What the commissioner got wrong on the Rose ruling

Rob Manfred made his first big ruling as commissioner on Monday and he used it to treat Pete Rose no differently than Gene Garber did at the end of Rose’s 44-game hit streak 37 years ago.

He struck Rose out, continued his ban from working in baseball, and sent him back into exile as if Rose were trudging back to the dugout after his final strikeout against Garber.

If it’s a race to the Hall of Fame between baseball’s all-time hits leader (Rose at 4,256) and all-time home run leader (Barry Bonds at 762), it might be a long time before we have a winner.

Rose has been banned from baseball, and rightly so, since Bart Giamatti put the evidence in front of Rose as if he were piling up his hits, one transgression on top of another.

Rose’s ejection has been upheld, and rightly so, by every commissioner since  — Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and now Manfred. Who can blame them? Rose bet on baseball, lied about it, lied about the timing, lied about the lying, lied as he signed baseballs or clothing or body parts for cash, lied apparently without a measure of shame or remorse to anyone trying to get a simple answer to a simple question.

When he finally told the truth, he did so with a wink which was supposed to charm everyone he had deceived as Rose had once received presidents’ congratulatory locker room calls, his wisecracking and common-man touch demonstrating how unimpressed he was with their status and who Rose thought really had power.

Only Rose had a higher motivation for his long-delayed honesty, one Oprah could appreciate: he had books, in addition to memorabilia, to sell.

(Rose, with the help of Rick Hill, wrote My Prison Without Bars a little more than a decade ago. It’s rated three-and-a-half stars on Amazon, which my memory says is about right. The idea of Rose as an author recalled the five-star anecdote from Jim Bouton’s I’m Glad You Didn’t take it Personally, his follow-up to Ball Four. Bouton found himself at a banquet with Reds star Johnny Bench, who apologized for Rose yelling, “Fuck You Shakespeare,” from the dugout at Bouton the previous season. “I mean can you imagine?” Bouton said in a 2010 NPR interview. “He (Rose) knew who Shakespeare was.” Bench told Bouton that Rose had only read two books in his life and one of them wasn’t Ball Four. One of them was a book on Pete Rose. Bouton said Rose liked it.)

“In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989,” wrote Manfred in his report, and he’s right.

Imagine the gumption it takes to be banned for life for betting on baseball, move to a state where you can do so legally, continue betting on baseball and then apply for reinstatement claiming redemption, even though you never stopped doing what it was that got you suspended in the first place.

SI.com’s Tom Verducci says MLB can’t trust Rose. Wonder why.

But there’s more at stake than Rose’s employment by a major-league team, which is mostly a moot point. Rose is 74, and it’s hard to believe he could find work — even if Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire can — for a major-league team as anything other than a greeter.

(Manfred didn’t bar Rose from future promotional and celebratory appearances, like last year’s All-Star Game. When it comes to rating points, all bets are off.)

The more important effect of Manfred’s decision is to extend his ban as well from the Hall of Fame. On that, Manfred, like his predecessors, deferred.

Said Manfred: “In fact, in my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility. Any debate over Mr. Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum.”

Manfred is right. And wrong. The Hall of Fame never allowed Rose’s Hall candidacy to be put to a vote, citing his presence on the permanently ineligible list, but there was no better forum to have that debate than Manfred’s report.

The commissioner declined, feigning helplessness, as if he were just the baliff handing the judge the jury’s verdict. Maybe it’s not his decision, but Manfred has the bully pulpit of his office to use. He didn’t, which would be like Rose going up to hit without his bat. Manfred nudged but didn’t push. What’s the point of having all that power if you don’t use it all?

Rose broke Rule 21 on gambling and he deserves his punishment, for his offenses and all his phony attempts to rehabilitate his image, if not himself, in the last quarter century.

But he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame and a plaque that touts his accomplishments and failings in equal measures. We don’t ignore how Rose accumulated so many hits — he played for 24 seasons, was 45 when he swung for the final time and, as manager, played himself over younger, better players. But we also don’t ignore how many hits, or how great a player he was (his 79.1 WAR would have been 2.6 points higher if he retired after the 1981 season, at age 41; he also would have had only 3,700 hits).

Rose won’t get in the Hall of Fame anytime soon because of the character clause, which dates back to Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

Think about that. Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame because of standards on morality set by a commissioner who prolonged the sport’s segregation. Seems about right.

Put Rose in the Hall of Fame. Build a Wing of Scoundrels if you must, and Rose will be right at home. Put his plaque next to Ty Cobb and Cap Anson and Gaylord Perry. The latter cheated, wrote a book called “Me and The Spitter,” (not sure if that was the second book Rose read, but it might be if it helped him hit), played nine more seasons and then was elected to the Hall of Fame. You’d think there might be something in the character clause about that.

“The Hall of Fame has the platform to present all of that history,” wrote ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, “neutrally, and can leave it to the patrons to decide for themselves what it all means.”

Olney is 1-for-1. Baseball fans are mature enough, no matter the age, to know the game’s history, with all its errors. In fact, it’s better if they do.

Otherwise, maybe it’s fitting that baseball, a sport which hasn’t been always honest about its past, is the national pastime in a country (see race) which hasn’t always been honest about its.

Correction:  A earlier version said the Baseball Writers Association of America wouldn’t allow Rose to be voted on for the Hall of Fame.




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