pete rose getty

Pete Rose has paid his debt. Let him back into the game


Let’s start with something completely different. Pete Rose played almost his entire career in a terrible hitting environment. People rarely talk about this because, well, with Pete Rose, there are always more interesting things to talk about. But it’s true. Rose played for 24 years when pitchers dominated the game. The average run-scoring environment in baseball history is about 716-runs per team. In Rose’s career, teams in his league averaged 655 runs per game. Runs were hard to come by in the 1960s and 1970s.

Well, you know the story of the time. The strike zone was huge. The mounds were high. The ballparks were vast. The baseballs were probably a bit deader.

Here are Pete Rose’s splits for his career:


OK, that’s pretty good — a .300 career average, a pretty high on-base percentage, a pretty low slugging percentage but Rose was a singles hitter. This rate numbers dropped significantly after Rose turned 40 too — he chased Cobb’s hit record and cost himself a few points in all three categories.

But the point here is Rose’s hitting environment. Baseball Reference has this great tool where you can neutralize a player’s numbers so that you can see what they would look like iin an average hitting environment. Rose’s neutralized numbers:


Yeah, well, that’s a lot better isn’t it. Derek Jeter’s career numbers: .312/.381/.446. Hmm.

Of course, Jeter did not play in an average hitting environment. He played most of his career when offense was completely out of control. If Rose had played in JETER’S time, his splits calculate like so:


Let’s go back to those Pete Rose neutralized stats for a minute. Rose,of course, had an amazing 4,256 hits (most ever), 746 doubles (2nd), he scored 2,165 runs (6th) and totaled 5,752 bases (7th).

Neutralized — all those numbers go WAY up. He suddenly has 4,525 hits. His 789 neutralized doubles would be just three behind Tris Speaker (meaning, no doubt, Rose would have stuck around long enough to break THAT record too). His 2,362 runs would be No. 1 all time. His 6,088 total bases would be third behind Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.

Rose reached base 5,929 — already 330 more times than any player in baseball history. Neutralized, you could predict him to have reached base more than 6,300 times in his career.

The point is simply this: Pete Rose was probably a better player than you think.

We are coming on 25 years of Pete Rose’s banishment, which seems unreal to me. It was 1994, I was working for an afternoon paper called The Cincinnati Post and was given the seemingly lousy task of trying to sum up the five-year anniversary of Rose’s suspension. At the time, Rose was refusing all interviews so there weren’t many options. We decided it would be worth it for me to go down to his restaurant in Florida and watch the man in action. He was doing a sports radio talk show from his restaurant. We figured it would make a good story just to stand back and observe.

When I got there — I’ve written about this before — the waitress asked me where I wanted to sit (I got there early; the place was empty). I told her what I was doing, and she said, ‘Well, Pete’s sitting right there so just go talk to him.” I told her that Pete wasn’t doing interviews and I really didn’t want to bother him and then be asked to leave the restaurant. She didn’t seem to follow what I was saying.

She said: “Yeah, but he’s sitting right there, why don’t you go talk to him?”

So I went to talk him fully expecting the brush off or the chase out. Instead, he kicked out a chair and told me, “Have a seat.” Rose spent the next three hours or so regaling me with stories and lies, memories and exaggerations, charts (yes there were charts) and observations, bitter feelings and hopeful cliches. At the end, there was no story to write.There was only a story to type. For the first time — but not the last — he had gift wrapped a fully-formed tornado of baseball fascination.

At that time, Rose was still insisting that he never bet on baseball at all. Later, he would admit to betting on baseball, later still to betting on the Reds, later he conceded that, yeah, actually he had a large standing bet on the Reds to win every night.*

*Rose has never admitted to betting on the Reds to lose. This is a pretty significant point of contention. Many people think Rose’s competitive personality and (admittedly confusing) love of the game would never ALLOW him to bet on the Reds to lose — that is to say that somewhere in that spaghetti maze of principles and ideals Rose believes in (or doesn’t) is a do-not-cross line that simply would not let him bet on his own team to lose.

Others say that’s ridiculous, he was a compulsive gambler who was often over his head and betting on the Reds to lose would have been too tempting.

Either way, Rose has given out more admissions than The Ohio State University but he continually insists he never bet on the Reds to lose — it’s the one constant. And after 25 years nobody has been able to prove otherwise.

The admissions and apologies through the years have been utterly Pete Rose, which is to say that the admissions always sounded incomplete and the apologies disingenuous. That’s Rose. He was a hustler, always. In the end, the hustling led him to a metal chair in a memorabilia store in Las Vegas where he signs autographs and smiles for photographs while barkers outside shout, “Come on in and see the Hit King!”

On the field, though, that hustling made him a singular player, a whirlwind who was always looking to take a little bit more than you were willing to give.

Rose as player: He is somewhat hard to explain to a younger generation. He ran full speed to first base on walks. He wasn’t the first to do it, nor the last (Steve Sax idolized Rose and would run to first on walks too), but it was tied up in his psyche. People thought that running to first base on walks thing was just shtick. They were right. It was just shtick. But when you repeat the shtick enough times, it becomes a part of who you are. Rose always ran to first. He did it because it helped make him famous and because it ticked off the other team and because every now and again — maybe once a season, maybe less — he might make it to second base because the pitcher and catcher weren’t paying attention. Most of all he ran to first on walks because Harry Rose wanted him to. Rose’s father is a big part of the story.

Rose hit those 746 doubles because he was always thinking about the extra base — not just in April when the weather was cool and his body still felt springy but in the irrepressible heat of late August when he felt like one giant bruise. He took the extra base when the score was close and the base mattered, but he also took it when the game was out of hand and the only person who cared about that base was Rose himself. He went five-for-five eight times — more than anyone ever — because he CARED about getting that fifth hit, no matter the score. Selfish? Yes. But Joe Morgan said that he only became a great player when he became more selfish like that, when he started to care about EVERY at-bat the way Pete did.

In short, Rose was a man obsessed by the game in the truest definition of that word — obsessed, adj., to be preoccupied continually, intrusively and to a troubling extent. He always knew his batting average; every day he figured it along with his other stats. He always knew the stats of the people he considered his adversaries. Garvey. Schmidt. Stargell. He could make a comparison at any moment. He did not sleep much.

He would show up at the park early every day. Early for others was late for Rose. He would take batting practice and fielding practice with a crackling energy, as if it was the first time. He would play every game, no matter how he felt, no matter how far ahead his team might be in the standings. “Pete, I’m sitting you today,” Sparky Anderson would tell him repeatedly toward the end of the 1975 season with the Reds up 20 games. “Like hell you are,” Rose would shout back.

He would run to first on walks, run out every fly ball, attack the ball on defense. He broke up the double play, and he dived head first even when there was no play, and he crashed into catchers who dared block the plate. People have always made a big deal about him running over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game but what they never seemed to understand was that Rose did not have a choice in the matter. Fosse was blocking the plate (illegally, Rose still insists, since Fosse did not have the ball) and Rose HAD TO run him over. That’s where the story began and ended for Rose. You say it was just an All-Star Game? You say it was just an exhibition? You say it needlessly endangered the career of an exciting young player (who Rose had to his house for dinner the night before)?

See, you’re missing the point.

Fosse was blocking the plate. Rose HAD TO run him over.

Obsessed. He would sit in the dugout when his team was at bat and chatter incessantly and calculate stats in his mind and and think about lines he could use with reporters after the game. He closely watched teammates and looked for ways to help them — every teammate, seemingly, has a story about advice Rose offered. To this day, Rose is still ticked off that Ken Griffey took the advice of Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench and decided t sit on the last day of the 1976 to protect his batting title (Bill Madlock got four hits and took it away from Griffey, who entered the game late but could not salvage the title).

“No offense to Joe and Johnny, they were two of the greatest players this game has ever known,” Rose grumbles. “But what the (bleep) do they know about winning a batting title? I know about winning batting titles. I would have told Griffey to start the game and WIN his batting title. He should have asked me.”

When the games ended, Rose would recap the game with reporters (who generally loved him), with teammates, with friends, with anyone who would listen. Then he would go park his car in his driveway and find the West Coast game and listen to Vin Scully or whoever else until past midnight. Then he would go inside and replay the game in his mind.

All the bad things — the gambling, the womanizing, the shady company he kept — were (it always seemed to me) ways to keep from going crazy when he wasn’t playing baseball. The game was the thing that challenged his every fiber, the thing that made him whole, and if he’s in the right mood Rose will admit that he wasn’t much of a man away from the field. He was an inattentive father, a lousy husband, an addicted gambler, a public liar. On the baseball field, he was his best self.

His father, Harry, made him that way. They called Harry Rose, “Big Pete” He was the toughest man on the West Side of Cincinnati. Everybody said so. Big Pete made sure his son learned how to switch-hit, made sure he took every advantage, made sure he ALWAYS fought back. Big Pete made sure his son played ball all summer — they never once went on a summer vacation and Big Pete had his son repeat a grade rather than miss baseball for summer school. Yes, Big Pete raised his son to be a damn ballplayer. And Pete Rose became a damn ballplayer.

Rose has often wondered out loud how much different his life might have been had Harry Rose lived. The is Rose at his most poignant and self-conscious. Harry died of a massive heart attack when Rose was 29 years old and, already, a big league star. “He would have straightened me out,” Rose insists. “He would never have let me get out of control.”

Rose, of course, did go out of control. Divorce. Parent issues. Bad friends. Gambling debts. And along he way he broke baseball’s strictest rule.

Rule 21-d (second paragraph): Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Out of context, this seems kind of a draconian rule. At its extreme, that should mean a dollar bet with your childhood friend should get you permanently banned. At its extreme, that should mean that being in a fantasy baseball league should get you permanently banned. At its extreme, that should mean that saying to your manager, “Bet you a quarter I get a hit here,” should get you permanently banned.

But the rule is there because in 1919 several Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers and mobsters to throw the World Series. There was a no-tolerance policy after that black mark on the game, and the resulting rule offers no appeal, no parole and no forgiveness. Let’s make it clear: Rose’s gambling was not as benign as the examples in the last paragraph. He has admitted that as manager of the Reds he had a sizable and constant bet on his team to win.*

*It is important, by the way, the Rose bet on the Reds games. Betting on baseball games you are NOT involved with carries only a one-year ban.

Did his betting cause Rose to manage differently than he might have otherwise? The question doesn’t really matter — the rule is unambiguous — but I have never thought so. I am not downplaying what Rose did. He knew the rule intimately and broke it. I’m just saying that I don’t think he managed any differently. I’ve heard the possibilities about pitcher usage and lineup changes and bad moves meant to win a single game (or lose one). I just don’t believe them. I think Rose bet on baseball because he had a gambling sickness. I don’t think it affected him as a player or manager.

Others, of course disagree.

And — now what? Of course, the rule states very clearly what happens when you bet on a game you’re involved with: You “shall be declared permanently ineligible.” By the way, you will notice the rule does not say anything at all about a “lifetime ban.” The word “lifetime” does not appear at all in the entirety of Rule 21. I’ve heard people say that Rose should only be eligible for the Hall of Fame after he dies (thus serving a lifetime ban) but that’s not what the rule says.

Permanently ineligible. End of statement. No runs. No hits. No errors.

But, let’s talk about fairness. We all know what the rule says. But does it feel like this punishment for Rose fits the crime? Should the punishment for THROWING THE WORLD SERIES be the same as the punishment for betting on a team you manage to win?

Rose bet on baseball games. That’s bad. And the punishment has been severe. For almost 25 years he has been banished from his game, his name thrown off the Hall of Fame ballot, his presence unwelcome even in the ballpark that was on a street named for him. This is a particularly harsh punishment for Rose, who breathes baseball. It would not be so severe for someone who cheated baseball and didn’t care about the game.

Every so often in the last quarter century, Rose was told by any number of people that there was a way to get back in the game. He needed to apologize, no, he needed to apologize more intently, no, he needed to come clean, no he needed to come cleaner, no he needed to keep apologizing and keep coming clean. It did not seem to matter much to people that coming clean and apologizing are two things Pete Rose does poorly. His efforts, predictably, fell short and it all got him nowhere.*

*Let me add something here: I think it would have gotten him nowhere no matter what he said. This is the larger point. I don’t think Pete Rose could have apologized sincerely enough or come clean thoroughly enough to change his fate. I think the “all he needs to do is apologize” crowd were never willing to meet him in the middle.

Rose supporters often point out that murderers and drug dealers and violent criminals tend to get shorter sentences than Rose. I don’t think that’s a particularly valid comparison — taking Rose off the Hall of Fame ballot and refusing him work in baseball is not the same as putting him in jail.

But it does get at a general point. We tend to believe as a country that, most of the time, even for dreadful wrongs, there’s a way back. There are second chances. And those second chances are not just given to people who apologize in a fulfilling way or have a gift for seeming contrite.

Pete Rose played baseball with an intensity and love that might be unmatched in the game’s history. He cracked more hits and reached base more times than anyone ever. He represented a way to play baseball that inspired millions of people. Then, he gambled on games, breaking one of baseball’s most cherished rules. Rose is 72 years old now, and I think it’s time to let him back into the game. I don’t think anyone should ask him to apologize again or come any cleaner than he has. I don’t think anyone should expect Pete Rose to be something that he is not. It has been almost 25 years. He has paid his debt.

Pete Rose’s misdeeds now considered “small beer”

Rose horizontal

The same people who freak out when you compare PED cheats to spitballers, bat-corkers and amphetamine poppers are increasingly comparing gambling on baseball to PED use and absolving the gamblers. Because that makes sense. Here’s Frank DeFord who, after talking about how great Ichiro Suzuki is and how awesome Cooperstown will be the day he is inducted, argues that Pete Rose should go in on the same day:

It would also be so appropriate at that time for baseball to finally show some mercy to Pete Rose and let him enter the shrine with Suzuki. The drug cheats have put Rose’s offense in perspective. He did not damage baseball one iota as a player, and his misdeed as a manager now appears as small beer alongside how those druggies dishonored the game, distorted history and robbed their fellow players.

As I’ve said 100 times, I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. But I have no idea how that decision depends on there being allegedly worse cheaters coming along later. There is no relation between the PED guys and Rose. They have nothing to do with one another. Unless of course you wanna let Bonds, Clemens, Manny, A-Rod and McGwire in if, some day, another ballplayer murders someone. Then at least you’d be consistent I suppose.

Knock off the relativism already, will ya? Or at least be fair about it. If we’re going to compare the severity of offenses against baseball, include them all and acknowledge that PEDs isn’t the worst thing that ever happened.

Joe Morgan thinks Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame

Joe Morgan headshot

You’ll be shocked — shocked! — to hear that Joe Morgan thinks Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. From Bob Nightengale’s latest:

“I think if you’re going to allow guys with PEDs on the ballot,” Morgan told USA TODAY Sports, “then we have to allow him to be on the ballot. Let’s face it, he’s been punished for 24 years. I think they have to take a second look at Pete now that this has come out.”

Nowhere does Morgan explain what actual nexus there is between “this coming out” and Rose’s baseball disgrace, but after watching him do Sunday Night Baseball for so many years I’m aware that cause-and-effect are not his strong suits. For now let’s just chalk this up to one of the strongest baseball forces out there: “my generation was better/was not as bad as this younger generation”-ism. The greats were greater, in [insert player’s] day and the bad guys were not nearly as bad as these new monsters. It’s the oldest thing around.

In other news, I’m pretty sure that Morgan would back Ted Bundy, D.B. Cooper and the Zodiac Killer for the Hall of Fame if they spent some time with the Reds in the 70s. Because Morgan talking up Big Red Machine guys is an even stronger force than the generational thing.

Pete Rose: “I should have picked alcohol … or I should have picked beating up my wife or girlfriend”

Pete Rose

Quote of the Day territory from the All Time Hit King. Pete Rose went on a radio show and talked about his lifetime bad for gambling compared to the PED guys’ suspensions for drugs and ballplayers with other vices. He came out here:

And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance. They haven’t given too many gamblers a second chances in the world of baseball,” Rose said.

There is a pretty common talking point among those who, like me, tend to defend the PED guys, and that’s that it’s rather perverse that baseball punishes PED use so severely but doesn’t seem to care if players get DUIs, have a history of domestic violence or find themselves in other sorts of trouble.  I think this often gets misstated, however, and I think Rose is misstating it here too.

I don’t think it’s so clear a case that the league itself is messed up on this subject. Practically speaking it is hard for Major League Baseball to police conduct that does not directly relate to the game. If it were to suspend guys who engaged in criminal conduct or other sorts of moral deviancy it would have to figure out whether to do so upon arrest or conviction, which can often be separated by years. And what to do if there is a plea to a lesser charge. It would have to decide when, if ever, to interview the players involved in such a way as they don’t violate 5th Amendment rights. It would have to decide how to distinguish varying degrees of off-field misconduct. It seems easy to suspend a player who robs a liquor store, but what do you do if he’s, say, accused of tax evasion? And what if he’s just a miserable drunk?

This doesn’t mean the league can’t or shouldn’t at least think about wading into this world — at times I think it should, other times I’m not so sure — but there is no denying the hundreds of thorny issues involved. There are a lot of hard questions and tough choices to be made, all while law enforcement is doing its own thing. It makes the “why suspend Player X for ‘roids when Player Y is a drunk driver?!” rhetoric kind of beside the point, even if it feels satisfying to say it. They are different issues and only one of which is squarely within Major League Baseball’s jurisdiction, at least in the first instance.

Where I do believe that the comparison of PEDs and other bad conduct is apt is when we — usually we in the media — are talking about a player’s character in general.

There have been far more angry words written about Alex Rodriguez being a liar and a cheat, a narcissist and an all-around awful person than there have been sober words talking about the nature of his offense within the context of baseball’s rules. In contrast, we never hear too much said about the character of a player who has done truly awful things in an absolute sense instead of a baseball sense. Not many writers want to condemn the drunk drivers, wife beaters and rapists among the ballplaying class, even if they consider it their sacred duty to question the character of PED users and those players who are up for election to the Hall of Fame. That is where perspective is utterly lost in my view. They freak out about something that is major within the game but minor in life while simultaneously ignoring the transgressions that are major in life. Which is fine if they want to get out of the character assessment business altogether — I’d love it! — but they have no desire to. They still want to say some guys are saints and others are bums. They just don’t want to play fair when they do it.

Back to Rose: no, Pete. You shouldn’t have picked alcohol or drugs or beating your wife. That you didn’t speaks well of you. You were a fantastic baseball player who screwed up royally in a lot of ways, but you’re not worse off for gambling on baseball than you would have been had you been awful in other ways.  There are offenses to baseball and offenses to society. Yours to baseball are way worse than anything you’ve done in society, and you should be satisfied that you only fell so far.

(thanks to Rickset for the heads up)

The Pete Rose rehabilitation begins, as scheduled

pete rose getty

Last week Pete Rose made a case, however much he soft-peddled it, that given how bad the PED guys are, he should be considered for reinstatement. I predicted at the time that that talking point would come out of induction weekend in Cooperstown. And it did. Here’ Joe Morgan:

“Braun has $117 million coming to him and had to give only three million back. Is the risk worth the reward for cheating the game?” asked Joe Morgan. “Tell me how that works. We thought the Hall of Fame was going to be detriment enough for these guys. Obviously, it’s not. They’re still doing it. That’s because there’s so much money. Pete did a bad thing, I’m not saying he didn’t. He broke baseball’s cardinal rule. And he shouldn’t have taken 10 years to come clean. But he never cheated the game. Yet he’s out 24 years as opposed to Braun getting 65 games? That just doesn’t seem right to me.”

There was a time when there wasn’t a bigger threat to the very existence of baseball than gambling. For that reason, baseball implemented its most severe and most clearly-stared rule of all: gamble on the game, banned permanently. It is literally written on the walls of every clubhouse. Pete Rose knowingly broke that rule and willingly accepted the punishment.

Say whatever you want about PED users. Say they too should be banned permanently. Say they should be drawn and quartered and their heads put on pikes. But don’t suggest for one second that that has any bearing on baseball’s anti-gambling rules or its punishment of Pete Rose. Don’t suggest that it renders his behavior any less odious.

Pete Rose is seen by many as a sad clown now, but when he was suspended he was one of 26 baseball managers. He probably had more power over the day to day operations of the Cincinnati Reds than any manager in the game had at that time. While the story has come down that he only bet on the Reds to win that is not anywhere close to being firmly established. Conveniently, it is most often cited by people trying to excuse Rose’s behavior as an extension of his win-first mentality, forgetting that Pete Rose wanted to win at gambling just as much as he wanted to win at baseball and thus very well could have “won” by losing. It also is beside the point. PED guys take stuff because they want to win too. We don’t go any lighter on them because of it.

PEDs and Pete Rose are separate issues. To the extent they are conflated it is done so by people who are either ignorant of baseball history or who are banking on you being ignorant of baseball history.