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January 6, 2004

"OK Dad, I admit that I came back from the party at 3am when you saw me come in, and I'm sorry that I got caught. Am I still grounded for a month?"
by Larry Mahnken

The big story in baseball Monday wasn’t the extension the Yankees signed with their new pitcher, Javier Vazquez, but the fact that Pete Rose, after a decade and a half of shamelessly lying to everyone who asked him for a straight answer, has finally admitted that he bet on baseball, and while I haven’t found a quote where he admits to betting on the Reds, his statements quite clearly spell out that he did--though he didn't think he was being corrupt, which makes it all okay.

None of this is particularly surprising. I have not doubted for an instant that Pete Rose bet on baseball--why would a compulsive gambler neglect the sport that he was an “expert” at--and felt it very likely that he bet on his own team, as well. A large number of Rose’s supporters believed that Rose bet on baseball and his own team prior to yesterday, so Rose’s admission of guilt was not a surprise to very many people, and as most people have argued against the reliability of the Dowd Report rather than the possibility that Rose wagered on baseball, there aren’t many people with egg on their face right now. Just because the conclusion of the Dowd Report was right doesn’t mean it was enough to convict Rose.

All that Rose’s admission does is bring to the forefront the question as to whether Rose should be reinstated. Many felt he should be reinstated even without an admission, and certainly there are many more who feel he should be reinstated now. But as in all things, and especially in sports, most people are guided by their passions and a desire to see things the way they want them to be, rather than being guided by reason and desiring things to be just and proper. And so, I ask the question, should Pete Rose be reinstated, now that he has admitted betting on baseball?

I can’t see how you can let him back in. The most common argument I hear for reinstatement is that Rose has been punished long enough, that 14 years out of baseball is more than enough penalty. This actually has some merit, but far less than it’s supporters would argue.

Just as with crimes against society, the penalties for crimes against baseball may be reduced, if there is cause. A murderer sentenced to life in prison may be paroled, and a person placed on the permanently ineligible list can be reinstated. But the sentence can’t just be reduced because the criminal has been punished “enough”, it also has to be demonstrated that they are no longer a threat to society--that they aren’t going to kill someone else, that they’ve been rehabilitated. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were declared permanently ineligible when they worked for casinos, and after Bowie Kuhn was no longer commissioner, and they no longer worked for the casinos, they were reinstated. They were no longer a threat to the integrity of the game, which was good enough reason to keep them away from it forever, if need be.

Since it’s not generally believed, and there’s no evidence to indicate that Rose threw games, wagered against his own team or provided insider information to gamblers, it’s reasonable to believe that Rose has been punished long enough for his crimes. However, since Rose has yet to show that he’s sorry for anything other than having been banned from baseball, and that it hasn’t been demonstrated that he’s no longer involved with gambling or people who gamble, it seems clear to me that he is still a danger to the integrity of baseball. Letting him in doesn’t mean that he’ll do it again, or that he’ll do worse than bet on his team, but there’s a high risk of it happening, and for that reason, Rose’s sentence should not be reduced. If he can clearly demonstrate that he’s no longer involved with gambling, then and only then should it be considered.

Another argument--one that Rose has harped on--is that there are a lot of bad people in the Hall of Fame, cheaters, drug users, racists, thugs, and generally disagreeable people. If they’re allowed in baseball, and in the Hall of Fame, Rose should be, too.

This argument doesn’t hold water. Pete Rose was not banned from baseball for being a jerk, he was banned for…well, he was banned because he agreed to be banned, but had he not agreed, he would have been banned for betting on baseball games in which he had a duty to perform. It’s not a crime against society, and it’s not as bad from a general moral perspective as the things Ty Cobb did, but it is a crime against baseball, and about the worst crime one can commit. It’s clear that he should not be allowed any involvement with baseball, and additionally, the Hall of Fame exists to recognize a persons contributions to the game of baseball, not just numbers. Peter Gammons said yesterday that he would vote for Rose because he had to vote on Pete Rose the player, not Pete Rose the manager. But they’re the same person, and if you induct Pete Rose the player, you’ve also inducted Pete Rose the manager, and you’ve inducted everything he did as a manager, and everything he was banned for. A player’s accomplishments on the field can be negated--Joe Jackson has no business being in the Hall of Fame, regardless of what Ted Williams thought--and it can be argued that Rose’s crimes negated or at least reduced his contribution to the game of baseball, and he may no longer be worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

Of course, I think he is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, but the question becomes whether an ineligible player should be in the Hall or not. Most players seem to think not, but I can live with Cal Ripken, Jr.’s suggestion, that he should be inducted but not reinstated. I think the Rose situation is more akin to the Mantle/Mays situation than the Black Sox, and I don’t think that Mickey or Willie should have been kept out of the Hall of Fame for it. At the very least, it should be left up to the voters, even the eight Black Sox were allowed to be voted on.

But at the same time, I see no grave injustice in keeping Pete Rose out. The Hall of Fame would not be damaged by his exclusion as much as it is damaged by the inclusion of several horribly unworthy players. Nobody’s going to stop going to the Hall of Fame because Pete Rose doesn’t have a plaque, and people who say they would didn’t really intend to go anytime soon, anyway.

In the end, I think the status quo has to be maintained. All Rose has done is admit guilt for to a crime for which he long ago accepted the maximum penalty. He hasn’t said he’s sorry for gambling, and he hasn’t given a very strong apology for lying. He hasn’t demonstrated that he’s rehabilitated; he hasn’t given any reason to be reinstated. While serving the sentence, he admits the crime, and asks for the sentence to be reduced because of it. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. Keep him out until he’s no longer a threat, and keep him out of the Hall of Fame until he’s reinstated or dead. But don’t reinstate him now.