Some thoughts on whether Pete Rose should be admitted to the Hall of Fame, thoughts sparked by commentator John Feinstein’s recent “Sports Minute” statement that maybe it was finally time, after 25 years of waiting, for Mr. Rose to be in the HOF. This after Feinstein himself had previously spoken against the Rose admission.
Who still cares about the HOF, or even baseball itself? As with bowling (43 million Americans bowled last year!), more people than you think. Americans care about baseball, American baseball fans care about statistics and awards, and Americans care a lot about who gets into the HOF. The Pete Rose case is a great argument-starter.
The updated Feinstein argument is that the man has suffered enough and is in his late innings. That I am offended by this argument means, I guess, that I, too, am a baseball fan – even though I no longer live in a city with a ball park in which it is possible, if one is not seated in a corporate luxury box or suite, to be close enough to the field to actually see the ball. In other words, I live in neither Boston nor Chicago.
I bow to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, appointed in 1920 as the first Commissioner of Baseball, whose job was to clean up baseball after it had been brought to near-ruin when professional gamblers succeeded in bribing the Chicago White Sox (the “Black Sox”) to throw the 1919 World Series. Commissioner Landis banned the key ballplayers for life and instituted a strict set of new rules that made it clear that the penalty for players caught gambling on baseball games was the professional death penalty. With a huge boost from the timely success and popularity of Babe Ruth, the game recovered and went into a boom that has never ended. The judge was tough, but he saved baseball.
Pete Rose is baseball’s problem child – talented, feisty, appealing, but a very bad boy. Do we show him tough love? Do we eventually forgive him? Are we urban cowboys afraid of being too judgmental? Are we concerned about setting an unwise precedent? Do we care more about Mr. Rose, or about the game of baseball?
You have guessed where I am going. Baseball was lucky to survive the steroids era. It is losing ground to football and other sports. It no longer attracts black players. Its hold on the American sports dollar is no longer a sinecure. Only corporations can afford to go to the games. Short answer: the sport is way more important than any player. The gambling ban is baseball’s most important rule, and once you bend that rule or weaken the consequences of violating that rule, you invite your own demise. Mr. Rose may be a changed man, even a charming one (though I doubt it), but I do not care. I care about baseball. Thumbs down.