A friend of mine believes that Pete Rose should have gone into the Baseball Hall of Fame a long time ago, but he thinks this for a reason you might not expect: He despises Rose. He believes most of the bad things you can believe about Rose — that Rose bet on his own team to lose, that he bet as a player, that he probably used steroids, that at this point, he wouldn’t even know how to tell the truth because the he lost the truth long ago.
In spite of all that — or, oddly, perhaps, because of it— he believes Rose should have gone into the Hall of Fame in the early 1990s.
“If he was in the Hall of Fame,” my friend says, spitting the words, “we could just stop TALKING about him already.”
Though this might sound somewhat silly, I can tell you that it’s actually a well-considered and powerfully held opinion. His point is that Rose was a good enough player to go into the Hall, and if he had been elected 20 years ago, people could just forget about him the way people forget about many of the Hall of Fame’s less-evolved men.
“The Hall of Fame turned Pete Rose into a CAUSE!” he grumbles with utter disgust on the final word. “A CAUSE? I can’t think of anyone who deserves less to be a cause than Pete Rose. He was a great baseball player, fine, that’s why they call it the BASEBALL Hall of Fame. But now, because they didn’t put him in there, I’ve got to hear people like you [note: he means me] talk about forgiveness and how he’s served his time and whatever other nonsense you write about.”
At first, I found his thought to be dumb — and, sure, a little bit insulting — but the longer this goes on, the more I wonder if he’s right. I like Pete Rose because I find him entertaining, because I think there was a lot that was admirable about the way he played baseball, and because I think baseball mishandled just about everything about his banishment (admittedly, Rose mishandled all of it worse).
But I must admit: He doesn’t deserve to be a cause. And the Hall of Fame issue alone has artificially kept Pete Rose alive in the news. I know of very few people who believe Rose should be back in baseball. But the Hall should recognize the game’s greatest players — flaws and all — and he was one of the game’s greatest players.
The new commissioner, Rob Manfred, has made it clear that he wants to slightly (or dramatically) shift the direction of baseball, and he will meet with Rose. I don’t know if they can come up with a compromise. And I absolutely don’t believe Pete Rose can get enough votes to get into the Hall anyway no matter who is voting. Pete Rose, for some, will remain a cause. The Cincinnati cheers echo. In a weird way, that was baseball’s gift to him.