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Pete Rose's absence remains biggest strike against Hall of Fame

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  January 8, 2014 03:12 PM

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Forget Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Dan LeBatard or Deadspin.

When Pete Rose enters the Hall of Fame, it will finally regain its legitimacy.

Rose was simply the best infielder in the history of the game. His lifetime numbers are astronomical and unapproachable. As is the fact that he played on winners, even if he didn't always bet on winners. Not only does Rose hold the major-league record for hits [4,256], he owned the record for most post-season hits when he retired [86] and held a .321 post-season batting average.

He won three World Series Cups with two different teams. He even played on the last team to win the World Series at Fenway Park before the 2013 Red Sox.

Rose was hit with a "lifetime" ban from baseball in 1989, after it became painfully obvious that he both bet on baseball and consistently lied about it.

"One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts," the late Bart Giamatti said on that infamous August afternoon.

With those words, Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader was banned from baseball for life. In theory, "lifetime ban for gambling" sounds good, at least it did 25 years ago. Baseball was crushed by the "Black Sox" scandal in 1919 after eight players [including Charlie Sheen and John Cusack] for the White Sox threw the World Series for the benefit of Arnold Rothstein and some other shrewd gamblers.

Gambling was once the biggest threat to the integrity of baseball. Even when the game was segregated, the possibility of a player gambling on the sport, working in compliance with gamblers or throwing a game was considered baseball's cardinal sin. Rose was the last player to be banned from the game for gambling and certainly the most notable.

Although Sheen made a quite name for himself pitching for the Indians.

Eventually, in 2004, Rose came fully clean and admitted he bet on his Reds as often as he could. This full confession was part of the process Bud Selig outlined for his eventual return to the game.

Rose has become a sorry figure in baseball history. The fallen superstar who committed a Biblical sin, and broke the most sacred rule in the game. Rose didn't need PEDs to break noted racist Ty Cobb's hit record that will never be broken. "Charlie Hustle" ran on adrenaline, and perhaps whatever everyone else was using for extra motivation in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. [Rose, who famously said "he picked the wrong vice," said he never used any illegal drugs.]

Last year, he popped up in Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend, signing autographs and making his never-ending pitch to get back into the game and, eventually, receive his spot in Cooperstown.

Baseball and the Hall of Fame are at a crossroads. The fissure of credibility created by Miami Herald and [possibly former] ESPNer LeBatard "selling" for no money his Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin will only widen. And LeBetard's stunt/statement, which resulted in a Craig Biggio receiving one of the fan votes on the Deadspin ballot, almost proved crucial given the fact that Biggio missed the Hall by only two votes.

If baseball and the Hall of Fame want to win back the hearts and minds of the masses, finding a path for Rose to get back into the game and, eventually, the Hall, would be a great first step.

Americans, in general, are a forgiving lot. Rose's "mea culpas" have covered his end of the bargain offered by Selig years ago. Rose denies ever betting against his team, which would be an unforgivable baseball sin.

"I didn't throw any games. [The Black Sox] threw World Series games," he told USA TODAY last year. "That's a big difference between that and betting on your own team every night. That's why I bet every night. I managed one way every night, to W-I-N."

Rose deserves enshrinement for his play on the field. That's beyond question. Removing the ban from the equation, are his gambling exploits enough to keep him out?

Baseball's "integrity" has been a joke for decades. The fact the major-league baseball was not fully desegregated until the Red Sox called up Pumpsie Green in 1959 is far more damaging to the sport's legacy than any bets made by Rose that may have forced him to keep Jack Armstrong on the mound for one or two extra innings back in the day.

Two wrongs certainly don't make a right. But baseball has turned its scurrilous past when it comes to segregation into a forever-celebration of Jackie Robinson's heroics. Of course, had the game been integrated from Day One, Robinson's heroism would not have been necessary.

Baseball has removed any legitimate threat of gambling ruining the game with guaranteed contracts and a league-wide average salary of $3.39 million. Even the most degenerate of gamblers won't risk that type of payday for the thrill of a $500 bet with the local bookie or on-line wagering site. That "itch" can be scratched in lots of other and safer ways. Instead, we've got players taking any and every substance known to man to enhance their performances, whether they be legal or not because so much money is on the line.

Baseball actually loves gambling. Fantasy Leagues have replaced the old "baseball card" that our fathers and grandfathers used to fill out to give the common fan a monetary stake in the action. Instead of taking the moral high ground with that type of betting, baseball embraces it and gives it a 100 percent, official MLB.com endorsement.

There's no doubt Rose still loves baseball. He screwed up. He knows it and he's already paid a significant price. At 72, he's past the seventh-inning stretch of life. Major-league baseball is desperate for someone like him to be at center stage speaking wistfully and with real-life credibility about how great the game can be. His time is up with the writers, since more than 20 years have passed since his retirement as a player. Of course, even the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. So the Hall of Fame could alter or change its rules without triggering the Polar Vortex or an alien attack. [Rose did receive 41 write-in votes in 1991, even though he wasn't on the ballot.]

Rose could also be voted in by the Veterans Committee if he were re-instated under current rules. Deadspin and LeBatard turned their ballot over to the fans. Their selections nearly mirrored those of the BBWAA members. They eventually chose Greg Maddux, Billerica's own Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas for enshrinement.

Deadspin vows to garner at least one ballot next year, too. If they do, or if some other mystery media member is willing to let the fans fill out his or her ballot, they should leave one spot open for a write-in candidate.

That would be one election Rose would win in a landslide.

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