It’s time to forgive Pete Rose

Lew Freedman
Lew Freedman

It is time for Major League Baseball to pardon Pete Rose after 31 years in purgatory, time to lift the ban that exiled him to the outskirts of the sport in 1989.

Baseball’s all-time hits leader, the icon of the Cincinnati Reds who remains beloved in his birth city, Rose should be permitted to do more than sell autographs and pay his way into Great American Ball Park, something he does a few times a season when visiting family in Cincinnati.

On those occasions, he may enter the stadium from Pete Rose Way.

“It’s my hometown, buddy,” Rose said with pride during a recent interview from Las Vegas about the community naming a street after him.

At 79 and long removed from an active role in baseball, Rose said he is “kind of over the Hall,” meaning not being eligible for listing on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. But then he said, “After 30 years, I’d be the happiest guy in the world” to be elected.

Based on statistical standards and passion — his nickname was “Charlie Hustle” — Rose would have been selected long ago. He batted .303 and was a 17-time All-Star. His record 4,256 career hits may last forever. When Rose signs autographs at shops on the Strip, he adds, “Hit King.”

Recently, before the world was swept up in the COVID-19 pandemic, Rose applied to Commissioner Rob Manfred seeking reinstatement. Only then baseball withdrew from spring training and indefinitely postponed the start of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus’ highly infectious nature. While baseball officials debate when the regular season might begin, Rose self-isolates in Las Vegas.

Heck, Las Vegas, a town built on casinos, tourism and crowds, has pretty much self-isolated.

“I’m going stir-crazy here,” Rose said. He had just visited Subway for a sandwich, the first time he had been outdoors in three days. The Strip was “like ‘Gunsmoke.’ It’s like a ghost town.”

He had not heard back from Manfred about his case.

“No, no,” Rose said. “They’re too busy for me.”

It is time to parole Pete Rose. The national outlook on gambling has shifted from being sinful to mere amusement since 1919 when the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds for money.

The “Black Sox Scandal” led baseball owners to hire the sport’s first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Eight players, including the fabulous “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the greatest hitters in history, were banned from baseball for life in 1921.

Landis became the sport’s first commissioner precisely because of this nasty episode. It was Commissioner Bart Giamatti who exiled Rose in 1989 when he was managing the Reds, yanking him from the dugout.

Rose always contended his deal with Giamatti allowed him to apply for reinstatement within a year; however, Giamatti died unexpectedly before that year was up, and Rose has struck out with appeals to commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig.

Even as casinos proliferated across the landscape, Nevada sports books continuing to issue odds on every game and sports fans indulged in internet betting, baseball held to its principles, suggesting the worst thing anyone in uniform could do short of felony law-breaking was betting on the sport.

Until last year. Just as the 2019 season was beginning, baseball rented its soul, redefining its maxims for millions of dollars by cutting a deal with MGM Resorts to establish a daily betting line.

That gave MLB a vested interest in gambling. No more moral high ground.

The hypocrisy inherent in baseball maintaining Rose’s ban from the game while reaching with both hands for baseball betting profits was breathtaking.

This 180-degree flip in baseball’s posture is the chief reason the sport should lift the ban on Rose now. The sport should have done so last year. The other reason is longevity. Time served is sufficient. Right now, Rose’s sentence is longer than some murderers’.

Rose wants his restrictions removed. He said he doesn’t want to work in baseball again, not even as a spring training hitting instructor.

“The only job I’d ever want in baseball, and I’m too old to do it, is manager,” Rose said.

It is the right time to forgive. Rose deserves a chance at the Hall of Fame while still alive.