At 4:08 p.m. on Saturday, my weekend got a little more interesting.
For some background: I traveled with the Fordham women’s basketball team to broadcast its 1 p.m. game against UMass. After a nail-biting finish that saw Fordham come out on top, we were on our way back home on our Academy bus (shoutout to Alex, who is the best bus driver in America).
Anyway, I was tiredly and half-heartedly scrolling through my phone when I saw a tweet from President Trump. It only came up on my timeline because a couple of my friends liked it, and I assumed it had to do with a fake impeachment or a jab at the media. Instead, it read the following:
“Pete Rose played Major League Baseball for 24 seasons, from 1963-1986, and had more hits, 4,256, than any other player (by a wide margin). He gambled, but only on his own team winning, and paid a decades long price. GET PETE ROSE INTO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME. It’s Time!”
Putting aside the obvious grammatical errors and bizarre sentence structure so common in all of his tweets, the president has finally offered something we should all be able to agree on.
In case you are unfamiliar, Rose, the former Reds great, was banned from baseball in August of 1989 after admitting to gambling on games while managing the Reds after his retirement. A report from independent lawyer John Dowd found evidence of bets on 52 Reds games in 1987 while Rose was manager. Dowd later stated in a 2002 interview that, despite having no concrete evidence to support this claim, Rose “probably” bet against the Reds at times, which is problematic for a number of reasons, to say nothing of compromising the integrity of the sport.
What Rose did — and I will not try to argue the contrary — was really bad. In response, Major League Baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose on Aug. 24, 1989. In a cruel twist of fate, Giamatti died of a heart attack just eight days later. Rose — the game’s all-time hits leader — was out. He has, on several occasions, appealed for reinstatement, but has been denied multiple times. He has done so again in the past week, in light of the Astros’ nefarious sign-stealing scandal which has threatened the integrity of the sport just as much, if not more, than Rose’s actions. Rose is 78 years old, and it is fair to wonder if the sport will reverse his ban in his lifetime.
That being said, we are a nation of second chances. In the moments in which cancel culture doesn’t prevail, we can be extremely forgiving. Sports has some of the best examples: Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods and even the late Kobe Bryant were all forgiven after their own transgressions and went on to lead successful lives after their playing careers. Rodriguez admitted to using steroids (twice!) and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022. He may not get in, but he’ll have a chance.
Pete Rose has never gotten this chance, and it’s time for that to change.
In a media landscape that has quickly embraced gambling, Rose’s actions are viewed differently today than they were 30 years ago. Yes, he did an awful thing. He should not be defended for doing it, and the sport was right to punish him severely. However, what Rose did is now glorified in popular culture by those who are not coaches or managers. In its broadcast of the XFL’s kickoff weekend, ABC placed a spread next to the team that was favored and an over/under in the middle of its bottom-third graphics package. While Rose’s suspension had less to do with gambling and more to do with integrity, this progression cannot be ignored.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of Rose’s continued ban is baseball’s own foray into gambling. The sport has recently partnered with MGM Grand as its “official gambling partner” and (surprise!) you can bet on games, so long as you’re 21 and live in one of the 13 states where sports betting is legal. Another six states have recently passed laws legalizing sports gambling, and before you can say “three-batter minimum” and “juiced ball” 10 times fast, it will be legal in all 50 states. But yes, that’s fair to the “integrity” of the game, which has been so fatally compromised over the past couple of years.
Pete Rose has done his time. 30 years of exile haven’t seemed to change him — he only admitted to wrongdoing as a way to sell his own book — but he has served his sentence.
Baseball has a long and complicated history, with too many ups and downs to count. Right now, the sport is closer to the bottom of the valley than the top of the mountain.
Pete Rose is a central character in that story. So are Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and other steroid users who have been denied entry into the Hall of Fame while their enabler, former commissioner Bud Selig, has his own plaque in Cooperstown.
The president has chimed in. So have many fans and observers. We all agree: Pete Rose belongs in baseball, and he belongs with the greats in Cooperstown.