I’m not sure how it has reached this point, but here I am. I’m about to write about why Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Before I do, let me assure you that this is something I never assumed I would be doing. I’m not some Cincinnati die-hard with a game-used Chris Sabo jersey and a vial of Crosley Field dirt. I’m not someone who believes morals and integrity don’t matter and shouldn’t play into who we choose to honor. I didn’t even grow up in the generation that loved Charlie Hustle. To me he was just the player/manager for the Reds with a bad haircut who made fun of the chubby kid on the Baseball Bunch.
So when I found myself slowly changing my mind regarding Pete Rose over the last year, I was as shocked as anyone. Yet here I am, fully in support of letting baseball’s all-time hit leader have his day in Cooperstown.
To explain why, we first have to look at some history. Specifically to the moment when gambling on baseball became the single worst thing someone involved in the game could do. It was 1920, and eight members of the Chicago White Sox had just thrown the World Series in the greatest sports scandal of the 20th Century. The sport’s new Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, came down swift and hard and banned all eight players for life. It was an absolute scorched earth policy. Even Joe Gedeon, a second baseman for the St. Louis Browns, found himself banned because he knew about the plot through his friend and Black Sox conspirator Swede Risberg.
The thing is, Landis was right to do so. Baseball could have been destroyed by gambling in the 1920’s. I mean that quite literally – the sport would be a shadow of itself. What were the most popular sports in America in 1920? Baseball, boxing, and horse racing. Only one of those sports worked hard to keep gambling out. How are the other two doing?
Gambling was bad for sports because it was solely a criminal enterprise and generally speaking, criminals don’t give a lot of thought to things like “the integrity of the game”. Judge Landis was smart enough to know that it was not in the best interest of the game for it’s players to be consorting with criminals. Was there a moral element to his decision? Perhaps. Probably, even. But more importantly, keeping criminals out of clubhouses was good business.
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Welcome to 2015, where baseball and the world in general fully accept gambling. It has become, by and large, a regulated industry and a popular hobby for a large portion of the population. From Fantasy Sports to Office Bracket Challenges to the occasional weekend in Vegas, sports gambling is a massive industry and one that professional sports are more than willing to use to their advantage. How much have things changed since the days of the Black Sox? In 1920 the population of Las Vegas was just over 2,000 people. Today, it’s over 600,000 with nearly 40 million visitors each year. Those people? They aren’t all coming to see Hoover Dam.
This doesn’t mean gambling isn’t still dangerous to the world of sports at large. From college basketball point shaving scandals to Tim Donaghy, we still see far too often how money can corrupt the games we love. The thing is, every professional and collegiate league is more vigilant than ever. On the other end, so are those who regulate gambling. This isn’t the wild west anymore, it’s a business, and one that Major League Baseball seems to endorse. This isn’t to say Major League Baseball shouldn’t care at all about gambling. Players and managers can’t bet on the game for the sake of the integrity of it, and the punishment should be severe. I’d even say upholding the idea if a lifetime ban from playing or managing is still in order. A ban from the periphery though, from things like the Hall of Fame or appearing at MLB events, does nothing. I suppose you could argue that a punishment that severe is necessary to keep today’s players from being tempted. You know what does an even better job of that? 200 million dollar contracts.
What’s more, Major League Baseball seems to agree with this judging by Rose’s appearance at last year’s All-Star Game. They just don’t extend it all the way to the Hall of Fame.
As for Pete Rose, not much has changed. If you were looking for some kind of redemption story, where he realized the error of his ways and worked to improve himself and atone for his sins, here’s Orlando Cepeda’s Wikipedia page. Rose is who he is – a deeply flawed human being who played the game of baseball as well as anyone ever has. There are plenty of people already in the Hall with flaws ranging from racism to drug abuse. Is Pete Rose’s sin any different? It was, once. It’s not anymore. In 1983. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were both banned by Bowie Kuhn after being hired by Atlantic City casinos as greeters and autograph signers. Two years later, new Commissioner Peter Ueberroth overturned the ban, and rightfully so. In doing so, baseball set a precedent that said their gambling policy was not completely rigid. It’s time to do so again.