Rose sent it to Manfred four days earlier. Crazy things happen in reporting, but it seems unlikely the commissioner’s office released the letter to TMZ. Rose did not respond to a request for comment.
“Despite my many mistakes, I am so proud of what I accomplished as a baseball player — I am the Hit King and it is my dream to be considered for the Hall of Fame,” Rose wrote in his letter. “Like all of us, I believe in accountability. I am 81 years old and know that I have been held accountable and that I hold myself accountable. I write now to ask for another chance.”
Sounds reasonable, no? Major League Baseball partners with gambling companies now. So do its broadcast partners, including my other employer, Fox Sports. But while the sport’s stance on gambling has softened due to the financial benefit, its rules prohibiting players, umpires and any club or league officials or employees from betting on games have not.
Another problem: Too often, Rose’s words ring hollow. Too often, he can’t get out of his own way.
In August, the commissioner’s office allowed Rose to participate in Phillies Alumni Weekend and celebrate the 1980 World Series title he helped make possible. It was Rose’s first appearance in a Philadelphia ballpark since his ban more than three decades earlier. The Phillies planned to add him to their Wall of Fame in 2017, but canceled his induction following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl in the 1970s. A woman said in a court filing that she had sexual encounters with Rose starting in 1973, when she was 14 or 15 years old; Rose said that his relationship with her started when she was 16, the age of consent in Ohio. (Fox, where I worked with Rose from April 2015 until August 2017, cut ties with him around the same time.) The statute of limitations had expired, and Rose never was charged with a crime.
The reunion of Rose and his former teammates should have been a happy occasion. Instead, Rose made it tumultuous. When Alex Coffey, a female reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked him about the allegations of statutory rape, Rose responded, “No, I’m not here to talk about that. Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, babe.” Later, he said, “Who cares what happened 50 years ago?” He also made an appearance in the Phillies’ TV booth, cursing and making a crude joke about John Kruk’s testicular cancer.
Three months later, Rose wrote his letter to Manfred saying he holds himself accountable. But for Rose, untrustworthy behavior is nothing new. He spent the first 14 years of his ban denying that he bet on baseball, including in his 1989 autobiography, “Pete Rose: My Story.” He served five months in prison in 1990 for filing false income tax returns. A secret meeting in Milwaukee with former commissioner Bud Selig in 2002, during which he admitted betting on baseball as a manager for the first time, also apparently went awry. News of the meeting leaked, and Rose promptly followed it with an appearance at a sports book in Las Vegas.
Two years later, Rose released a second autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars,” as the Hall of Fame prepared to induct two new members, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Rose said the timing wasn’t his fault. Nothing is ever his fault.
The day Giamatti announced Rose’s banishment, he said, “The burden to show a redirected, reconfigured, rehabilitated life is entirely Pete Rose’s.” Rose has met that burden only sporadically.
Others, too, are in Cooperstown purgatory, but let’s not draw any equivalencies between Rose and players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who allegedly used steroids before the league instituted penalties for such conduct. Rose broke the cardinal rule, one that long had been on the books. Perhaps he could have created a path to reinstatement by quietly remaining on the league’s good side. But acting discreetly, following a process … that’s not how he rolls.
Manfred, who became commissioner in January 2015, denied a request by Rose for reinstatement the following December, saying Rose fell “well short” of meeting the requirements. For all Manfred knows, he could reinstate Rose and then be subjected to some other bombshell. Rose has admitted to betting on baseball only after his playing career ended. But in June 2015, ESPN obtained copies of betting records from 1986 that provided the first written corroboration Rose had gambled on games as the Reds’ player-manager. It’s always something.
The Hall of Fame, that’s what Rose wants. Strictly on his accomplishments as a player — the record 4,256 hits, three World Series titles and 17 All-Star Game selections at five different positions — it’s also what he deserves. But the Hall in 1991 adopted a rule barring players on baseball’s ineligible list from induction to Cooperstown. Before Rose could even be considered, Manfred would need to take the lead by removing Rose from the ineligible list. Again, induction would not necessarily follow.
The Historic Overview Committee that creates the Classic Era ballot is comprised of 11 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Perhaps Rose would get past that group, which only would be nominating him for consideration. But would the Classic Era committee, a combination of 16 living Hall of Famers, executives and historians/writers, actually elect him? And if it did, would any living Hall of Famers boycott his induction ceremony in protest?
Those questions would not even be relevant until December 2024. If Rose failed to get elected, he would need to wait another three years for the next Classic Era ballot. He can continue pleading to Manfred, appealing to public sympathy. But Rose, to borrow a term from horse racing, one of his favorite sports, is getting left at the gate. His race for Cooperstown remains permanently stalled, and it’s no one’s fault but his own.
(Photo: Matt Rourke / Associated Press)