Sorry Pete, the ban must stay
Posted August 26
This past Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of one of the darkest days in baseball history. Pete Rose, a player whose style was emulated by millions of boys on Little League fields all over the United States, was banished from Major League Baseball due to his involvement with gambling.
It was on Aug. 24, 1989, when then commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, made the announcement to a packed New York City hotel ballroom.
"The banishment for life for Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts that have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts….lifetime ineligibility."
Yet Monday night, at the culmination of an incredibly well-done, thoughtful, hour-long special on ESPN, Keith Olbermann declared, "…let him back in."
LET HIM BACK IN?
Into what? Into the Hall of Fame?
I've written about this before. In fact, it was only a week or so ago, in an open letter to new commissioner Rob Manfred, that I argued Rose, along with confirmed and suspected steroid users should have a bust at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, if their exploits on the field merit such enshrinement. The trade-off, in my opinion, is that on their plaque, all transgressions would be so noted for every man, woman and child to read. It is, in fact, just a museum. And museums that fail to tell the complete story do a disservice to those visiting.
On top of that, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the game is not standing in the way of Rose, or any of the other greats who -- in the current climate -- have as much chance of election to the Hall as I have of qualifying for the PGA Tour this fall. That is the Hall of Fame's call. It was their decision and one that was reached AFTER Rose accepted his sentence from the commissioner.
The Hall, in order to avoid the embarrassment of having a player such as Rose, who committed the one cardinal sin against the sport, honored with induction. It was those in charge of the Musuem who changed the rules to exclude from consideration any player on the official banned list by Major League Baseball.
Obviously, this is to what Olbermann was referring Monday night, in the last line of his commentary regarding lifting Rose's lifetime ban. And, Keith did a marvelous job stating salient points in his favor. Twenty five years in a prison without walls is a difficult sentence, especially for one -- Rose -- who really has so much to offer about the game. That MLB has, in the past, utilized Rose when it was financially worthwhile for the league is not to be overlooked. In fact, it is likely to happen again next summer when the All Star Game comes to Cincinnati.
Then, there is the grand slam of comparisons, the performance enhancing drug cheats are treated less harshly than the all time hit king. How is that possible? How can Mark McGwire be a hitting coach for the Dodgers and Pete Rose can't work for the Reds in any capacity? McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged, what we now know to be, a tainted and fraudulent home run derby during the 1998 season. Each flew past Roger Maris' single-season record of 62 home runs -- with the added insult of McGwire doing so in front of Maris' family in St. Louis.
Alex Rodriguez, a multiple steroid offender and a Hall of Fame liar, is eligible to return to PLAY for the Yankees next season, and while there is almost no chance of that ever actually coming to fruition, that it remains a possibility just doesn't seem fair in a logical sense.
But, therein lies the difference between steroids and gambling, as it relates to the business and competition of baseball. Performance enhancers cheat the game in several ways. It gives those that choose to use a physical and psychological advantage over those that don't. It distorts our ability to relate what we see today, or saw yesterday, to those that came before. And, while you may find it laughable that baseball is so beholden to statistical data of yesteryear that they would consider this is be such a high crime, I will simply say, that's the way it is. Not every sport can be like football where we simply don't know most, if any, of the significant NFL records beyond how many Super Bowl titles Joe Montana or Tom Brady have accumulated.
The reason why steroid cheats aren't as bad as having a sitting manager bet on major league baseball games, including those in which HIS OWN TEAM was playing, is that involving gambling invites the possibility that the competition has been compromised in some way. When you boil it all down, when you pare away the entertainment, the rules, the colors, the cheerleaders, the mascots in go carts and sausage races, the only thing that sports really has is the notion of fair, on-field competition. While the economic scales might be tilted in one way or another, when the ball is put in play, we must trust that the outcome has not been predetermined.
I'm not worried that Pete Rose is going to manage a minor league team. I'm not worried that Rose will go to work for a big league club in some community outreach program. I'm not so bitter towards Rose that I want him to continue to be a baseball outcast. But, the commissioner has really one job to execute during his term in office, and that is to guarantee as best he can that the competition is legitimate. That's why Kennesaw Mountain Landis' decision to ban the eight Chicago White Sox players involved in throwing the 1919 World Series -- to the Cincinnati Reds, strangely enough -- was fair and just.
Do I detest the notion that steroid cheats are treated with less revulsion -- or at least finality -- than Rose? Yes. But, one is a crime against the record books while the other is a crime against the sport. The former is terrible, but we're adult enough to be able to reason through that wreckage and deal with distorted home run totals. The latter….well, we might as well just be professional wrestling.