Paul Schneider makes a point about the Baseball Hall Of Fame entrance criteria and the question is: if Ty Cobb, then why not Pete Rose?
Earlier this week the word came out that Pete Rose bet on baseball while still a player.
Shocking – not.
If you’ve been even remotely following the Rose saga since he was banned from baseball in 1989, you know that, despite denial after denial after denial, Rose bet on the game, his game, the National Pastime.
When the Dowd report was published in 1989, it concluded that Rose wagered on baseball. Then-commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti declared the 18-time All-Star and all-time hits leader permanently ineligible from the game he loved, and continues to love, with every ounce of his being.
Part of the ineligibility – the most significant part – is that Rose is disqualified from ever being voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
As it should be.
Or should it?
One of my most vivid memories of covering the Dodgers from time to time back in the 1980s for the local paper in Burbank, Calif., was seeing a sign hanging prominently in the Dodger clubhouse. To paraphrase, it stated that any personnel caught wagering on baseball will be subject to immediate suspension and declared ineligible.
On those grounds, yeah, Rose’s ineligibility is the right move. Especially after the latest findings emerged that, while as Cincinnati Reds player-manager from March-July, 1986, he bet regularly on numerous sports, including baseball. According to the latest evidence, on 21 occasions he wagered on a Reds game. Interestingly, he never bet against his own team.
According to a 2014 biography by the brilliant writer Kostya Kennedy, Rose was nothing if not the very epitome of what defines a teammate. Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said in the book that he became a better hitter and ballplayer because of Rose’s presence, and that Rose transformed the Phils from an also-ran team to a perennial contender, indeed to the 1980 World Series title, after his arrival as a free agent in 1979. His energy, work ethic, gregariousness and rah-rah attitude rubbed off on almost everyone he ever played with.
Rose’s ineligibility means the only way he gets in the Hall of Fame is to buy a ticket. Players are elected by a 75% majority of votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). It’s right there in the BBWAA’s rules: Rule 3 (e) states: “Any player on Baseball’s ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.”
Seems pretty clear, if not somewhat redundant. But then take a look at Rule 5: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Integrity? Sportmanship? Character? Hmm.
These are not exactly qualities that can be empirically measured, which should be a big deal considering no sport lends itself to, and relies upon, statistics and numbers as much as baseball.
As well, some of the players in the Hall who played during the early 20th century rarely displayed anything resembling integrity, sportsmanship and character.
Take Ty Cobb, for example. The Georgia peach stole 892 bases, and every single time slid into a base spikes up, trying to rip to shreds any part of an infielder trying to tag him out. He also infamously went into the stands on May 25, 1912 and attacked a heckler. Cobb didn’t seem to care that the man had only two of his 10 fingers. “I don’t care if he has no feet,” Cobb yelled as he kicked and stomped the man with his cleats.
And then there’s this, courtesy of ESPN Classic:
Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were permitted by Ban Johnson to resign from baseball near the end of the 1926 season after former pitcher Dutch Leonard charged that Cobb, Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood had joined him just before the 1919 World Series in betting on a game they all knew was fixed. Leonard presented letters and other documents to Johnson, and Johnson thought they would be so potentially damaging to baseball in the wake of the Black Sox scandal that he paid Leonard $20,000 to have them suppressed. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis exposed the cover-up and the eventual fallout forced Johnson out his job as president of the league he had created. Cobb and Speaker vehemently denied any wrongdoing, Cobb saying that “There has never been a baseball game in my life that I played in that I knew was fixed, and that the only games he ever bet on were two series games in 1919, when he lost $150 on games thrown by the Sox.
There’s also an urban legend that Babe Ruth played a part in the arson of his first wife’s house, resulting in her death. And then there’s Gaylord Perry, elected to the Hall in 1991, who admitted to throwing a spitball, an illegal pitch.
How then, to define integrity, sportsmanship and character? And while pondering that query, think about what Cobb did, then think about what Rose did.
Photo: Flickr/Blake Bolinger
Photo (Ty Cobb): Flickr/B K Photos
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