Every July, the sleepy mapdot village of Cooperstown, N.Y., hosts the Hall of Fame inductions, which are scheduled for next weekend. For years, the event has included a sad tableau. At one end of Main Street, baseball royalty gathers for the ceremonies. At the other end, an isolated Pete Rose signs autographs in front of a local shop.
Rose has been barred from baseball since 1989 for the cardinal sin of gambling on games. That 28 years, more time than some murderers spend paying for their crimes. Rose has periodically applied to various commissioners for leniency and periodically been rejected. His last application to current commissioner Rob Manfred was met with an interesting suggestion.
Baseball might not welcome you, Manfred told Rose, but the Hall of Fame, which operates independently of the game, might. In his decision, the commissioner wrote: “It is not part of my responsibility to make any determination concerning Mr. Rose’s eligibility as a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, in my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility.’’
That seemed to leave the Hall of Fame door opened at least a crack to the man with 4,256 hits, the most hits in the history of the game. The Hall of Fame, however, promptly slammed it shut.
Rose asked to be placed on the ballot based on Manfred’s statement. The commissioner’s opinion notwithstanding, the Hall announced that if you are barred from baseball, you are barred from Cooperstown, and its corner of Main Street. The Hall cited Rule 3E, also known as the Pete Rose rule, which was put in place in 1991, ending the debate. “We feel it would be incongruous to be putting someone on the ballot that is otherwise barred from the game,’’ said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson
Now it’s not like the Hall of Fame doesn’t sometimes change its rules. A couple of years ago, the Board of Directors unilaterally stripped about 100 veteran voters of their ballot, arguing that they were no longer active and ostensibly out of touch with the game. This left the election in the hands of younger voters, less rigid in their stance against drug violators, like, oh, say Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and more receptive of advanced analytics and formulas that have turned modern baseball into something it was never designed to be.
The vote change had immediate benefits, immediately impacting this year’s class of inductees. We have Tim Raines, who once confessed that he slid head first, not to emulate Pete Rose’s headfirst style but rather so as not to disturb the stash of cocaine in his hip pocket. We have Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell, who both played in the steroid era and had whispers hovering over them about what they might have used to enhance their performance. And we have commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the steroid era, dealing with the scourge by looking the other way. Bonds and Clemens, with their shady steroids reputations, edged closer to induction. Rose remains ineligible.
Ex-pitcher Fritz Peterson offered an interesting idea for Rose. Why not put his Hall of Fame candidacy on the All-Star ballot? Let the fans vote on whether to let him into Cooperstown.
In the meantime, the Hit King continues to be honored by his old team, despite the Hall of Fame’s stand. His number is retired and he is in the team’s Hall of Fame. The Reds unveiled a statue outside of Great American Ballpark last month honoring Rose. It is an image of him launching one of his trademark headfirst slides. It does not include a hip pocket bulge for cocaine.