You've heard the Pete Rose debate. Hall of Fame, yes or no? You've heard it for years, heard it to the point of saturation, then beyond saturation to where now you're just sick of the whole thing. Hey, same here.
But two events happened in the past few days to excavate the Pete Rose debate from its mothballs, and for sanity's sake I thought about it in a new way -- and came up with a solution that makes all the sense in the world:
Pete Rose deserves his ban from baseball, so keep that intact.
But put him in the Hall of Fame anyway.
|Hits-king Pete Rose has gone from being an inspiration to a depressant. (US Presswire)|
I know the rules, people. What I'm doing here is challenging the rules, and asking you to do the same. Think about this, is what I'm saying. Think. Don't be a puppy dog and roll over just because the Hall said so. Ask yourself what I finally, 22 years after the Rose debate began, asked myself in the past few days:
Why can't Rose be banned from baseball, meaning he can't coach or manage or work in any capacity for any team ... yet still be eligible for the Hall of Fame?
As I said earlier, two things happened in recent days to bring this debate to mind. One, Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice -- but remained innocent, in the legal sense of that word, of knowingly using steroids and lying about it. And so Bonds will almost certainly remain eligible for Hall of Fame induction, same as his partners in steroid crime, guys like McGwire and Sosa and A-Rod and Palmeiro, players whose bats were measured by inches and ounces, but whose stats were measured by cc's and syringes.
Eligible for the Hall, those guys, but on the outs. They're not getting in, not most of them, although I can see a day when Bonds gets in. Hell, if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I would vote him in at first opportunity. He was a steroid-using cheater late in his career, I firmly believe that, but he was a Hall of Fame player earlier. It seems fairly obvious that Bonds started using steroids in the late 1990s. By then he already had earned three MVP awards, nine Gold Gloves and eight Silver Sluggers, and had achieved a 30-homer, 30-steal season five times. Plus once in the 40-40 club. All clean.
If Barry Bonds had died in a plane crash in 1998 instead of going on the juice, died with more than 400 home runs, 400 steals and 400 doubles and with a .966 OPS, he would be in the Hall of Fame. He would have been inducted in 2003. He was a first-ballot guy without the juice, so I say he deserves in the Hall of Fame.
But he cheated! I hear you. You sound shrill, so calm down and listen up. The Baseball Hall of Fame isn't actually called the Baseball Hall of Fame. Its official title, and this is important, is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. That last word is enormous. Museum -- not shrine, not playground, not propaganda. It's a museum, and we use museums to tell history. How can we tell the history of baseball and pretend a player as great as Barry Bonds, pre-juice, didn't exist? That's nonsense. It would be like going to a museum for U.S. wars and not finding a wing devoted to Vietnam.
Well, see, America didn't exactly distinguish itself in Vietnam, so better to ignore it.
Nonsense, as I said. But back to my list of things that exhumed the Rose argument. One, the Bonds verdict. Two, Rose turned 70 on Thursday. The man is getting old, and while he's obviously not going to live forever, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't live a lot longer. Professional baseball years are hard years, and he played or managed more than 30 of them, and the stress he has been under since then has been enormous. I live in Cincinnati, and around here the growing supposition is that Rose -- whose all-time records of 4,256 hits, 3,562 games and 14,053 at-bats, not to mention his 2,165 runs (sixth) and 746 doubles (second), were achieved cleanly -- will be allowed into the Hall of Fame after he dies.
Which would be cruel. And here, after all this defense of baseball's hit king, maybe it would be appropriate to tell you my personal feelings on Pete Rose: I'm disappointed in him, embarrassed for him, not inclined to like him. Not anymore. As a kid, like so many people my age, I was raised on Rose. I switch-hit for a few years and crouched, right-handed, like he did. I didn't sprint to first base after a walk like Rose did, because that's just silly, but I played hard and got dirty. Why? Because my dad said Pete Rose played hard and got dirty, and that was good enough for me. I grew up in Mississippi but the Reds were my favorite team. Rose was my favorite player.
That feeling is gone. Today Rose doesn't inspire me. He depresses me. He makes money off books mocking baseball and his own history of betting, and he shows up in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame inductions and sets up a booth down the road to sign autographs and sell whatever crap he has to sell. He has no class, no couth, no shame.
But he has paid enormously for his sin of gambling on the game. He was kicked out of the only life he knew, and was offered up to the jeering world as a gambling degenerate. That has been his reality since 1989. That was 22 years ago. The man paid his price, and will continue to pay it. No baseball for a guy who gambled on the game. Harsh. Fair.
But Cooperstown is something else. The National Baseball Hall of Fame (and Museum) isn't there to enforce baseball's punishments. It's there to reward all-time excellence, and to teach future generations the history of the game.
It can't do either, not with any level of sincerity, without a plaque that honors and exposes Peter Edward Rose for what he was: The most prolific hitter who ever lived. And the guy who threw it all away by betting on baseball.