Pete Rose. I was thinking of Pete Rose the other day for two reasons. One because another year of Hall of Fame voting has come and gone and the all-time Major League hits leader has never made it onto the ballot. And two because I recently had occasion to study up on the 1963 National Football League gambling case and how commissioner Pete Rozelle handled that.
Although it is going on a quarter of a century since Cincinnati Reds icon Rose was banned from baseball for life and I know he always thought he would gain reinstatement, this current wave of attention focused on players who may or may not have taken performance-enhancing drugs also harms Rose’s chances of ever being permitted back in the game.
The harsh manner in the way several players on the ballot have been denounced, primarily Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Mack McGwire, indicates a zero tolerance outlook for Rose. There is no indication that Rose is likely to be paroled from his life sentence any time soon, or given the current mood of the electorate, that he would be voted into the Hall right now.
Given how many murderers don’t serve out their life sentences behind bars, I’m kind of a mind to free Pete. We all know that if nothing had happened to derail his candidacy Rose would have long ago been elected to the Hall of Fame. An 18-time All-Star, Rose was a member of three World Series championship teams, was rookie of the year in the National League, won three batting titles and above all set the hits record with 4,256. No one played the game harder and he was bestowed with the nickname “Charlie Hustle” early in his time in the majors because he ran out walks.
Rose committed the sin of betting on baseball, a sin that in the view of the commissioner’s office, is a felony, not a misdemeanor. Rose was managing the Reds when he was banned during the summer of 1989. He was in his 40s at the time and now he is 71, so when it comes to a lifetime ban, Rose is running out of time.
In baseball a lifetime ban is actually a forever ban. The eight members of the Chicago White Sox accused of fixing the 1919 World Series remain banned and they have all been dead for years. They stood trial for the act and were acquitted, but were thrown out of baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis anyway. Of those implicated, there was always some doubt about what Buck Weaver did. Apaprently, his crime was not telling on his teammates. The biggest name in the group was Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson, who died in 1951, always said he did nothing wrong and that his superlative play in the Series proved it.
In the years leading up to his death in 2002, Ted Williams, campaigned to gain reinstatement for Jackson. The sole purpose was to make him eligible for the Hall of Fame. Jackson, with a lifetime batting average of .356, had the stats worthy of induction. But I haven’t heard much lobbying in Jackson’s behalf since Williams passed away.
Rose and the White Sox scoundrels are hardly the only ones on baseball’s ineligible list. In the years before Landis took over in 1920, 11 individuals were named. Some of them were accused of gambling, some of offering bribes to umpires, but there was also the case of a player jumping his contract (no free agency then) and someone else criticizing umpires. Those offenses would not produce lifetime bans now and some of those people were reinstated.
Others were banned in the 1920s, one for refusing to play for the Cleveland Indians and suiting up for an independent team instead. There have been years when that guy would have been given a medal. He was later reinstated. Landis banned players for gambling or hanging out with gamblers, but he also suspended a player accused of stealing cars. Landis continued his ban despite acquittal of the charges in court. Landis was a hanging judge.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from the sport in 1983 for accepting jobs as greeters with Atlantic City casinos. Commisioner Peter Ueberoth reinstated them in 1985. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned pitcher Steve Howe from baseball after seven drug suspensions, but an independent arbitrator reinstated him. Current Commissioner Bud Selig suspended former Reds owner Marge Schott for making sympathetic comments about Adolph Hitler and Nazis, but she was later reinstated. Clearly, some pretty funky things have happened with lifetime bans.
Meanwhile, in 1963, the NFL discovered that some star players bet on football. Paul Hornung, the Green Bay Packer who set the league single-season scoring record of 176 in 1960 and defensive tackle Alex Karras, a star defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, were punished. Rozelle suspended them for the 1963 season. A year later they were welcomed back. Hornung was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and modern day fans barely remember the incident. Karras was a four-time All-Pro selection. He gained greater fame after retirement as a broadcaster and actor before passing away just this past October.
The constrast in the treatment of Rose for betting on his sport and Hornung and Karras for betting on their sport is quite vivid. One year vs. life. I’m thinking Rose has done his time and deserves to be reinstated.