The best third baseman of all time is given an Associated Press column to make his case for Charlie Hustle. The upshot (apart from merely making Rose’s case on its own merits): Bart Giamatti was a wise and compassionate man who would have eventually given Rose the benefit of the doubt:
An interesting question was posed to me in a recent interview: Do you think things would have been different if Mr. Giamatti was still alive? . . . No one, however, anticipated the untimely passing of commissioner Giamatti, especially Pete. Before Pete could ever meet with him, appeal to him, come clean and apply for reinstatement, Mr. Giamatti passed away from a heart attack. Baseball lost a great ambassador for sure, and as unimportant as it was at the time, Pete’s fate now was in the hands of his successor, Fay Vincent.
The problem with this, however, is that it wasn’t as if Rose was going to come clean but, dadgummit, Giamatti died and he never got the chance. It was 15 years — 15 years during which Rose, for P.R. purposes, constantly misrepresented the deal he struck with Giamatti and constantly complained about how wronged he was — until he finally admitted that he had been lying all along. And even then it was only so he could sell some books. Schmidt glosses over that, probably because he was given a word limit by the AP and was more interested in conserving space to make an irrelevant comparison to steroids:
Pete bet on his team to win and has been banished from baseball for life. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez et al, bet that they would get bigger, stronger and have a distinct advantage over everyone and that they wouldn’t get caught. Which is worse? Does the penalty fit the crime?
Pete’s banned for life, he sells his autograph to pay bills. Ramirez and his cronies apologize, are forgiven and get $20 million a year. They giggle all the way to the bank and could end up in the Hall of Fame. Is this the way Bart Giamatti would have wanted it 20 years later?
Actually, it’s not at all clear that Rose only bet on his team to win. We only have Rose’s word for that, so we’ll have to wait at least 15 more years, I’d wager, until we know if his story is going to change on that too.
But that’s not the point. The point is that Rose agreed to a lifetime ban, and now he and his defenders are complaining about the “lifetime” part of it. We can debate all day about whether gambling or steroids are worse for baseball, but one thing certainly is clear: the rules Rose broke and punishment Rose received for it had been in place for nearly 70 years at the time he was banned. Ramirez and A-Rod and the other steroids guys are likewise subject to the rules and punishments of their day too. We don’t let burglars out of jail early simply because we think the sentence for drug possession is too light.
Look, no one denies Rose’s talent as a ballplayer. Indeed, if I had my way I’d decouple Hall-of-Fame eligibility from eligibility to work in the game and allow Rose to get the plaque he deserves for his on-the-field accomplishments. Likewise, Mike Schmidt was Rose’s teammate and friend so I don’t begrudge him for making Rose’s case. I’d probably do the same for my friend.
But let’s be clear: it’s no crime or injustice that Pete Rose is still banned from baseball. A ban he agreed to, by the way, voluntarily and with full knowledge that it was intended to be for life. A ban at which he constantly thumbed his nose while lying to both those who had his potential reinstatement in their hands and the fans who were played for idiots after Rose finally, and calculatedly, decided to come clean in 2004.
The headline to Schmidt’s piece asks if 20 years is enough. My answer: no, not really.