For over a decade, ignorant baseball fans pleaded that Pete Rose was innocent and never bet on baseball. They believed every word Charlie Hustle told them. Why did they believe him? He was their “hero”. They believed his hollow lies despite the mountain of evidence against him and the fact that, in leaving baseball, he signed a statement accepting his banishment as long as the commissioner did not unveil the evidence to the public.
Then fourteen years after his banishment, Rose released My Prison Without Bars and admitted to betting on Cincinnati Reds games he managed. This seemed to hit his backers and fans like a punch to the stomach, but they just came up with new arguments to back up the all-time hits leader. Well, he didn’t bet against his team. So he tells us.
Now we have come to the third phase of the Pete Rose saga. Many are now saying what Pete Rose did isn’t as bad as what the steroid users had been doing. Alex Rodriguez broke the rules just as much as Rose did, they say. If a steroid user can make the hall of fame, so should Rose, they say. They hurt the game just as much as Rose.
I strongly disagree.
I would never give Pete Rose a vote for the hall of fame. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that Rose was one of the greatest players of all time. No one played the game harder on the field and no one disrespected it more off.
I would vote Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens to the hall on the first ballot while admitting they took performance-enhancing drugs (PED).
I hate to break it to the steroid-user haters out there, but there’s likely already a steroid-user in the hall already.
“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said ‘What’s that?’ and he said ‘it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake.’ And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post
Who broke the rules?
Every major league clubhouse has the rule stated on the wall: Gambling will result in lifetime banishment. This includes association with gamblers and betting on games of which the player is not a participant. Rose looked at this rule from his rookie season of 1963 through his final season as manager with the Reds in 1989. After breaking records and accumulating millions of fans, Rose may have felt the rule didn’t apply to him or, because of his stature, he could slip by unnoticed.
Rose broke baseball’s biggest rule when he bet on baseball. Today, it’s still baseball’s biggest rule. A report on a player betting on baseball would be a much bigger story than anyone using PED.
A strong argument can be made to say using PED was encouraged for a time – it’s called 1998. Fans may not have consciously realized it, but baseball was promoting the use of steroids as the nation stopped, captivated by the heroics of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and their quest to break the single-season home run record (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/the-real-single-season-home-run-record/).
In 1998, the steroid snowball could be held by a small child, but it was developing. The nation had two lovable sluggers in a friendly competition for a 37-year-old record. Everyone turned a blind eye to the inhuman size of these men and the way they – even when they swung late at a 98-mph fastball – could flick a ball over the opposite-field fence. Steroid users were cute in 1998. They smiled for the cameras and brazed the covers of magazines.
But by 2001, the snowball turned into an avalanche. It was then that two protagonists turned into one giant antagonist and fans started questioning the power surge. That’s when Barry Bonds showed everyone what the best player of his era could do on steroids.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa?, Bonds thought to himself. Pfft! They’re one-trick ponies. Watch this.
Then Bonds broke their records. He broke them without the smile. Bud Selig and America didn’t like it: hence, strong anti-steroid rules.
“What made the Selig Era so troubling, looking back, is that there were much greater incentives to use than to not use. Baseball wasn’t testing. Baseball was proudly peddling home runs. The odds of getting caught were miniscule. Nobody seemed to care. And the health issues that steroids cause are fuzzy and disputed and, anyway, simply not a strong enough deterrent to prevent a lot of people from using them.” – Joe Posnanski, si.com
The same could be said for the amphetamine era; an era that last much longer than the steroid era. Unfortunately for Rose, if there was a gambling era, it ended at the 1919 World Series. In good ways and bad, Rose was one of a kind. After 1919, there hasn’t been a gambling era. There’s been no incentive to gamble on baseball, especially since the free-agency era with salaries at astronomical levels.
Rose knows about 1919. He knows what happened to Joe Jackson after being convicted of gambling, one of the greatest players of his era – banned for life. Do the consequences need to be clearer? What did Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens see when their peers took illegal drugs to improve their game? National fame and further riches: that’s what they saw.
There’s more than one PED
Fans love to look down on steroid users because steroid users have the big records. They hit home runs. When are baseball fans going to grow up and realize the home run is overrated?
“I don’t know why people like the home run so much. A home run is over as soon as it starts…. The triple is the most exciting play of the game. A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home. It drags on and on. You’re never sure how it’s going to turn out.” – George Foster
Why aren’t more fans complaining about all the other statistics busting at the seams because of other PED? Amphetamines have been fueling baseball for decades and no one seems to care. No one cares even though now that they’ve been banned from the game and players actually seem to be aging. There has been a huge drop off of statistics for players over the age of 32 since the banishment of amphetamines and steroids. How many hits would Rose have had without the help of “greenies”? How long would his career have gone on? Dare I ask, how many home runs would Hank Aaron have hit?
Why do we care about two records (single-season and all-time home runs) and none of the others?
What about cocaine? Cocaine was a huge problem in the 1980s and no one is calling for Tim Raines’ stolen base numbers to be taken away. As long as players weren’t popping pills for the cameras or taking out their vile of cocaine at second base, it was easy to get away with these PED before baseball stepped in and banned them. Amphetamines and cocaine users don’t grow gigantic muscles and, more importantly, they don’t break home run records.
Not only is there loads of evidence against Rose in regards to betting on baseball that the public has never seen (Rose, you can thank the graciousness of the late Bartlett Giamatti for that), but there’s also people out there who know about Rose’s use of amphetamines. But who cares about that? No one because amphetamines didn’t help Rose hit home runs (at least not a lot of them). In other words, Rose also used performance-enhancing drugs.
Hall of fame
Many of Rose’s backers, despite knowing he bet on baseball, feel he deserves a spot in the hall of fame based on his playing statistics and legacy. Some believe Bud Selig can wave his magic wand and suddenly Rose will be in Cooperstown.
I’d be curious to see if the commissioner ever did allow Rose back into baseball what the voters would do. Many don’t realize that the baseball hall of fame isn’t a part of Major League Baseball. It is an institution on its own. It’s not up to MLB to let Rose in – it’s up to the voters. The voters can write Rose in now and there’s usually a few who do, but not enough to get him into the hall, let alone the five-percent needed to get a player on the next year’s ballot.
Steroid users only wanted to improve their game and to keep up with the competition. They still wanted to win the World Series and beat their rivals. The goal of the game was still to win it. The reason there are rules against gambling is because it turns the game on its head and it becomes a show. Steroid users did alter the game, but their goal remained the same. Unless the evidence on Rose is released, we may never know what his intentions were. I don’t trust his opinion, I know that.
Rose won’t be forgotten
We know Barry Bonds took PED and that he hit 762 home runs. Just because his name is on top of the home run list in the record books, doesn’t mean he has to be the home run king in your mind. Hank Aaron can still be your home run king just like how Rose can be in your hall of fame.
Steroid users should get a vote, only with a much higher standard – the entire era included (non-steroid users). The public will never know all the answers to the steroid-era, just like we’ll never know who was using amphetamines, who was gambling on baseball, who corked their bats and who cheated on their wives.
Pete Rose is one of the greatest players of all time and he doesn’t need the hall of fame to prove it. We know! Just because Bob Dylan didn’t win any Grammy’s in the sixties doesn’t mean we don’t know his music was revolutionary.
Pete, you were one of the all-time greats. We know it. We won’t forget you. You just can’t come back to the ballpark with us.