BY MARC MATURO
Rockland County Times’ sports reporter Marc A. Maturo is a lifetime honorary member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was the Mets beat writer for the Gannett Westchester Newspapers from 1978-1985, and every year continues to write in the name of Pete Rose on his Hall of Fame ballot.
At just about this time each year, select representatives of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) have cast their ballots for the purpose of electing members to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
It is a very meaningful trust we have in this historic process, and it was my decision to ignore any influence that “The Steroid Era” should play in my thought process – thus the names of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were checked on my ballot, as well as five others: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines.
In addition, I have once again written in the name of Pete Rose, who is Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader but who continues to remain on MLB’s ineligible list and thus, shall not be an eligible candidate (my italics).
(The Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc., reserves the right to revoke, alter or amend (these) rules at any time. Mr. Rose, I believe, will go to his grave without having a bust in the Hall.)
As for the use of steroids, performance enhancing drugs and their ilk, no one can truly determine the extent of their use, nor pinpoint with certainty which players were “juiced” and those who were “clean.”
Ergo, Bonds and Clemens go in, based on their body of work before charges were levied against them; they are Hall of Fame players. One, then, might ask about Mark McGwire, and it’s something legitimate to ponder. But I don’t rate McGwire as a Hall of Famer — juiced, non-juiced, 583 homers notwithstanding.
The 500-home run mark was once considered an automatic entry into the Hall of Fame, but that mark does not stand the test of time. In any case, this is not a home-run-hitting contest, but a method of evaluating each player on a case by case basis. (See the accompanying Pete Rose editorial.)
Election results will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
Unmasking a charade
As I was saying ….
How about some numbers just for fun:
- 4,256 hits, an all-time high
- 23 seasons in the bigs
- 10 seasons with 200 or more hits, including a high of 230 for the Big Red Machine in 1973; and 13 seasons with 190 or more hits
- 16 seasons batting .300 and better
The conventional thinking has been that Peter Edward Rose, having bet on baseball while a manager and not having quickly played the role of a supplicant to the commissioner (name withheld purposefully), broke a simple rule, and thus threatened the very “integrity of the game.”
The truth of the matter – and this is no great hidden truth to anyone who gives it a modicum of thought—is that Major League Baseball (MLB) doesn’t give a toss about the integrity of the game as evidenced by the many things it has done to compromise the very integrity of crowning a true World Champion, permitting tickets prices to escalate to preposterous levels and, get this, even adding another round (one win takes all) to the already-protracted playoffs.
And this is not to mention opening the season in weather better suited to curling than to baseball, and ending in weather also best suited to curling than to baseball. Baseball is, after all, “The Summer Game.” But don’t tell this to players seen in postseason dugouts sporting parkas, Trapper’s hats and arctic hand warmers; and don’t tell that to the very people who make it all possible, the suckers, er, fans, who also can be seen sporting Antarctic-like gear, wrapped wonderfully in blankets. Integrity my foot!
We can and must also question MLB’s integrity in refusing to play World Series games in the splash of daylight. Playing night games into the near-winter rather than in sunshine, or something resembling sunshine, is like the difference between, well, night and day.
All those things refer to the integrity of the championship. You can have a compromised championship format, as they do and have done and will continue to do, producing a cheese champ who may have no business even playing for a chance at it no less than winning it, but at the same time have the games themselves played on the up and up. MLB obviously cares about the games themselves being legit of course, only because if they’re not, nobody will pay and this is all they really care about.
In this atmosphere, I would rather stress the arguments that minimize Rose’s guilt and maximize his offsetting contributions to the game. Let’s face it, aside from me and a handful of other purists, nobody gives a tinker’s damn about the integrity of the championship or whether the regular season means anything. Certainly not the fans, the great mugs who pay the freight. They just want to see the locals stay in with a chance for as long as possible. And for this cheap thrill they’re prepared to put up with blizzard baseball and any other preposterousness MLB can milk them for.
The case for putting Petey-boy in the Hall is actually a strong one. The reason for keeping him out of the Hall and out of the game in general is the charge that he undermined the credibility of the game like the Black Sox. This charge is false. As most know, he didn’t throw any games, and undertook no actions which could be construed as undermining his team’s chances of winning. But I can also support the opposing view, the mainstream view.
What Rose did was incredibly bad judgment and certainly did open the door to wondering about the integrity of the games involved. You simply can’t have the people directly involved in playing the games also betting on their outcomes. But his guilt is extenuated and mitigated by a number of important factors which would come into play even in a criminal trial.
First and foremost is, again, he didn’t actually do the thing that would and should bar him from the game; namely, he didn’t undermine his team’s effort to win for personal financial gain. As I understand it, he never bet against his own team either.
Of course it’s a fair question to ask how we know he never bet against his own team. Perhaps someone knows the answer; I don’t. But it’s important. If there’s independent corroboration, Petey’s case is much stronger. If there’s nothing but his own say so, we are to some extent back in the soup.
If we have to depend on Rose’s word alone, there’s good reason to accept it. Anyone who ever saw him play, or like me, anyone who ever talked to the guy for more than five minutes about baseball, knows how fierce his desire was to compete, to excel, and to win. They would also know how deeply involved in the game he was, how knowledgeable, and how obvious it was he loved it.
These are things it is wildly implausible to think he could turn off even if he wanted to. So I don’t think there is any good reason to believe he ever bet against his own team, at the same time acknowledging he should never have bet on his own team, either. So, if the worst case against him is false, then there’s room for weighing the lesser charge against all the good he did by his accomplishments as a player and his example by the way he played, how he busted his gut for the hard-paying fans, and how he continually gave the media horde access to his time.
In Rose’s case, few players ever gave more to the game or accomplished as much. Casting him into the dark regions for all eternity for anything less than the most grievous sin would force us to give up a lot for a little. The cost to the rest of us of permanently excluding him would be as high as his example was great. Baseball needs him perhaps more than he needs personal rehabilitation.
So by all means let’s condemn what he did and stress that it’s completely unacceptable. Put him in the sin bin for a long stretch to emphasize the point, just as we already have done. But try to keep the full picture in mind, too. He never threw a game and he’s one of the greatest contributors the sport, or any sport, ever had. He’s been in the sin bin now for many years already?
No one is ever going to forget at this point that Petey-boy made a bad mistake and has had to pay for it. It’s become an indelible part of his story. We don’t actually have to forgive him, we just have to put what he did in perspective and weigh this against his contributions. We don’t even have to “temper justice with mercy.” All we’d be saying in bringing him in from the cold would be that his contributions were many and unique and on balance greater than his one less-than-fatal mistake.
To the extent that the Hall is meant to reflect moral excellence, particularly of the AMERICAN variety, Charlie Hustle’s work ethic, dedication to excellence, making the most of less than world-class athletic ability, etc., etc., a very compelling case could be made here too. But a lot of people seem to want the Hall to be a place reserved for dashboard Jesus types. The day will come when respectable opinion will demand non-smokers only.
What Rose did needs to be discouraged, without doubt. On the other hand, looking at the specifics, he didn’t actually throw any games. Nor did he tell his players to do so. What he did was more like insider-trading on Wall Street, but with much less reliability of information, maybe not any better in fact than the bookies setting the odds.
Some time in Purgatory seems in order. But should this overturn his entire good example as a player and everything he did in good faith on the field for more than 20 years? His sin as an insider trader set against his saintliness as a player? Must we choose between them? What is it they say, “Condemn the sin and forgive the sinner?” Whatever baseball may mean, if anything, Pete Rose gave a lot and added a lot to it as a player.
Why do we watch, why do we pay, why do we care? There isn’t any one answer to these questions, so there isn’t any one answer to the Petey-boy question, either. A consensus has to be reached. But consensus changes too over time, like all those soldiers who were shot for desertion in WWI and then decades later completely exonerated. They may be exonerated, but they’re still dead as far as I know.
The Rose case isn’t so drastic, but it’s not completely dissimilar. He’s only been ostracized, or if you will, excommunicated. But for as long as he stays that way, it’s perhaps a kind of ritual execution. The time for his exoneration will probably come too. Perhaps it has?