Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.
Every year, when the new Hall of Fame members are announced, Pete Rose becomes a trending topic. Columns are written, polls are taken, and debates rage on social media about whether it’s time to let him into the Hall of Fame.
Rose, of course, is the all-time hits leader with 4,256. He is also the career leader in games played (3,562), plate appearances (15,890), and at bats (14,053). He’s second in doubles with 746 and ranks in the top 10 in runs scored and total bases. His career spanned 24 years, including a three-year stint as player-manager, and he was a showcase for how extraordinary hustle could turn an ordinary player into a star. Overall, an impressive, Hall-worthy list of accomplishments.
Pete Rose Career Stats
Banned From Baseball
He gambled on sports. Including baseball. Including his own team while he was playing and managing. When those facts came to light in 1989, he was banned from baseball for life. That means he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame and for participating in most baseball activities.
Now, 31 years later, that looks harsh to people who have grown up in an era when sports gambling can be done with a phone app. It even looks a little mild in light of the recent sign-stealing scandal involving the Astros. Some have even argued that Rose’s offense is not as bad as those involved in steroid use. But there are differences. Big differences.
A Dark History of Gambling
Gambling was a bane in baseball in the 1910s, with a number of players accused of not only betting but possibly throwing games in order to win. It all came to a head 100 years ago when it was revealed that gamblers had conspired with eight members of the Chicago White Sox to “fix” the 1919 World Series – in other words, they intentionally tried to lose so the underdog Reds could win, resulting in a high payout for the gamblers and the compromised players.
Whether all eight were really involved or understood the implications of their actions has been debated but Commissioner Kennesaw Landis was swift and harsh in his judgment – all eight, including superstar Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life and anyone who had even a hint of gambling involvement faced stiff penalties.
In April 1947, just a few days before Rose turned 6 years old, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was suspended for a year in large part because of his association with gamblers and gangsters, as well as a few other unsavory activities (Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey said Durocher had “the fertile ability to turn a bad situation into something infinitely worse”). That suspension cost him the chance to be Jackie Robinson’s first manager, although he later managed the New York Giants and became a sort of mentor to Willie Mays.
In 1970, during Rose’s eighth season in the majors, Denny McLain was suspended for half the season for his involvement in a bookmaking ring. In 1979, while Rose was chasing the all-time hits record, baseball royalty Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle received lifetime bans from baseball for doing promotional work for two Atlantic City casinos. Their ban was lifted in 1985 when Peter Ueberroth became commissioner after Bowie Kuhn’s retirement.
As far as I can tell, Durocher and McLain were never accused of betting on baseball, and Mays and Mantle couldn’t bet on baseball because, as casino employees, they weren’t allowed to gamble in the casinos and at the time, the Atlantic City casinos didn’t offer sports betting. Still, just the hint of corruption was enough to kick them out.
Pete Rose Managerial Stats
Rose Knew It Was Wrong and Punishable
All of this leads up to an important fact: By the time Rose was betting on baseball games, this had been taboo for more than 60 years, and during his lifetime and playing career had been very visibly punished. He clearly knew it wasn’t just frowned on, but anathema to baseball to be associated with gambling. To bet on baseball, and on his own team, would receive the maximum penalty available. I think if they could have suspended him from baseball in the afterlife they would have done so.
Although he at first denied betting on baseball and then denied betting on his own team, he later admitted that he not only bet on his own team but at times the only bet he placed was on his own team. How that might have affected his decisions as a manager and even as a player are a matter of speculation, but it’s hard to imagine that having money riding on the outcome of a game wouldn’t have influenced him in some way.
The Steroid Scandal
So how is that different than the steroid scandal? I think the obvious difference is that baseball had never dealt with performance-enhancing drugs before. In the late 1990s into the early 2000s, there was no specific prohibition in baseball on using them. There’s even evidence that some teams encouraged their use, perhaps not directly but by turning a blind eye to it.
Another difference is that by enhancing their performance, the players were actually improving their teams and giving the fans better entertainment, as evidenced by the rapid rise in attendance for most teams during that time. The only people getting cheated were the players not using PEDs.
This doesn’t make it right, but it places it in another category than what Rose did, which he clearly knew was wrong and had been prohibited for more than half a century. Players like Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Robinson Cano, who continued using them after they were prohibited, should rightly be punished by not being voted into the Hall of Fame. Others who never had allegations against them proven, like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, and used them before they were prohibited, probably should eventually make the Hall. I believe Bonds and Clemens will get in on their 10th and final time on the ballot – waiting until their final year of eligibility serving as a just punishment but a deserved reward for careers that were outstanding even before the alleged PED use.
The Sign-Stealing Scandal
As far as the sign stealing, the perpetrators need to be punished, as they mostly have been with suspensions and loss of jobs. Sign stealing has been around as long as baseball has used signs, with runners on second and eagle-eyed coaches in the dugouts trying to unravel what the opposing team was trying to do. But using anything other than the naked eye has always been frowned on. In 1951, a minor scandal erupted when the New York Giants were accused of using a telescope concealed in centerfield to read the catcher’s signs. A couple of years ago the Red Sox were busted stealing signs in a scheme that involved an Apple Watch.
I don’t think this should have any effect on Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame chances, although he might be a borderline candidate anyway, since his involvement was in his final season, and he already has suffered the ignominy of being fired as a manager before he ever got to manage even one spring training game. Plus, he’ll probably will never be hired again. The allegations may follow players like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman for a while, especially if they have a sudden drop-off in performance, but they likely will continue to put up big numbers and it’ll become a blip on great careers.
The Ban Is Still Justified
But stealing signs, like PEDs—while absolutely wrong—always helped the player’s team. Betting on baseball, though, as seen in the 1919 World Series, could hurt your own team. Whether Rose ever did anything harmful to his team in order to win a bet is unknown, but the potential was always there: Using a starting pitcher longer than you should, not being aggressive on the bases, making roster moves that could be detrimental, forcing injured players onto the field, etc., are just some of the ways he could have hurt his team, even if he bet on them to win.
So there is no question in my mind that Rose’s lifetime ban and ineligibility for the Hall of Fame is justified, deserved and should remain in effect forever.
CJ Kelly from the PNW on January 28, 2020:
Gary, while I disagree with you about Rose, your hub does a great job of laying out the argument against him. One of the best I've read in a long time.
I also like that you favor Bonds and Clemens getting in the HOF eventually.
Overall, I still believe MLB is in dire straits, despite good local TV ratings and $$. Not sure how they stop the bleeding, radical is needed.