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After Coming Clean, Rose Still Doesn’t Smell Sweet

Vivek Rao

For years the reinstatement hopes of disgraced baseball star Pete Rose drew their strength from widespread public sympathy towards him, as many believed either that he had never bet on baseball games, or if he did, that he was truly sorry for doing so. Yet with a few days of pathetic, money-grubbing antics, Rose managed to alienate even his strongest allies, and created yet another irritating issue for a sport clinging to its status as America’s national pasttime. Ironically, just days after Rose finally admitted to having bet on baseball games while a manager in the 1980s, it is time for Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig to stop this ridiculous saga by publicly extinguishing any chances for Rose’s enshrinement into the Hall of Fame or a repeal of Rose’s ban from professional baseball.

The dedication and hard work that Charlie Hustle once embodied as one of the greatest baseball players of the last fifty years have given way to a depraved set of values, with selfishness and greed at the top of the list. Make no mistake about it; Pete Rose has been taking Major League Baseball and the American public for a ride. While people across the nation carefully weigh the moral and philosophical pros and cons of reinstating Rose, the man himself seems content to milk the controversy for as much money as he possibly can. In typical Rose fashion, his long-awaited public confession came not in the form of a simple press conference or written statement, but instead through an autobiography (the title of which I refuse to mention) and an ABC interview designed as much to promote his book as to provide a forum for his admission of guilt.

Yet Major League Baseball is hardly an innocent bystander in the Pete Rose debacle. While a decision to ban Rose from future employment in the sport he tarnished remains reasonable, the refusal to enshrine him in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame reflects baseball’s typically inflated self-image and holier-than-thou attitude. Traditionalists continue to make a rather tired argument that the Hall is reserved for people of high character, and not just men who achieved great success on the field. That is, of course, a bogus claim, and there are many men with plaques in Cooperstown who were certainly not of the highest moral fiber, Ty Cobb, among others. Granted, Rose’s failings as a gambler were hardly independent from baseball, for they put into question the motivations behind even his most simple managerial decisions, but the bottom line is that he was a fantastic player, and ultimately that should decide whether he enters the Hall or not.

But baseball is too haughty to stoop to such lows. There is no greater crime, we are consistently told, than eroding the integrity and sanctity of the game, and the sport’s high-ranking officials determined that Rose should not get into Cooperstown, let alone be reinstated to baseball, without an admission to his guilt and a sincere expression of contrition. We’ll leave out the fact that the integrity and sanctity of baseball have been steadily eroding for decades, with various issues, from acrimonious labor disputes to widespread steroid use, causing far greater damage than Rose’s gambling ever did.

Ultimately, this is a story of two parties taking themselves far too seriously. Major League Baseball, as usual, gave far too much importance to its Hall of Fame. Rather than separating two distinctly independent issues -- Rose’s enshrinement to the Hall and his eligibility for employment in baseball -- the sport’s commissioner have foolishly tied them together. Pete Rose, meanwhile, continues to lie in the face of a vast amount of incriminating evidence. His money-hungry nature aside, in his confession Rose falls far short of admitting all the crimes he is believed to commit and of fairly describing the extent of his gambling, which Rose’s former business associates say he conducted even from the clubhouse before games.

And so, it is too late. Had baseball done the right thing years ago, Rose could have rightly been enshrined in the Hall of Fame but banned from employment in the sport as long as his gambling problem remained strong (and it does). Instead, they informally tied both to a confession that Rose still has not fully delivered. At this point, to admit Rose to the Hall would effectively be to reward a stubbornly limited declaration of guilt that was likely motivated, first and foremost, by a desire to generate money and a bestseller.

Major League Baseball made its bed by tying a tricky issue to the conscience of a conscience-free man, and now it finds itself in a lose-lose situation. The National Football League just concluded one of the most exciting weekends in sports history and the National Basketball Association has been reinvigorated by arguably the most famous teenager in American history, but baseball continues to be trapped in its web of self-created problems. It is time baseball cut itself loose from one of the many debacles holding it down, and Selig should formally shut down any talk of Rose’s reinstatement or Hall enshrinement before this overblown situation persists any longer.