It’s sad more than anything.
The average person who hasn’t followed closely might sympathize with Pete Rose, believing he’s suffered long enough. That at age 81, it’s time for baseball to forgive and forget. Replace him. Make him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Except with Rose, it’s never that easy.
Commissioner Rob Manfred would be unwise to lift Rose’s lifetime suspension, who received the game’s all-time hit king in 1989 from the late Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti for baseball betting. Rose is a wildcard who could embarrass Manfred and the sport at any moment. Manfred, an employment lawyer, is not the type to take such a risk. Nor should he.
Even if Manfred was willing to lift the ban, Rose would hardly be guaranteed entry to the venue. He would not be eligible for consideration until December 2024. And he would only stand a chance of being inducted if Hall’s Historic Overview Committee put him on the ballot for the Classic Baseball Era election, which covers pre-1980 players.
Rose is in the news again because of a letter of apology and request for forgiveness he sent Manfred earlier this month. It was not the first time he expressed such a feeling. And typical of Rose, it didn’t stay private. TMZ published the letter Friday, saying Rose had sent it to Manfred four days earlier. Crazy things are happening in the news coverage, but it seems unlikely that the commissioner’s office released the letter to TMZ. Rose did not respond to a request for comment.
“Despite my many mistakes, I am so proud of what I have accomplished as a baseball player – I am the Hit King and my dream is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Rose wrote in his letter. “Like all of us, I believe in responsibility. I am 81 years old and know that I have been held accountable and that I hold myself accountable. I am now writing to ask for another chance.”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Major League Baseball now partners with betting companies. So are his broadcast partners, including my other employer, Fox Sports. But while the sport’s stance on gambling has been watered down due to the financial benefit, the rules prohibiting players, umpires, and any club or league officials or employees from betting on games have not.
Another problem: Too often Rose’s words sound hollow. Too often he can’t get out of the way.
In August, the Commissioner’s Office allowed Rose to participate in the Phillies Alumni Weekend and celebrate the 1980 World Series title he helped make possible. It was Rose’s first appearance in a Philadelphia ballpark since his suspension more than three decades earlier. The Phillies planned to add him to their Wall of Fame in 2017, but canceled his induction following allegations that he had sex with an underage girl in the 1970s. One woman said in a lawsuit that she had had sexual encounters with Rose from 1973, when she was 14 or 15 years old; Rose said his relationship with her started when she was 16, the age of majority in Ohio. (Fox, where I worked with Rose from April 2015 to August 2017, cut ties with him around the same time.) The statute of limitations had expired, and Rose was never charged with a crime.
The reunion of Rose and his former teammates should have been a happy event. Instead, Rose made it tumultuous. When Alex Coffey, a female reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked him about the statutory rape allegations, Rose replied, “No, I’m not here to talk about that. Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, honey. He later said, “Who cares what happened 50 years ago?” He also appeared on the Phillies TV booth, cursing and making a crude joke about John Kruk’s testicular cancer.
Three months later, Rose wrote his letter to Manfred saying he holds himself accountable. But for Rose, unreliable behavior is nothing new. He spent the first 14 years of his ban denying betting on baseball, including in his 1989 autobiography, “Pete Rose: My Story.” He served five months in prison in 1990 for filing false income tax returns. A secret meeting in Milwaukee with former commissioner Bud Selig in 2002, in which he first admitted to betting on baseball as a manager, also apparently went awry. News of the meeting leaked, and Rose promptly followed it up with an appearance in a Las Vegas sportsbook.
Two years later, Rose released a second autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars,” as the Hall of Fame prepared to induct two new members, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Rose said the timing wasn’t his fault. Nothing is ever his fault.
On the day Giamatti announced Rose’s banishment, he said, “The burden of showing a diverted, reconfigured, rehabilitated life falls squarely on Pete Rose.” Rose has fulfilled that burden only sporadically.
Others are also in Cooperstown purgatory, but let’s not draw similarities between Rose and players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who were reportedly on steroids before the league imposed sanctions for such behavior. Rose broke the cardinal rule, a rule that has been on the books for a long time. Perhaps he could have created a path to recovery by quietly staying on the right side of the league. But acting discreetly, following a process… that’s not how he rolls.
Manfred, who became commissioner in January 2015, rejected a request for reinstatement from Rose the following December, saying Rose was “far behind” in meeting requirements. For all Manfred knows, he could recover Rose and then be subjected to another bomb. Rose has admitted that he only bet on baseball after his career as a player ended. But in June 2015, ESPN obtained copies of betting records from 1986 that provided the first written confirmation that Rose had bet on games as a player-manager of the Reds. It’s always something.
The Hall of Fame, that’s what Rose wants. Strictly speaking of his achievements as a player – the record of 4,256 hits, three World Series titles and 17 All-Star Game selections in five different positions – it is also what he deserves. But the Hall passed a rule in 1991 that banned players on baseball’s unfit list from coming to Cooperstown. Before Rose could even be considered, Manfred would have to take the lead by removing Rose from the ineligible list. Again, induction wouldn’t necessarily follow.
The Historic Overview Committee that creates the Classic Era ballot is made up of 11 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Perhaps Rose would get past that group, which would only nominate him for consideration. But would the Classic Era committee, a combination of 16 living Hall of Famers, executives and historians/writers, actually choose him? And if it did, would a living Hall of Famer boycott his induction ceremony in protest?
Those questions would not be relevant until December 2024. If Rose was not elected, he would have to wait another three years for the next Classic Era vote. He can continue to beg Manfred, appeal to public sympathy. But Rose, to take a term out of horse racing, one of his favorite sports, is left at the gate. His race to Cooperstown remains permanently stalled, and it’s no one’s fault but his own.
(Photo: Matt Rourke/Associated Press)