pete rose getty

Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime


The 25th anniversary of Pete Rose’s banishment – if you can call that an “anniversary” – came and went over the weekend, and to commemorate the event I read my 10 bajilllionth Pete Rose story. This one made the case that Rose should be reinstated in baseball and made eligible for the Hall of Fame. No, my mistake, the story I read made the case that Rose broke baseball’s cardinal rule and should never be reinstated because lifetime bans should last a lifetime. No, I’m sorry, right the first time, the story argued that Rose has served his time and that he should be remembered for how he played the game. Or, wait, actually, now that I think of it, the story was more about how Rose knew the punishment for gambling on baseball, and he did it anyway, and he has never really shown any remorse, and if you do the crime you have to do the time.

To be honest, I can’t even remember anymore.

I have long found Pete Rose and his story utterly fascinating. Rose the indomitable player compelled me to write The Machine about the 1975 Reds. Rose the con man motivated me write a hundred pieces through the years and to visit him many times.  I have at different times started writing a one-man play about Rose – the opening scene is of him sitting at a folding table, a “Pete Rose: Hit King” banner behind him, and barkers in the background shouting, “Come see Pete Rose! Come see the Hit King! Come talk to the man who cracked more hits than any man in the history of the game!” The trouble with the play, like the trouble with Rose’s life, is that there’s no second act.

In any case, I read the Rose stories this time like I do every time he pops into the news for some reason or another, but it was different. For the first time, I found myself utterly bored by them. I guess many people (most people?) passed that line years ago, but it took me longer. It occurred to me this time around that we have run out, we have officially passed the point where there’s anything enlightening to say about Pete Rose. Some people think he should be forgiven. Some people think he should not be forgiven. Some people think his gambling did not impact how he played or managed the games. Some people think his gambling did impact the way he played or managed the games. Some people think it doesn’t even matter because gambling on baseball creates dangerous ripples.

[ RELATED: Even if he’s reinstated, would Pete Rose make the Hall? ]

A question for you: Let’s say that 25 years ago, someone did something rotten to you personally. Let’s say they cut you out of a deal or they publicly embarrassed you or they stole your girlfriend/boyfriend. Would you forgive that person? I have friends who would not forgive, could not, no matter how many amends made (were they sincere?), no matter how many apologies offered (were they real?), no matter the history before. I have other friends who would forgive. At some point, the question of forgiveness moves beyond the act itself because the act never changes. At some point, it becomes a simple and very personal question. You would have the right to never forgive. You always have that right. But you also have the right to forgive at any time.

The other day, we were talking about Buck O’Neil and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of forgiveness. I told the story again of the time I was with Buck and a wonderful Negro Leagues player from his era. The question of black hotels came up.

This other player talked how degrading it was to be turned away from the white hotels.

Buck talked about how much better the food was at the black hotels anyway.

The other player talked about how these white hotel clerks would make him feel like less than a man.

Buck talked about how he would run into Joe Louis or Ella Fitzgerald at the black hotels.

The other player talked about the endless and sometimes frightening hours spent looking for places to stay.

Buck talked about they could stop in any black neighborhood and be treated like kings.

They were talking about exactly the same time, exactly the same experiences, but Buck chose to see it the way he saw it. I use the word purposely: Chose. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t easy. You don’t think he felt the bitterness of a lifetime being denied? He was turned away from the white high school in Sarasota. He was not allowed to even try and play in the Major Leagues. He was never given the chance to do the baseball thing he was born to do, manage in the Major Leagues – he was passed over again and again for inferior men.

[ RELATED: Pete Rose: “I’m a firm believer that baseball is a better sport if I’m in it ]

I hear people say, ‘Why should I forgive?” There’s no right answer anyone can give you. Buck CHOSE to see the strides being made. Buck CHOSE to believe in the goodness of people. Buck CHOSE to forgive the people who had treated him cruelly or, worse at times, callously. He remembered that boy in North Dakota, the one who screamed the N word at him from across a street. Buck called that boy over, asked him why he did that, explained to him what that word meant, gave him tickets to the game that night. He CHOSE to forgive because, otherwise, well, he had his reasons. Faith. Hope. The belief that hate eats you from the inside.

I’m certainly not comparing Pete Rose to anything in Buck’s life, I’m only talking about forgiveness here. That impulse to forgive or not forgive now seems at the heart of every single thing anyone says about Rose. One of the stories I read in this latest go-around went into excruciating detail about the terrible evils of gambling on baseball, the calamitous effects Pete Rose had on the game even if he never bet against the Reds. OK. Another story I read delved deep into Rose’s lies, half-truths and unseemly responses the last 25 years. Fine. “If only he had said I’m sorry …” one commenter wrote in agreement, which is not quite right because no human on planet earth has said “I’m sorry” more than Rose – the guy would autograph baseballs with the words. What the commenter meant was that, beyond Rose’s words, he just never SEEMED sorry.

But all of these stories really needed only five words: “I don’t forgive Pete Rose.”  And all the positive stories – the ones I’ve written often about how good a player he was, about how you should look at a whole life, about how he has more than repaid his debt – needed one fewer word: “I forgive Pete Rose.” That’s all any of us are saying at this point. We will explain our positions – I don’t forgive because he’s not remorseful, I do forgive because so much time has gone by, and so on – but more and more I believe the positions come first, then the explanations. I have long ago forgiven Pete Rose. I’m just coming up with arguments for why.

At the beginning, I mentioned the “lifetime ban” that is written about so often. This concept leads some people to say that Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, but only after he is dead. Hey, makes sense, right? There’s just one problem with this. It’s not a “lifetime ban.” It’s a “permanent ban.”

In the matter of Peter Edward Rose Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Agreement and Resolution 5a: Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21 and placed on the Ineligible List.

Permanent. There was a lot written unwritten in that agreement, promises made and not kept, thoughts and plans no doubt carried to the grave by commissioner Bart Giamatti. But let’s be clear: The word “lifetime” does not among the 881 words in the agreement. So why do people keep calling it a lifetime when it’s actually a permanent one? I can’t help but think it keeps coming up because some people are willing to forgive Pete Rose … he just has to die first.

[ Read more from Joe Posnanski ]

Even if he’s reinstated, does Pete Rose make the Hall of Fame?

pete rose getty

Mike Downey at CNN writes a column about how Pete Rose has served enough time and should be reinstated. It’s no different than any of the other gabillion Pete Rose columns so it’s not of any special interest in and of itself. Outside of the fact, maybe, that Downey is a Hall of Fame voter and says that he would like the chance to vote for Rose for rose rather than have him be off the ballot.

While the Rose topic has been talked to death generally, I do think that people have overlooked his actual Hall of Fame chances should he be reinstated. Specifically, I question whether the same voters who have taken moral stands against the PED guys actually would vote for Rose whether he’s eligible or not.

After all, these guys are freely admitting that they’re imposing a higher standard than MLB imposes. I mean, Barry Bonds and all of those guys are 100% eligible for the Hall and they’re not sniffing induction. Who’s to say that Rose will get any different treatment? Some have, in the past, drawn distinctions between Rose and the PED guys. And have drawn distinctions between Pete Rose the player and Pete Rose the manager. As such, I think his vote totals would be healthier than that of say Bonds and Clemens. But I can’t see how a full 75% of the people who have decided that lying and breaking rules and affecting the outcome of games in some way that is unquantifiable is a disqualifying factor for some players wouldn’t be one for Rose.

Personally I’d vote for Rose for the Hall if he were eligible because he was clearly an elite player who deserves induction. But that standard isn’t the one that Hall of Fame voters have applied over the years. As such, I think he’d have a tough sled.

Pete Rose wants PED users in the Hall of Fame to help his own chances

pete rose getty

Pete Rose has historically slammed PED users. Saying stuff like this back in 2010:

Now, to answer your question about steroids, wouldn’t you like to ask Roger Maris how he feels about steroids? Or Babe Ruth how he feels about steroids? Or Hank Aaron, you could probably ask how he feels about steroids. Because those guys all lost records because of people who supposedly took steroids. So that’s a different deal right there. But I didn’t alter any statistics of baseball.

I may be bad, but not as bad as them, he has argued. I think that may be a tactical thing on his part — in the past he has also acknowledged that guys like Barry Bonds were great players regardless — and that he’d say just about anything to get himself reinstated or considered for the Hall of Fame. More evidence to that effect comes today, as he has now begun advocating for PED users in the Hall. Here he is on WFAN this morning:

Pete Rose wants Major League Baseball to give him a second chance. That’s no big secret.And he thinks he’d have a better shot at reinstatement if Hall of Fame voters can find it in themselves to induct a tainted slugger or two.

“I wish that would happen,” Rose said Monday on WFAN’s “Boomer & Carton” show. “If something like that would ever happen, it would enhance my opportunities.”

Any weapon at hand, I guess.

For what it’s worth I want the PED guys AND Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. History is history and baseball is baseball. Let’s leave the ethics discussions for the ethicists and lets put the truly historic players in the Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose: “I’m a firm believer that baseball is a better sport if I’m in it”

pete rose tall getty

Personally, I would love to see a list of Pete Rose’s “firm beliefs.” I imagine they begin with “never count your money when you’re sitting at the table, there’ll be time of enough for counting when the dealing’s done” and sort of devolve from there, but a man does have to have a code. Good on ya, Hit King.

The quote from the headline comes courtesy of this Tyler Kepner article about Rose in the New York Times. A lot of it is the pretty standard Pete Rose rebop we’ve come to know and love: he made mistakes, he’s a good boy now, if he got one more chance he’d make the most of it and help to teach young players about the game, etc.

Like I said a few weeks ago, it would not shock me if Bud Selig gave Rose a pardon as he walked out the door in January. But if he does so, it won’t be because of anything Rose himself has had to say. It’ll be all about Selig giving a gift to fans, most of whom still hold Rose in high esteem. Maybe even higher esteem because of his banishment than they would have had for him if he had managed into the 1990s or longer.

Pete Rose thinks Bud Selig will reinstate him. He may not be crazy.

pete rose getty

Pete Rose is doing that publicity stunt managerial gig tonight, and since it’s about the publicity he’s doing interviews. And, since he’s doing interviews, he’s waxing optimistic about his chances to get back in the game:

Really, where I belong is back in baseball. I still believe it can happen.”

Yes, he’s talking within seven months, before Commissioner Bud Selig leaves office Jan. 24, 2015.

“To be honest with you,” Rose says, “I really haven’t given up on Bud giving me a second chance.”

I used to laugh at this sort of thing, as baseball has never shown any intention of reinstating Rose. But part of me is starting to wonder if Selig won’t issue a pardon as he leaves office. For a couple of reasons. First, to keep the Rose issue from being one that bothers his successor every couple of years. Second, and more importantly, for legacy reasons.

I never would’ve thought that Selig would have pursued the Biogenesis case in the aggressive and arguably extra-legal manner in which he did. But Selig was a motivated man. Motivated to make A-Rod, and not himself, the face of steroids in baseball. That’s a man who is conscious of his legacy. Rose is obviously a different case — he was his predecessors’ issue — but he is still an immensely popular figure among fans. Imagine what the stories would look like if Rose were reinstated as Selig leaves baseball. He enters amid labor turmoil, fan indifference and drug abuse. He leaves with baseball riding high, the druggies cast out and as the man who brought Pete Rose back. And hell, maybe Shoeless Joe. It’s feel-good stuff for people who either don’t know or don’t care about the history of gambling in baseball. It’s a huge boon to the Hall of Fame too.

Is it likely? I don’t know. I’m assuming Major League Baseball would say it’s preposterous and that Rose is delusional. But I can’t shake the idea that someone close to Selig is at least suggesting how the politics of reinstating Rose and/or Jackson might look as a career-capper. While some of us would be turned off by it, I bet way more people would eat it up.