The G.O.A.T. and the Goat

Peter Edward Rose belongs in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Peter Edward Rose doesn’t deserve to be in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Both statements are true.

A baseball “Hall of Fame” without one of baseball’s greatest is a quaint exhibition. It’s a roadside burp from I-90, kin to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota or the World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box. Lets not kid ourselves; memorabilia in the foyer is no replacement for a bronze plaque. Even taking on-field achievement out of the equation, no museum baseball’s history would be complete without Charlie Hustle.

On the other hand, Pete Rose is a massive knucklehead. He may be the Most Ultimate Potentate of Knuckleheads. He lied. He broke the rules[1]. Then, he lied about breaking the rules. When caught betting on baseball—the very act that nearly destroyed professional baseball in 1919—Pete Rose turned up his palms, sleeved aces fluttering to the ground, and said, “Who, me?”

Years later, when Pete finally did admitted to betting on baseball, it was another of Charlie’s hustles. Low on cash, he published a tell-all (or more accurately, a “tell-some”) book. He signed baseballs, “Sorry I bet on Baseball – Pete Rose.”  It begs the question, “How stupid can one person possibly be?” Then I remember George Carlin’s philosophy on the subject: “Think of how stupid people are, and then remember…they’re even stupider.”

Even though Rose deserves a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, his actions bound Major League Baseball’s hands on the matter. His conversation with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, I can only assume, went as follows:

Manfred: Pete, we can maybe lift your lifetime ban if you’d pretty please stop betting on baseball.

Rose: [pause] You got the line on tonight’s Marlins/Phillies game?

A good penal system metes punishment to curb and reform bad behavior. A murder, for example, is locked away until his actions prove a complete and total denouncement of murder. Then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti doled Pete a life sentence because Pete bet on baseball. Now we have Pete Rose, rather foolishly, requesting parole even though he still bets on baseball. You keep using that word, Pete: “reform.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

As made painfully clear in Manfred’s reiteration, Rose’s lifetime ban does not necessarily equate to a ban from the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is its own entity with admission at the sole discretion of the Baseball Writers Association of America. If they so wished, the BBWAA could vote Pete in at any time.

But until Pete is back in baseball’s good graces, the BBWAA will not put him on the Ballot. Remember, this is the same voting body so myopically obsessed with preserving its version of baseball history that three of its knuckleheads voted “no” on Ken Griffey, Jr.’s HoF ballot.

Baseball is entirely right to reiterate Pete Rose’s lifetime ban. He’s learned nothing from his punishment, therefore the punishment must continue. However, in regards to the Hall of Fame, Manfred has put himself on a bit of a public relations tightrope. It just so happens that Pete Rose being denied a traditional avenue into the Hall of Fame coincides with the first players of the Steroid Era appearing on Cooperstown’s ballots. In his first year of eligibility, Barry Bonds received 35 percent of the vote. That number grew to 37 the year after. Now it’s jumped 10 points to near 50 percent. If one data point is an aberration and two is a weak correlation, then three years of rising votes are a definite trend.

Bet the farm and take it to the bank: Barry Bonds will be elected to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame on the writers’ ballot. It may take to his final year of eligibility, but Bonds will get in. He was the player of his generation, head and shoulders above his peers (many of whom, incidentally, also juiced). When Bonds finally gets in, the chorus singing, “but Pete!” will only get louder. How can the Hall of Fame admit a player whose transgressions occurred on the field while denying a player whose transgressions occurred off?

Major League Baseball will have to make the public aware of Rose’s continuing, unapologetic  idiocy without directly saying so. Selling a baseball for $100 that says “Sorry I bet on Baseball” is the ultimate sorry-not-sorry. The public must understand Pete’s absence from the Hall is unrelated to Bonds’ eventual arrival. When Clemens and Bonds’ Hall of Fame votes reach the 85-90% range, don’t be surprised if one of baseball’s hallowed scribes publishes remarkable insider information detailing Pete’s rampant, knucklehead betting. Expect there to be exact bet amounts, both wins and losses, on specific games. Should the situation get to its nuclear point, MLB, through its best beat writers, will erode the sand below Pete Rose’s public support.

Make no mistake; Pete Edward Rose will one day get a plaque in the halls of Cooperstown, but not until he’s served out the tenure of his life sentence.


[1] As Walter Sobchak would say, “This isn’t ‘Nam, Smoky. There are rules.”

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