As the baseball world endures yet another week of scandal involving PED usage, with the focus primarily being on the Yankees’ star third baseman Alex Rodriguez, among others, another small news item went largely unnoticed. Someone tweeted out that Pete Rose was sitting by himself in Las Vegas outside a sports collectibles store, with employees begging those who were walking by to at least pose for a photo with him. As Alex Rodriguez released a statement insisting that he was innocent of all the new charges against him, and that he was not leaving the game of baseball, my mind kept wandering back to the image of the all time greatest hits leader sitting alone at a table in Las Vegas, still banished from baseball and the Hall of Fame.
Make no mistake about it, Pete Rose has been his own worst enemy throughout his career, especially during his days as manager. From shoving umpires to gambling to tax evasion, he has done nothing to help his cause of finally getting inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, or to be accepted into the game of baseball in any capacity. His insistence on denying that he gambled on baseball games while manager of the Cincinnati Reds was as arrogant as it was stupid, given the mountain of evidence against him. However, is the case of A-Rod any different? Here is a player of statistical dominance, just as Rose was, who has clearly been lying to baseball and the public regarding his use of PEDs for years well beyond the couple of seasons he claims he cheated with the Texas Rangers. In addition, with the cloud of steroids hanging over basically every power hitter that played throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, there will clearly be (and most likely have already been) players inducted into Cooperstown that got away with cheating and lying their way to offensive numbers that earned them a spot.
Any Phillie fan who remembers the 1980 season, as I do, will not hesitate to tell you unless Pete Rose was on that squad, there is no way the Phillies would’ve obtained their first ring in a century of baseball. Mike Schmidt, the greatest Phillie as well as the best third baseman in baseball history, has repeatedly admitted that Pete made him a better player all around. Considering that the first 2 seasons that Rose played with the Phillies Schmidt slugged 45 and 48 home runs, with an MVP in 1980 (one of three he would win over his career), this fact is hard to discount. Pete’s tenacity on the base paths and clubhouse demeanor were the missing ingredient to that Phillies club, and it was a trait that fueled the dominance of the Big Red Machine in the decade preceding his arrival in Philadelphia. Rose was the classic case of free agency taking a team over the edge to all-out victory, as his arrival in 1979 ended years of playoff futility from a band of players that fought more with each other than with opposing teams. I may be biased to his induction into the Hall of Fame based on that World Series, but his overall career numbers are indisputable as well.
Pete has also been a sad victim of circumstances. His tumultuous relationship with former baseball commissioner “Bart” Giamatti, who had suspended Rose both as president of the National League and as Commissioner of baseball, came to a tragic end with the death of Giamatti just over a week after he had Rose agree to be forever ineligible to be involved in the game of baseball on August 24, 1989. Giamatti’s successor at the helm, Fay Vincent, always held Pete somehow responsible for the untimely death of Giamatti at 51 years of age by attributing his massive heart attack to the stress of dealing with Rose. As a result, the banishment of Rose lasted through Vincent’s tenure and to the present day. Interestingly, if anyone believes that Vincent has softened his tone in the years since Rose’s ouster, consider his comments in a recent article on Cincinnati.com, whereupon Vincent compared A-Rod’s denials to those of “Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong” and added that “they lie and lie, then the truth comes out. It makes every athlete’s denial worthless”. Vincent feels that players caught cheating with PEDs should also be thrown out of the game, adding: “That’s why we did it with Rose. People knew that if we can throw out a guy like Rose, who acted so arrogant, we can do it to anybody who gambles. So why no for steroids? Why give them three bites of that apple?” Obviously Vincent, like his dear friend Giamatti before him, was fiercely pro-owner when it came to such issues, and his stern tone regarding Rose all these years later is further proof that Rose had little chance of being forgiven throughout his banishment.
All of this still brings me back to the irony of Pete Rose sitting alone at a folding table begging for fans to appear with him, while a player like A-Rod continues to profess his innocence in the face of monumental proof against him. Rose is the all-time hits leader with 4,256, had a career .303 average, won 3 World Series titles, an MVP, and 18 All-Star Games. Whereas the results of steroid use is glaringly obvious, where 35-homers-per-year players start slugging 50 plus per season even past 40 years of age, Rose’s indiscretion of gambling on baseball, and his own team, hardly holds the same amount of weight as far as the damage inflicted on the game. Detractors will argue that steroids were not illegal in baseball, whereas gambling was, but the fact is that steroids were illegal in the United States in general, and in my opinion that makes their abuse in the sport even more reckless and damaging.
Pete Rose is far from perfect, and the pathetic situation he finds himself in today is sad and partly self-inflicted. But the hypocrisy of major league baseball is just as sad and pathetic given the recent PED scandals and all the players who may have already slipped into the supposedly hallowed Hall of Fame. If baseball wishes to declare itself holier than thou, they shouldn’t condemn some and excuse others, and Charlie Hustle deserves a break.Tags: Hall of Fame, MLB, Pete Rose