In Defense of Pete Rose

Major League Baseball will honor five more inductees as part of the illustrious Hall of Fame July 30.

Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, Tim Raines, John Schuerholz and Allan H. (Bud) Selig will share memories with the best and most impactful figures in the game’s history. Each of them accumulated feats that made their careers sparkle more than other candidates this year, although none of them can claim to be the “Hit King,” Pete Rose, who has never been allowed as a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

If Rose’s career was judged exclusively by numbers, he would be a first-ballot hall of famer without a doubt. It’s hard to look past his numerous all-time highs such as his 4,256 hits, 3,562 games played and 15,890 plate appearances. The Hall of Fame, however, is anything but a sole numbers game.

A player’s integrity and sportsmanship are also considered along with their playing ability, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame website. Since 1989, when Rose was permanently banned from the game for betting on baseball while managing a team, he hasn’t been able to seek a position in either Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame. He has remained in historical limbo only being recognized by the Hall for his accomplishments — not his career.

For years the public has been pleading for Rose to be reinstated so he could have a shot at baseball immortality. Rose obviously wanted that too, applying for reinstatement many times since the fateful ruling in 1989. Now that he is in his 70s, Rose has asked only to be ruled eligible as a nominee for the Hall of Fame. Rose’s legacy deserves the opportunity to be considered by the voters.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for if you consider that anyone with ties to performance-enhancing drugs, whether speculative or substantive, have been granted full eligibility. While everyone will think of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens when you mention the acronym PED, they are hardly the only players to have their reputations tarnished by banned substances.

Rafael Palmeiro is one of only 27 players in history to hit 500 home runs and one of 30 players to have 3,000 hits. A PED suspension in 2005 destroyed his reputation and Hall of Fame candidacy, failing to receive the minimum five percent of votes to stay on the ballot his fourth eligible year.

Manny Ramirez appeared for the first time on the ballot this year, six years removed from his second major PED suspension. He received 23.8 percent of the vote—allowing him to stay on the ballot for at least another year.

In 2022, Alex Rodriguez will be eligible for induction despite his admission of PED use from 2001-2003 and his role in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013. Other players connected to PEDs—like Andy Pettite, Jason Giambi and David Ortiz—will also appear on ballots in the next five years.

Regardless of their transgressions, each of these players deserve an opportunity to have their careers judged by the voting populous. Pete Rose should be extended the same courtesy.

Betting on baseball has been the game’s most serious offense for more than a century because it affects the outcome of the game. The surfacing of PEDs in the 1990s and early 2000s also arguably affected the outcomes of games. A home run has proven repeatedly to be the difference in games, and the steroid era presented many players who were hitting home runs more frequently, using less effort.

Voters have been forced to question the validity of candidates numbers year after year, often skeptical that PEDs stimulated their annual production. While players gambling on games in which they’re involved also damages the game’s integrity, it doesn’t affect a player’s individual numbers anywhere near the level of PEDs.

Of course, the unofficial “Pete Rose Rule” revokes a player’s Hall eligibility as long as they’re on the league’s permanently ineligible list—making judgment impossible. This rule was adopted by the Baseball Hall of Fame board of directors in 1991 two years after Rose was banned. If the Hall had not enacted this rule when they did, Rose would have appeared on the ballot that year.

The timing of the rule already appears suspicious, but it looks even worse when you consider many players added to the permanently ineligible list long before Rose appeared on the ballot. Shoeless Joe Jackson — one of eight perpetrators in the Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series — was judged by the writers in 1936, garnering only 0.9 percent of the vote. While Jackson wasn’t inducted — and is guaranteed to never be if the “Pete Rose Rule” is maintained — he was at least given a chance.

Rose’s chances for eligibility seemed to be ruined two years ago when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred denied his request for reinstatement, but Manfred made it clear that his eligibility for the Hall of Fame is a different issue.

“In fact, in my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility,” Manfred said.

The fate of Rose’s candidacy should rest with hundreds of voters rather than just sixteen people.