Growing up, I loved baseball. Memories of neighborhood games and Little League games are forever etched into my memory. The sounds were unforgettable: the metallic pinging when solid contact was made, the pop the baseball makes when hitting the web of a leather glove, the chatter of your teammates trying to get the other team’s hitter off his game. The smell of the ballpark was unmistakable as hotdogs roasted in the concession stands, the scent of buttery popcorn wafted across the warm, summer night, and the soft aroma of grape Big League Chew drifted through the dugout. There was this feeling of exhilaration when you made a great stop on a short-hopper, made a great catch in the outfield, or launched a homer over the right field fence. There was this sense of comradery amongst teammates as the entire team played for one thing…a win.
My earliest baseball memories consist of me opening a pack of Topps baseball cards and hurriedly looking through the stack for that new Will Clark or Bo Jackson, trying to trade a stack of all-stars for a 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Team USA rookie card, wondering how many packs I’d have to bust before I found that Hank Aaron autograph. Collecting baseball cards as a youth undoubtedly laid the groundwork for my love of baseball. Secretly, I dreamt of playing big league baseball, but I knew I wasn’t that great. Heck, I was barely good, but I tried my damnedest every time I stepped foot onto the baseball diamond. I played hard. I made my fair share of mistakes, but I learned from them and tried to not make the same mistake again.
I was lucky. My formative years started during the late 1980s when baseball was still innocent. In my eyes, the premise of baseball was still pure. There was no cheating, no juicing, and certainly no gambling. How could there be? My uncle, whose love for the St. Louis Cardinals was unmatched, (unknowingly) fostered a sense of integrity in me when I would spend summers with him and my grandmother. We would often go and watch him play in those heralded church league softball games that we all know and love. Win or lose, his exploits on the diamond left little doubt as to how the “game” was supposed to be played, how players were supposed to act towards one another, the unspoken, unwritten rules of sportsmanship that all players adhered to. Players like Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, Pete Rose…they played the game the right way. They respected the game. The Game respected them. The idea that someone would take the integrity of baseball for granted was foreign to me.
During those stints at my grandmother’s we watched a lot of baseball and I can remember watching Pete Rose break Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record. I didn’t know the magnitude of what happened (I was only eight), but I knew it was important. Back then, the old channel 30 was the flagship for the Cincinnati Reds so I got to watch a lot of Pete. He played hard, as evidenced by his often filthy and dirt-covered uniform. I often found myself mimicking his head-first slide in the swimming pool. For me, Pete Rose was the earliest baseball player that I “liked”. Some of my past Little League coaches often said that if your uniform wasn’t dirty after a game, you didn’t play hard. This was clearly an homage to Charlie Hustle and his determined style of play.
I was fourteen years old when I found out that Pete Rose had been involved in gambling and was subsequently banned from baseball for life. I didn’t watch the news because I was either in bed or outside playing when the broadcasts started. The only section of the paper I concerned myself with were the comics. I’m not exactly sure how I found out about Pete’s dismissal from baseball, but I remember Bart Giamatti as being the active Commissioner when it all went down. I remember the name because I had several of his 1990 Donruss baseball cards in my collection, alongside several of Pete Rose’s late 1980s Topps editions. My interest in baseball card collecting took a hit during the early 1990s, partly due to increasing costs and more and more product hitting the shelves. As my interest in baseball cards waned, as did my desire to play baseball. I was well into my teenage years when we entered into the era of baseball that is now known as the “Steroid Era”.
Whatever integrity I thought baseball players held for the game was obliterated during the late 1990s. These players – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and others – became the poster children for the Steroid Era, just as Pete Rose had become the poster child for lifetime bans. All the players listed above put up sick numbers throughout their careers, just as Pete Rose did. The statistics these players garnered are easily on par – or better than – their counterparts who are already enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, many of which came from the Golden Era of baseball. That era produced dozens of players who now hold immortal residency in the Hall, even though there are some with questionable qualifications. What, then, are the qualifications needed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame? There’s not any. It’s all subjective. So, with that being said, should the players that played during the Steroid Era be inducted? The idea of the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, is to tell the story of baseball. Can you tell the story of baseball without mentioning the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, or Pete Rose? No, you can’t.
After Pete Rose’s playing days were over, there were rumblings that he had a gambling problem. Major League Baseball consequently launched an in-house investigation that ultimately resulted in the Dowd Report, a 225-page report prepared by Special Counsel to the Commissioner John Dowd that contained seven volumes of exhibits, bank records, betting records and interview transcripts from Rose and other witnesses. Upon receipt of this report, and even though the report did not conclusively prove Rose bet on baseball, then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from for life. The basis for this banishment emanated from Rule 21, part D of the Major League Baseball Rulebook:
“BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire, or club official or
employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in
connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall
bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which
the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
This rule has been – and always will be – posted in every Major League Baseball teams’ locker room. It’s cut-and-dried. There’s no gray area there. If you bet on baseball, especially your own team, you’re done. The issue with this is there must be determinable proof that distinctly illustrates the guilty party has transgressed across those forbidden lies. The Dowd Report didn’t “distinctly illustrate” these transgressions. There was no determinable proof, only circumstantial evidence. Apparently, that’s all the Commissioner’s Office needed.
Reluctantly, Pete Rose agreed to the Commissioner’s ruling but did not know that the consequences of accepting such punishment would include the Commissioner’s public announcement of his belief that Rose did indeed bet on baseball, despite the lack on incontrovertible proof contained in the Dowd Report. Rose also didn’t realize that accepting this ruling would render him ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame (more on this in a bit). However, Rose was told he could reapply for reinstatement to baseball every year, but for the first 18 years, each subsequent Commissioner (Faye Vincent and Bud Selig) ignored his application.
Major League Baseball will do what it wishes inside its own little microcosm of the universe. They will make the rules and then change them at will to do what’s “best for business” (WWE fans will recognize that phrase). Unfortunately, Rose got caught up in this ever-changing web of statutory principles. As previously mentioned, part of Rose’s original punishment was banishment from baseball, but that did not include ineligibility for Cooperstown. In 1991 – nearly 18 months AFTER Rose agreed to Giamatti’s deal and a year BEFORE he was to become eligible – the Hall of Fame trustees decided to amend their by-laws by perpetually barring those players who have been placed on Baseball’s permanently ineligible list. It would appear that this move was made unilaterally by the Hall’s trustees, but to think Baseball didn’t have a say in the matter leads to a whole new level of naiveté. CBS Sports baseball writer Dayn Perry wrote, “The Hall of Fame existed for 55 years without such a mandate, but all of a sudden the board of directors was sufficiently motivated to create such a rule just in time to freeze out Rose.” Stephanie McMahon would be proud.
She would also be proud of the integrity – or apparent lack thereof – and readily apparent, deep-rooted hypocrisy that exists within the hierarchy of Major League Baseball and its association(s) with the Hall of Fame leadership. Engrained in the Hall of Fame by-laws exists Rule 5, a clause that has become known as the “character clause”, but it’s anything but. The clause, as stated in a 2013 Deadspin article written by Jonathan Mahler, says that “votes for induction to the Hall must be based not only on a player’s record and ability, but also on integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team9s) on which the player played”. This clause says nothing about off the field transgressions, and if it did, the Hall of Fame population could more than likely be cut in half as there are some real jewels enshrined that have some problematic bullet points on their resumes.
Rule 5 came into existence due to the efforts of two men who were essentially the “founding fathers” of the Hall of Fame: Stephen Clark, an aristocrat who wasn’t a fan of baseball and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner who levied the lifetime ban against the 1919 Chicago White Sox – the Black Sox as they became known – even though the eight White Sox players charged had been exonerated. The rule was put in place hoping it would ensure the enshrinement of Harvard Eddie Grant, a third baseman killed in World War I, and the exclusion of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a member of the Black Sox and one of the greatest hitters of all time – he batted .375 in a World Series in which he was accused of throwing – who ended his career with a .356 average (third highest in baseball history). Is it fair that an antiquated rule that was basically enacted out of spite in 1939 is helping to dictate who gets voted into the Hall of Fame 76 years later? No, it’s not. Robert W. Cohen, author of Baseball Hall of Fame – or Hall of Shame? wrote, “Baseball has always had some form of hypocrisy when it comes to its exalted heroes. In theory, when it comes to these kinds of votes, it’s true that character should matter, but once you’ve already let in Ty Cobb” – who was often viewed as a racist and had numerous altercations with African-Americans off the field – “how can you exclude anyone else?”
In Mahler’s Deadspin article he wrote that the Hall is representative of America in that it has its share of unreconstructed racists, wife-beaters, drug dealers and sociopaths. Former team owner Bill Veeck was quoted as saying:
“Wake up the echoes at the Hall of Fame and you will find that baseball’s immortals were a rowdy and raucous group of men who would climb down off their plaques and go rampaging through Cooperstown, taking spoils, like the Third Army busting through Germany.”
New York Times author Bill Pennington wrote an article in 2013 detailing some of the Hall’s more “colorful” members. We’ve already mentioned Ty Cobb, who had already fielded an attempted murder charge after an altercation with an African-American, but along with his teammate and fellow Hall member Tris Speaker, they were implicated in a game-fixing scheme (remember those 1919 Black Sox?). First Hall of Fame class alum Cap Anson helped to establish the color line in Major League Baseball when he refused to take the field if the opposing team included black players. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the same Landis who helped enact the character clause and who was inducted into the Hall in 1944, oversaw baseball’s segregation policy for three decades. After his death, an initiative was begun to integrate black players into baseball that ultimately culminated with Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947. Babe Ruth (class of 1936) was a prodigious drinker and womanizer. Many Hall members are rumored to have been alcoholics, like Paul Waner (class of 1952) and Hack Wilson (class of 1979). Bill Veeck said Grover Cleveland Alexander (class of 1938) pitched better drunk than sober. Gaylord Perry (class of 1991) claimed to have been cheating ON the field when he admitted to doctoring baseballs with spit, Vaseline, and other substances. Orlando Cepeda (class of 1999 via the Veteran’s Committee) served 10 months in prison after being arrested in 1975 for smuggling marijuana into Puerto Rico. Rogers Hornsby (class of 1942) had racetrack gambling issues and Duke Snider (class of 1980) neglected to pay his income taxes, but both were inducted. The hypocrisy lives well within the hallowed confines of Cooperstown.
If gambling and other questionable character flaws were really at the forefront of Baseball and the Hall’s code of ethics, they would undoubtedly take a different stance towards such “immoral” activity and live by the perceived guidelines exhibited by Rule 5 and further limit who gets placed on the Hall of Fame ballot every year. In 2014, pitcher Denny McLain became eligible for the Hall of Fame. He became Major League Baseball’s last 30-game winner, Cy Young Award winner in 1968 and ’69, and 1968 American League MVP. Over two seasons he compiled a 55-15 record, but was an even .500 over his other eight seasons, finishing 76-76. Hall of Fame numbers? It’s debatable, but check out what he’s done off the field. He’s been convicted for embezzlement, racketeering, money laundering, selling cocaine, and gambling (there’s that G-word again). He was accused and convicted of taking part in a bookmaking operation to take bets on horse-racing, football, and basketball. He was even suspended by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for the first three months of the 1970 season. At a bond hearing, the judge went so far as to label McLain a “professional criminal”, and yet his name appeared on the 2014 MLB Hall of Fame ballot, and will be present there again this year. The last batter Don McLain faced in a major league baseball game? Pete Rose.
Allen Barra wrote an article for theAtlantic.com and he asked a rather poignant question. Did Major League Baseball overreact when it banned Pete Rose? In 1963, Green Bay Packer great Paul Hornung and the Detroit Lions Alex Karras were found to have been betting on National Football League games, including those of their own teams. They both were suspended by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle….for ONE SEASON WITHOUT PAY. These guys were essentially caught committing the same off-the-field infractions as Rose was, and yet they were given a one-year’s vacation. Hornung’s bust now resides in Canton at the NFL Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall thought enough about Karras to name him to their 1960s All Decade Team. Barra, in the same theAtlantic.com article, asked Marvin Miller – author of A Whole Different Ballgame – could the Major League Baseball Players Association help Pete Rose if they so desired. His answer was a resounding yes; “There certainly is something they can do. The Hall of Fame may be controlled by Major League Baseball, but there is no Hall of Fame without the players – without their bats and balls and uniforms and their participation. If the players showed a united front for Rose, it could mean a great deal”. The player support is there. In 2009, Hank Aaron said, “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.” A few years ago, Mike Schmidt was asked about Pete Rose being in the Hall and he said, “Yes, betting is a crime against baseball. But to make Pete Rose an example as if he were some sort of criminal, or menace to society, is ridiculous…his case should be re-examined for the sake of closure.” Another Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken Jr. said in a Sports Illustrated interview, “When you look at his career, he’s one of the game’s best players. And so, the easy part of that is to say ‘Yes, he should be in the Hall of Fame.’ Some of the other, difficult parts is ‘What does reinstatement mean? What does working in the game mean?’ And I don’t know about that. But to me, he’s a Hall of Fame player with the most hits. He should be celebrated in the Hall of Fame.” Having the legitimate home run king, the best third basemen to ever play the game and the best shortstop to ever play the game come out in full support of Rose carries a ton of stroke, but until the Player’s Association gets involved it may not be enough, and given Baseball’s myopic view of gambling and how it relates to today’s world it may never be enough.
Other sports organizations view gambling offenses differently even though the criminal act is exactly the same. Pete Rose gambled on baseball. That’s a fact. He admitted as such in his 2004 autobiography, but honestly, in the grand scheme of the American judicial system, the criminal act of gambling pales in comparison to some of the other crimes that have been committed by current – and even some prospective – hall of famers. Let’s take a look at the charges accrued by Don McLain: embezzlement, fraud, drug sales, and gambling. The figures below are taken directly from a United States Department of Justice study compiled by Dr. Howard Snyder. During a twenty year time frame (1990-2010), courts tried 16,620 cases of embezzlement; 187,890 cases of fraud; 302,310 cases of drugs for sale, and 9,940 cases of gambling. Of the four crimes presented, gambling represented 2% of the total number of cases brought before the Court.
Then there’s the “legalized gambling”. For years, the fantasy sports arena has grown immensely. Revenue has increased every year since 2004 ($394M) and topped out at over $1.2 billion in 2013. All major sports leagues have signed sponsorship deals with various fantasy websites. They are now promoting a business that, while legal in most of the United States, resembles sports gambling because participants profit by correctly predicting success. As late as 2014, MLB players participated in these pay fantasy baseball leagues. Entry fees for one-day fantasy games like those presented by Draft Kings or Fan-Duel, were $245,000 in 2013 but are expected to rise to $11 billion by 2018, according to Eilers Research LLC. Players playing in these one-day leagues can win as much as $2 million. Roger Mason Jr., deputy executive director of player relations for the National Basketball Players Association said in an interview during the 2015 All-Star Weekend in New York, when discussing fantasy sports, “It’s gambling. If you’re putting money down, and winning money in return, that’s gambling.” And MLB has a sponsorship deal with these one-day leagues. Hypocrisy much?
Moreover, Major League Baseball has essentially stopped the issue of gambling with guaranteed contracts. During Pete Rose’s major league tenure, his AVERAGE salary was $165,920. In today’s game, the average contract is worth $3-$4 million. “Obnoxious Boston Fan”, a blogger that resides somewhere in the Northeast says that “the most degenerate of gamblers won’t risk that kind of payday for the thrill of a $500 bet with a local bookie or on-line wagering site”, hence the jump to other forms of gambling, like poker. Admittedly, the league has taken a dim view on their players participating in poker games, but has not explicitly outlawed it, allowing their players to police themselves. Ex-Dodger great Orel Hershiser, who now works for the Dodgers as a TV analyst, has become well-known around the poker tables and former Yankees slugger Jason Giambi said in an interview for Bluff Magazine that players would hold poker tournaments in the clubhouse. Directly underneath the Rule 21-D placards, I bet.
News dropped on Monday, June 22, that Pete Rose bet on his own team, as opposed to just gambling on other teams. This was always suspected, but never proven, as was much of what was included in the Dowd Report. Are we surprised? Does this diminish what he did on the field of play? Rose spent 1985 and 1986 as a player/manager. If he retired as a player in 1984 he would’ve been on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1989 and would’ve probably been a unanimous selection. Would his induction be rendered null and void if the Dowd Report had been released in 1990? There’s a lot being made about this new information, but in my opinion it does nothing to take away from what he did as a player. The fan support is still there. A CBS News poll asked if Pete Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame despite being banned for life for betting on games and 84% of the respondents said yes. Other unofficial internet polls are equally as one-sided as the official one provided by CBS News. Even some of the vaunted members of the Baseball Writers Association voting pool think he should be in, as evidenced by the the 41 write-in votes the man received on a 1991 Hall of Fame ballot, TWO YEARS AFTER HE WAS RENDERED INELIGIBLE. Most of the baseball world – fans included – think Rose deserves to at least be on a Hall of Fame ballot someday. The recent news of him betting on his team to win hasn’t, nor shouldn’t, dispel that.
Hall of Fame enshrinement carries with it a certificate of legitimacy. Once a player enters those sacred halls, he’s become baseball immortality. The question we’re going to have to ask ourselves is do we let baseball players who have been accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs into the Hall of Fame. Do they deserve baseball immortality? There are some pretty damn compelling names listed on the 2016/2017 Hall of Fame ballots: Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, Trevor Hoffman, Ivan Rodriguez. How do you separate those that have been suspected of using PEDs and those who haven’t? Of those names, Griffey and Hoffman are the only one’s worthy of enshrinement. The number of qualified names drops off in 2017/2018, and it’s conceivable that a player associated with PEDs will get inducted. It’s going to be a bad day in baseball when a player who is suspected of taking PEDs for on-the-field enhancement gets in ahead of an admitted gambler who was railroaded into signing away his eligibility.
However, signing away eligibility doesn’t mean it can never be reclaimed. There have been a number of baseball players that have been on baseball’s permanent ineligibility list that have been reinstated; names like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ferguson Jenkins, and the infamous Steve Howe. Jenkins was banned in 1980 after a Customs search in Toronto, Ontario revealed he was carrying three grams of cocaine, two grams of hashish and almost two grams of marijuana. He was reinstated by an independent arbiter, retired in 1983 and was elected into the Hall in 1991. Mantle and Mays, both retired from on-field activities, were banned in 1983 after they were hired by Atlantic City casinos as greeters and autograph signers. Then-Commissioner Howie Kuhn opined that a casino was “no place for a baseball hero and Hall of Famer”. Both were reinstated by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth in 1985). Howe was banned in 1992 after garnering several suspensions for drug use, but was reinstated by an independent arbiter shortly thereafter.
When anyone mentions gambling in baseball, the two names that immediately come to mind are Pete Rose and Joe Jackson. Both have been penalized for their perceived involvement with illicit gambling activities. The evidence against Rose included in the Dowd Report is certainly damning, but not incriminating and the evidence against Jackson was equally as flimsy. All of the proof that seemingly implicated Jackson in the 1919 World Series fixing was either staged or coerced, and a 1921 trial jury acquitted him. However, due to a then-public perception that baseball was “dirty”, he was permanently barred from the game in hopes that it would help clean up baseball’s image. Throughout his life, Jackson vehemently denied any involvement with the Black Sox scandal, but the repudiations have fallen on Baseball’s deaf ears. However, there is growing support for his renewed eligibility and in 1999, the United House of Representatives passed a resolution lauding his on-field successes and urged Baseball to rescind his eligibility. Will “Shoeless Joe” ever be a Hall of Famer? Time will tell, but can you tell the story of baseball WITHOUT him?
Gambling, whether legitimate or otherwise, has and always will be prevalent in Major League Baseball. Sports book betting has become a multi-billion dollar boon to Las Vegas and off-shore enterprises, and will continue to grow. Pete Rose got caught up in the business, couldn’t let it go, and has been penalized. The man has gone twenty-five years without being involved in the one thing he loved…baseball. He lived it. He breathed it. Every single day, he gave his all for the Game. His actions and behavior on the field inspired a generation. He was a great teammate off the field. Is it right for baseball to continue pointing towards Rose, making sure our newest generation knows that he soiled the game of baseball with his gaming, while hypocritically profiting from pay-as-you-go fantasy baseball sites which, in essence, are legalized gambling? Does Baseball have a right to continually exclude him when they allow their current employees to gamble inside league-owned buildings? Look, Pete Rose isn’t the greatest player of all time, but he is one of the greatest and deserves to be mentioned as such. In an ESPN 30 for 30 short, Pete Rose was asked what he wanted and said, “I’m just looking for a second chance. Other people get second chances: alcoholics, drug addicts, spousal beaters, but not gamblers”.
Pete Rose gave us 4,256 hits. I think it’s time Baseball gave him that second chance.