Commissioner Manfred Needs to Lift the Ban, But Not on Pete Rose

He was arguably the greatest natural hitter of his generation. He was idolized by hometown fans and feared by those he competed against. He was the one guy opposing pitchers vowed not to be beaten by. His batting stance was copied in ball fields and backyards across the country. He was a World Series champion. He even had a cool nickname.

Am I talking about Charlie Hustle or Shoeless Joe?

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On Sept 11, 1985, Pete Rose became Baseball’s all-time hit leader, shattering a record many experts believed would stand forever. By the time he retired he was first in hits, singles, games played, AB and had appeared in 17 All-Star Games. But despite being perhaps the greatest hitter to walk onto a diamond Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame.

Days ago, in the face of growing support to have Rose’s lifetime ban lifted, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred upheld the 1989 decision in the Dowd Report. Manfred stated Rose was “misleading” in a recent meeting.

“Rose initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting,” Manfred wrote in his decision.

I applaud the Commissioner’s verdict to not be swayed. In the face of growing pressure, Manfred put the integrity of the National Pastime first.

In 1989, Rose agreed to a permanent inclusion on Baseball’s Ineligibility List, claiming there is “a factual reason for the ban.” In 2010, at a function attended by several former teammates, the hard-edged Rose openly wept, acknowledging he had “disrespected baseball” and promised to never do it again.

In 2004, he confessed to gambling on baseball. Attorney John Dowd who’d been retained by Commissioner Bart Giamatti revealed that Rose bet anywhere from $2000 to $10000 per game from 1985 through 1987 while managing Cincinnati. In ‘87 alone he bet on nearly one-third of all Reds games, games that as manager he had a direct impact on. Although Rose maintained he only bet on his team, never against them, there is no discrepancy in Rule 21 section D:

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.

Men enshrined in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls are there for what they did on the field, not off the field. The Hall of Fame includes racists, bigots, anti-Semites. If character was a judge of baseball brilliance there’d be plenty more wall space.

Granted, we are a forgiving society. But Baseball has always governed itself. And Pete Rose broke those rules.

Like Reggie Jackson or Pedro Martinez or Bryce Harper, Rose was one of those guys you loved to hate. Still, for us fans who witnessed the legends’ fall from grace in 1989, it was damn heartbreaking. Twenty five years ago the thought of Rose even being considered for eligibility was inconceivable, especially when you recall Commissioner Giamatti died only eight days after handing down his decision.

If Rose was to be enshrined does this open the door for more rule breakers to receive the same honor? A generation from now, as time passes, will the public be clamoring for others to be immortalized? Will people look back on the 90’s and laugh at the overreaction to steroids?

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How would you feel bringing your children or grandchildren to Cooperstown one day and seeing Roger Clemens’ plaque alongside Tom Seaver’s? Or seeing Alex Rodriguez a few feet from Ralph Kiner? Would you be able to explain why Rafael Palmeiro is enshrined and Gil Hodges is not?

The tide is turning. More than 60% now feel Rose’s ban should be lifted. He worked as an analyst during the post-season on FOX and was granted permission to participate in All-Star Game activities this past year in Cincinnati.

Personally, I’m against Rose being respected alongside iconic heroes like Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken and Willie Mays. However, if Rose is one day included in this elite brotherhood I feel that another player must be enshrined first.

Shoeless-Joe-Jackson

Rose was found guilty of betting on Baseball for at least three full seasons. Joe Jackson was accused of accepting bribe money for 8 games and subsequently banned for life.

Life. He died more than 60 years ago.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of the greatest teams in baseball’s young history and were expected to crush the NL Champion Reds. As we all know The Black Sox lost 5 games to 3.  Eight players were in on the fix. However, unlike Rose, who admitted his guilt in gambling, Jackson’s involvement is cloudier.

His .375 BA in the Fall Classic was the highest of any player on either team. He hit the Series’ only home run. He handled 30 chances in the OF without incident or making an “error.” He threw to the correct cut-off man every time. The film Eight Men Out argued the point that Jackson, who was illiterate, did not comprehend what he was getting involved in, going so far as to argue he only consented after teammate Swede Risberg threatened Jackson’s family.

Jackson himself asserted that on two occasions he refused to accept the $5,000 bribe, despite the fact it was more than double his annual salary. Teammate Lefty Williams, who was in on the fix, flung the cash onto Jackson’s bed in a hotel room and walked out just prior to the first pitch of Game One. Shoeless Joe tried to contact Sox owner Charlie Comiskey to advise him what was going down. Comiskey refused to speak with his star player.

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It seems unlikely that Jackson, who rivaled Ty Cobb in prominence, would tarnish his own legacy. This was a man who averaged an unheard of 397 over his first three seasons in the majors. By Game One of the 1919 World Series he was just 32 years old and had averaged 331 over his previous 3 seasons. Unlike co-conspirator Chick Gandil this was not an aging player with diminishing talent in the twilight of his career. Jackson’s lifetime BA of 356 is third best in history, behind only Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

The eight men in question were acquitted of any wrongdoing. Yet, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis overruled the courts and banned the players for life.

Years later, the seven men out disclosed Jackson was never present in a single meeting with gambler Arnold Rothstein. In 1951, Jackson had agreed to “finally set the record straight” in an exclusive interview. Sadly, as arrangements for the tell-all were being ironed out, Shoeless Joe died of a heart attack. He was just 61.

If Rose, who admitted his mistake, is granted access to the game’s Holy Land, then shouldn’t Joe Jackson, whose guilt is questionable, be honored first?

In 1920 eight men were forever excoriated with fixing the World Series. Commissioner Landis wrote the following:

Regardless of the verdict of juries…no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will never play professional baseball.

If Landis’s statement was good enough for Shoeless Joe, isn’t it good enough for Charlie Hustle?

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About Rob Silverman 214 Articles
A Mets fan since 1973, Rob was born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Luckily, his parents moved to Queens at a young age so he was not scarred by pinstripes. Currently living in southern Nevada, he writes suspense novels and crime fiction. His debut novel "Plain God" hit book stores in September of 2015. Visit me at my site RobSilvermanBooks.com.