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October 31, 2002
Baseball's Inconsistent Stance on Rose
I've written a piece for this site on Pete Rose, Bill James, and the Dowd Report. It took me far too long to write it: I was reluctant to pursue the project, because the volume and tone of the hate mail anyone who writes about Rose gets is numbing. I dedicated myself to getting it done after Major League Baseball trotted Rose out as part of the MasterCard Major League Baseball Memorable Moments event. Rose got cheered, I made a snippy comment in an ESPN chat, and everyone moved on. But the scene continues to bother me. Baseball's treatment of Pete Rose under the leadership of Bud Selig has been shameful.
Pete Rose bet on his own team. That act deserves the lifetime ban. Rose did other things that could warrant a lifetime ban. I'm not going to argue about that here, or if his hit record mitigates his conduct, or... any of that. I wouldn't vote for Pete Rose as a Hall of Famer if he was eligible and I had a vote, and I might not if he'd never acted badly, though it's hard to separate my arguments about his performance from talking about Pete Rose the package. I don't care.
Rose is a fan favorite, I understand. He made a show of hustle, and everyone loves to see players make the most of their ability, to believe that for the price of their ticket, they're going to see the best athletes try their hardest to put on a contest. Rose had some great years. I understand those who appreciate Rose's contributions, and in a way I envy them their ability to look at it as being distinct from the later years and his personal weaknesses.
Rose deserves our pity, not our support. Gambling addiction, like all addictive behaviors, can happen to any of us. Tweak my DNA, I'll be staring at the video slots for three-day stretches, or smoking up before I drive into work. That he denies he has a problem, that he invents wild, implausible stories to explain evidence against him, shouldn't surprise anyone. That does nothing to mitigate his actions, though. I'm no fan of how Rose has managed the situation: as with all addicts, I'd like to have seen him face the consequences of his actions and get help, rather than play himself as an innocent victim, wronged by the Man.
It's a shame Rose did things that violated baseball's rules and those rules carried a lifetime ban. But baseball exploits Rose. Pete Rose is banned from baseball--he's not allowed to participate, manage, or play. Rose was kept from attending the closing ceremonies at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. But he was brought out as part of MasterCard's All Century Team, and trotted out again during the World Series, again for MasterCard.
Selig's lie on this is revealing: "The fans voted on the most memorable moments, and this is really a fans' vote. I'm certainly not going to get in the way of that. Nor did I." "
Oh, so the Reds fans that turned out in Cincinnati didn't want to see Rose take a bow with other Reds greats? I would bet they would have liked to see him. But the closing ceremony didn't have MasterCard sponsoring it, so no exception was made.
There are two ways to handle this in a dignified and just fashion: First, that Rose's absence from baseball should be a reminder of the consequences those actions carry. Ignore him entirely, let him age and die and be forgotten. If you absolutely must remember him, like reunions of the Big Red Machine, put out an empty chair, stack the Dowd Report on it, and wrap the whole thing in a replica Rose jersey. Keep him away from stadiums at all times. Keep him away from spring training. His visage should inspire unease, and his voice should cause young players to run in fear. For the stupid MasterCard ceremony, announce the dumb moment while no one walks out and move to the next moment-that's-not-a-moment. Don't say his name. Don't give interviews. Don't talk about re-instatement. If Rose wants to sue to get back in baseball, fight him tooth and nail in court and don't give press conferences to acknowledge it's happening.
Or baseball could be understanding. Rose never got a shot to get into the Hall of Fame because after Rose agreed to his ban, the Hall, which is independently operated, decided that banned players couldn't get in. It's been argued Rose never would have agreed to the ban if he'd known this would follow. I doubt that: baseball would have nailed him if he hadn't pled. And while baseball doesn't control the Hall of Fame, they could let it be known they'd like to see the issue put up for a vote and let Rose succeed or fail on his own merits. Let him participate in events at stadiums if they want him, and use the opportunity to educate the fans on why he's banned.
I'm in favor of the first. That Rose is unwilling to admit guilt and didn't help baseball discover the extent of the damage he did makes me unwilling to compromise to meet him halfway. I can accept the second approach; I understand the view of those who want to celebrate his career and also mourn his transgressions, and I sympathize.
I don't care which way baseball goes. But bending the rules so Rose can only be exploited for MasterCard's events and can't bring some small amount of joy to Reds fans who wanted to see him is an injustice and does baseball, the fans, and Rose a disservice.
Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.