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He quietly turned 80 last spring, his endless purgatory ongoing. The life sentence he serves is one without bars, but also without parole. Every day that passes finds him more likely to die bitterly estranged from the sport he loved — and helped define.
Pete Rose dove headfirst into baseball and left it as the Hit King, his MLB-record 4,256 career hits atop an unreachable mountain, threatened by no active player.
The very point of baseball is to get a hit, and nobody did it better than “Charlie Hustle,” who still has no place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York — solely because the perfect hitter was not the perfect man in a game with no forgiveness in its heart. If it had one of those.
Been thinking about Rose lately as the 2022 Hall inductees are to be revealed Tuesday night live on MLB Network. Although inductee could be the outcome.
[Spoiler alert for those who love a surprise].
First-time-eligible David (Big Papi) Ortiz might be the only former player who ends up meeting the minimum 75 percent of votes threshold and reaching Cooperstown. He was safely at 84.0 percent with 165 ballots or 44.6 percent (including mine) known as of Friday.
Steroid twins Barry Bonds (77.7 percent) and Roger Clemens (76.6) were looking good but not safe in their 10th and last year of ballot eligibility, each trending down. Both figure to be close calls, the drama a reason to watch Tuesday night.
Also notable among the steroid-tainted: It appears Curt Schilling (60.6 percent) will fall short on his final try and first-time-eligible Alex Rodriguez (40.6) is getting hammered by the BBWAA electorate, paying the public punishment he must before, over time, like Bonds and Clemens, voters’ animus toward A-Rod might gradually subside.
There is no percentage to report for Rose, of course, because his permanent banishment from baseball means he may not even appear on the ballot.
It’s as if he doesn’t exist.
Check that. Rose could appear on the ballot. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is not owned or run by MLB, but the Hall curtsies then kneels before its lord, so honoring the game’s banishment of Rose has precluded independent thought by the Hall, or, well, plain fairness.
Forgive our soapbox when it comes to Rose. I do that. It upsets me when the deserving are turned away without much logic.
I wrote for years that Howard Schnellenberger should be in college football’s Hall of Fame. He died last spring, at 87, without ever enjoying the hoinor he had earned.
I have written for years that longtime former Dolphin Zach Thomas is deserving of pro football’s Hall. He has been passed over seven times but is presently a finalist for the second time.
Schnellenberger was denied (though a posthumous nod is always possible) because that Hall does not budge from its minimum winning percentage rule.
Thomas has been denied by an electorate who have decided he simply that wasn’t quite good enough (a consensus defying both numbers and logic).
The case of Pete Rose is more complicated.
In 1989, as Cincinnati Reds manager, he placed bets on his own team to win. It was against the rules. He got caught. He mistakenly agreed to a lifetime ban that continues today, because he says he didn’t read the fine print and thought he was agreeing to a one-year suspension.
Why was he “offered” a lifetime ban to begin with?
It is crucial to note the Dowd Report indicated Rose never bet against his own team, so the notion of game-fixing, of shades of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, was never in play here.
If game-fixing is the worst kind baseball felony, it strikes us betting on one’s own team, while wrong, is a sort of misdemeanor undeserving of a life sentence.
Yet former commissioner Bud Selig spent 17 years with Rose’s reinstatement “under advisement” but no action ever taken. Current commissioner Rob Manfred, new to the job in 2015, quickly denied Rose’s bid to be let back in.
Manfred’s sport presently slogs through the mire of a holdout that threatens the start of the season, as Tuesday’s Hall announcement reminds us the echoes of the Steroids Era linger.
Lifting the ban on Rose — ending a purgatory entering its 33rd year — would be so fair, so popular. Manfred just needs wave a hand and sign a piece of paper.
A lack of contrition by Rose cannot be blamed.
He has admitted he “disrespected baseball.” He told ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” a few years ago, “We all make mistakes. I made a big mistake.”
This is about the punishment fitting the crime. About time served.
Yet baseball won’t forgive. Not can’t. Won’t.
Admitted, convicted cheater Alex Rodriguez is now smiling on TV, working as a baseball analyst. Face of steroids Barry Bonds worked for the Marlins as a hitting coach
But the Hit King remains locked away in the sport’s dark dungeon.
Oh, and this is rich (quite literally): MLB is now an official partner with DraftKings, fully on board and all in with the once-forbidden idea of sports betting. What got Pete Rose banned for life is now a flowing revenue stream for baseball.
This is the sport still punishing Rose for bets on his own team in the late ‘80s? The sport now in bed and all snugly with gambling.
So add hypocrisy to the heartlessness of this continuing banishment.
“I want Pete Rose and baseball to be friends,” he says. “I want to say I’m not on the outside looking in.”
After 33 years, that seems reasonable.
Only five players in MLB history ever touched the plate to score more runs than Rose, by the way.
Bring him home one last time. While he’s still with us to enjoy it. Still with us to feel not so much vindication, but the forgiveness so long overdue.