I’m on a listserve with sports journalists who enjoy the give and take of talking candidly about life. Maybe that’s putting what we do far too politely, because our discussions can be as brutal as the time I sat with Michigan fans when my Buckeyes went to Ann Arbor. We wage verbal warfare over our differing points of view.
Being irreverent isn't beneath us; neither is being politically incorrect nor downright goofy, such has the two- or three-day discussions on soul food and fried chicken. (Popeye’s and KFC didn’t get a mention in this freewheeling chitchat.)
One of the listserve’s topics recently was Pete Rose. We kicked around whether Rose was a better leadoff hitter than Rickey Henderson. We never did reach a consensus, though I reminded my comrades that Henderson’s speed made him far more dangerous than Rose. I made headway with that reasoning.
Yet what livened the discussion most was the position some people took about Rose’s not being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. One person argued that how can a Hall of Fame hold any credibility if the man with the most hits in the sport’s history isn’t worthy of enshrinement.
Actually, worthiness has nothing to do with the doors to Cooperstown being closed to Rose. He’s absent from baseball’s holiest temple because he flouted its most sacred rule: no betting on the sport.
Evidence that he did brought Rose a lifetime ban in 1989, and it looks as if the ban will last his lifetime, which is a pity. Pete Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
There, I’ve said it.
For me, the position reflects a 180-degree turn. I thought Commissioner Bud Selig, or whoever has kept Rose on the banned list, might rightfully be waiting for Rose to die before lifting the ban. At one point, I agreed with Selig; his reasoning made sense.
Now, I believe Selig does baseball and its faithful a disservice by keeping the greatest goodwill ambassador the sport has ever seen ineligible for election to the Hall of Fame. For no player, banned or not, has traveled to more baseball venues, signed more people’s autograph books, shaken more hands and taken more photographs than Pete Rose, yet he remains in baseball’s purgatory.
With another season behind Rose, Selig should commute his sentence to the 20 years served. He should do so not for Pete Rose’s sake but for the men and women, boys and girls who think keeping Charlie Hustle outside the family of baseball hurts the game more than anything he did when he bet on it.