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Pete Rose and the Cooperstown Candidacy

Hall of Fame . . . or not?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The question of whether baseball should lift its lifetime ban on Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hit leader, was revived last week with reports that Commissioner Bud Selig, Rose and their attorneys have exchanged proposals for reinstatement.

Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose signals he's #1 after connecting for his 4,192nd career base hit to break Ty Cobb's all-time record, Sept. 11, 1985 in Cincinnati. (Bill Waugh, Associated Press)

Post-Gazette columnists and writers who have covered baseball were asked to respond to the question: "Under what circumstances should Pete Rose be reinstated and elected to the Hall of Fame?"

Paul Meyer

Rose was Charlie Hustle on and off the field. No question, his hustle on the field entitles him to membership in baseball's Hall of Fame. Also no question, his hustles off the field should deny him membership in baseball's pantheon.

Granted, there are former players in the Hall of Fame who weren't saints. But none was ever banned from baseball -- for life -- for betting on the game. If one of the requirements for Rose's reinstatement to baseball is his admission that he did bet on baseball games, including Cincinnati games, how can one justify voting for Rose's inclusion in the Hall of Fame?

And I wouldn't believe Rose if he said he was sorry for his actions. Pete doesn't do contrite. One reason he continued to bet is that he thought he'd never get caught. And if he did, so what? A former baseball executive once told me, concerning Rose's gambling activities in Cincinnati: "If Pete weren't who he is, he'd have had his legs broken."

Rose's betting on baseball is reason enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Another reason? A sizable number of the living Hall of Famers would have a difficult time accepting him in Cooperstown. That would make any ceremony honoring Rose a mixed bag. Pete shouldn't want that. And we shouldn't want him in a position to cause that to happen.

Rose hustled his way to a Hall of Fame career. He also hustled himself right out of any chance of ever capping that career by being voted into the Hall of Fame. In that regard, I feel sorry for Pete. But I doubt he feels the same.

Paul Meyer has covered baseball for 28 years, including 12 with the Cincinnati Reds in Rose's tenure as a player and as baseball's most recent player-manager. President of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1995, Meyer has been a member of the BBWAA since 1974 and has had a Hall of Fame ballot since 1985.


Bob Smizik

There's no disputing the baseball excellence of Rose. Nor is there any disputing the unsavoriness of his character.

His record of 4,256 hits will never be matched; indeed, it will be rare if anyone comes within 1,000 hits of Rose's record. Likewise, it' s hard to imagine any future player thrusting the same level of moral decay upon the sport.

Baseball has had worse men than Rose, but none that attacked its core integrity with the viciousness of Rose. By betting on his sport, and in all likelihood betting on the team he managed, Rose violated the sacred code of the game.

In determining Rose's worthiness for Hall of Fame selection, the scales of justice might weigh evenly with his baseball skills on one side and his character flaws on the other.

But there's a third side to Rose. For almost 20 years, he was baseball's greatest ambassador. Love him or hate him -- and there were few in between -- everyone admired the way Rose played the game. He was a throwback. He was Charley Hustle. He gave fans their money's worth every day.

In evaluating Rose's qualifications for the Hall of Fame, this side of him cannot be ignored.

Baseball justice must be tempered with mercy. But only if Rose, at long last, is ready to admit his crimes. It's up to Rose and it won't be easy. He has to cast aside years of denial. He has to admit that not only did he bet on baseball but that he was a full-blown liar in the process.

If Rose bares his soul, baseball has no choice. The doors of Cooperstown must swing open wide. His excellence on the field and the manner in which he played the game demand it.

Bob Smizik has been a member of the BBWAA for 31 years and has had a Hall of Fame vote for the past 21 years. He covered Rose as the Pirates beat reporter for The Pittsburgh Press from 1972 through 1977.


Ron Cook

I thought Major League Baseball was shameless when it allowed Rose to take part in its Team of the Century and Greatest Moments promotions. If the guy is a pariah to the game 99 percent of the time, he should be a pariah all of the time. No amount of sponsors' dollars should change that.

But if baseball really is considering reinstating Rose from its banned list, that's something much worse. That would be a direct assault on the integrity of the game.

Of course, integrity is something neither Rose nor Selig have.

Even if Selig pardons Rose for the unforgivable sin of gambling on baseball, it's nice to think the Baseball Writers' Association of America members will do the right thing and keep Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen. Like the fans, who sicken me by giving Rose thunderous ovations at his every public appearance, many of the voters are blinded by his 4,256 hits, his Charlie-Hustle style and his charming, roguish ways. They'll be so eager to put him in the Hall that they won't bother to read the small print on their ballot:

"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

Integrity?

Character?

Pete Rose?

Give me a break.

Ron Cook has been a member of the BBWAA since 1979 and a Hall of Fame voter since 1980.


Robert Dvorchak

It's not an absolute situation, such as: when hell freezes over, but it comes with one important condition: If and only if Charlie Hustle fesses up to being Charlie Hustler and reaches out to the game and its fans.

Yes, Rose, a.k.a. The Hit King, put up the kind of numbers that would permit him to dive head-first into Cooperstown.

And yes, Baseball's Hall of Fame had admitted rogues, racists and reprobates, not the least of which was the reputed gambler Ty Cobb, the player who set the standard that Rose obliterated.

But baseball fans have been treated as suckers for too long. The least that can be expected from a major leaguer is to play the game the right way and acknowledge that no one is bigger than the game.

If Rose comes clean, asks fans to forgive him and says he's got his gambling problem under control, let him in with open arms. If he doesn't, let him whine away on a soap box, in disgrace, at any celebrity softball game that will have him.

Baseball made Rose, not the other way around. And baseball, like America itself, offers second chances to those willing to reach out. Even Richard Nixon, for Pete's sake, admitted guilt. He has a presidential library.

As of now, the only indelible mark Rose had left on the game is the blemish that cell phones are banned in clubhouses to avoid the temptation of calling bookies with bets and inside info. Among insiders, it's the Pete Rose Rule.

Robert Dvorchak is entering his third season as Pirates beat writer for the Post-Gazette and member of BBWAA. He first covered baseball for the Associated Press in 1976, covering the Phillies.


Ed Bouchette

This is easy. Of course I would vote for Rose, as soon as he's eligible. I vote for baseball's Hall of Fame candidates. That's all they ask me to do. They don't ask me to decide who is eligible and who is not. That's up to others and it is why I have not voted for Rose yet; He hasn't been on the ballot.

I assume if baseball lifts its ban on Rose and allows him to become eligible for the Hall of Fame, then they are satisfied that what he did, the punishment he paid and whatever apology he makes are enough. That done, his credentials as the all-time hits leader should be enough to sweep him into Cooperstown on the first ballot.

I don't like what Rose did, but unlike Shoeless Joe Jackson, no one has proven or even accused him of fixing games. He bet on them. So did Paul Hornung, and he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The NFL suspended Hornung and Alex Karas for one season when they discovered their actions.

People have accused Rose of betting on the Reds, but the agreement he signed with baseball does not include that. After he signed it, baseball officials publicly stated they had evidence that he bet on the Reds while he was their manager. If so, it should have been put in the agreement he signed that led to his "lifetime" ban. If it were, Rose might not have signed it and who knows what might have happened?

I have no problem if baseball wants to keep its ban on Rose. But I can only assume that if they lift it, they believe the punishment of keeping him away from baseball and out of the Hall of Fame no longer fits the crime. He has my vote as soon as I see his name on the ballot.

Ed Bouchette, the Steelers beat writer for the Post-Gazette, has covered the Pirates occasionally since 1974 with three suburban newspapers. He has maintained his BBWAA membership and has voted on the Hall of Fame since 1987.


Gene Collier

In the latest Rose conflagration, commentators up and down my digital cable keep saying approximately this: "Look, the guy made a terrible mistake, but he's suffered enough and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame based on his playing record alone. There is no morals clause here."

The hell there isn't.

I'd refer you to Rule 5 for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, of which I've been a member since 1978.

Voting should be based on a player's "playing record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team."

Pete acknowledges the crowd after being named one of baseball's most memorable moments before the start of game 4 of the World Series in San Francisco. (Julie Jacobson, Associated Press)

Does this mean Babe Ruth wasn't really a drunken whoremaster? No. Does this mean Cobb wasn't really a flaming racist? No. Does this mean I have to vote for Rose because they were? No, no, no.

When Pete finally appears on my Hall of Fame ballot, as I'm sure he will in the panicky, albeit doomed, process of saving Selig's legacy, he'll be voted in without my help. I won't vote for him because of the instructions in Rule 5, and for violating baseball's own Rule 21, which prohibits gambling.

I know the fans love him and the game is for the fans, so if they get what they want, fine. But remember, we're not talking about betting on a few games here. Over the years, Rose put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hands of some very bad people. He admitted using amphetamines, was part of a larger drug probe of the Phillies in 1980, bet on Reds games while he managed them, and agreed to a lifetime ban before who knows what else might have turned up. John Dowd, who headed baseball's investigation, told the New York Post last week that he'd been aware of possible connections between Rose and a cocaine distribution ring.

None of the 14 players banned for life by baseball has been reinstated. If baseball reinstates Rose and voters put him in the Hall of Fame, they'll be telling every current and future player, "Go ahead, do whatever you want. Just hit, baby, and we'll immortalize you."

Baseball might ultimately choose to make that statement, but I won't be helping.

Gene Collier covered baseball in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from 1976 to 1997 and has had a Hall of Fame vote since 1989.


Steve Ziants

Baseball's Hall of Fame more than any other is about numbers. About 755 and 3,000. About 61 and 70 and 73. About 56 and 2,632. About 191 and .406. And about 4,256. They are the numbers the baseball fan learns along with his A-B-Cs and multiplication tables. They are code for the stories, for the legends, for the figures that comprise the immortal tapestry of the game.

The fact that I would vote for Rose however, does not mean: That I would hire him to manage my baseball team. That I would go out to dinner with him. That I would plunk down $20 for his autograph. That I would not forever look at him if he did become a manager or coach again and wonder, 'Well, who's he got tonight?' Nor, for that matter, that I would seek his guidance on whether to take the Steelers and the points in Tampa Monday night (let's not forget he lost a lot more than he won).

What it does mean is that I believe a career from 1963-86 should be frozen for all-time. It's what the bronze of Cooperstown is for.

Steve Ziants has written the Post-Gazette's national baseball notebook for five years and was a frequent reporter and columnist at Riverfront Stadium from 1986-88 when Rose was the Reds' manager.


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