Friday, November 25, 2005

Rose in the HOF? Don't Bet on It

Pete Rose enters his final year of "eligibility" to be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame when the 2006 ballot is released early next week. Of course, the term "eligibility" should be used very loosely, since Rose hasn't even appeared on the ballot due to his lifetime suspension from baseball.

While Rose certainly is Hall-worthy based on his impressive hitting statistics and legendary hustle over a 24-year, All-Star career, his chances of ever finding his bust displayed inside the HOF in Cooperstown, NY, are virtually nil. And while I didn't used to agree with the logic of keeping him out of Cooperstown, I've changed my mind after recently taking a virtual trip back to the early part of the 20th century.

When the Chicago White Sox recently found themselves as World Series champs for the first time since 1917, their long championship drought piqued my interest in the legendary "Black Sox" scandal of 1919. So I ventured onto to find what many consider to be the quintessential historical review of what took place in that infamous sporting scandal, a book written by Eliot Asinof in 1963 entitled, "Eight Men Out". It also was made into a movie in 1988, starring D.B. Sweeney, Charlie Sheen, John Cusack and John Mahoney.

Ever since I was a kid, I had always heard about the "Black Sox" scandal and it's most notable co-conspirator, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. But I never really knew exactly what had happened or how it all unfolded. After reading "Eight Men Out", I now have a far clearer understanding of the scandal itself as well as the underlying - and insidious - control professional gamblers had on the national pastime over eighty years ago.

And while the White Sox' infamous "eight men" (or seven or six, depending on whether you believe third baseman Buck Weaver and outfielder Joe Jackson actually participated in the fix in spite of their knowledge of it) conspired to fix a World Series for monetary gain in 1919, the more sinister effects of gambling's hold on baseball may have occurred during the 1920 season, when gamblers were able to control the outcomes of many, many games by exercising various forms of blackmail to keep certain players in compliance with their scheme. Because the 1919 World Series fix wasn't fully uncovered until after the 1920 season, gamblers continued to enjoy a hold on baseball. Games often were won or lost not based on which was the better team, but based on where the money was being bet or what the odds may have been. The game, its fans and most of its ballplayers were at the mercy of gamblers.

So, you may ask, how does this relate to the Hall of Fame candidacy of Pete Rose? Well, after learning about the severe ills gambling laid upon baseball so many years ago, I now see there can be zero tolerance for any involvement whatsoever with gambling by professional athletes. And if it takes severe discipline - like the lifetime ban meted out to Pete Rose - to keep the game clean, then so be it.

There's little question that "Shoeless" Joe Jackson would have found himself enshrined in the Hall of Fame if the "Black Sox" scandal hadn't happened...or been exposed. And many would argue that he should be enshrined anyway, especially considering that he appeared to perform to his utmost capabilities during that fateful World Series. Jackson's talent was unquestioned, much as Rose's is to this day. But even the mere hint of their involvement with gamblers is enough to warrant severe consequences in order to ensure that the game is played on the up and up. And if it discourages others from making similar mistakes, then it's well worth it.

Pete Rose was a Hall of Fame calibre player. Unfortunately, he'll never be known as a Hall of Fame player. And while it may have taken me many years - and a trip back in time - to realize it, I now agree with the decision to ostracize Rose from the game. As they say, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Baseball must not repeat the sins of its past. The continued banishment of Pete Rose will help to ensure that it doesn't.


At 3:26 AM, Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Not to mention he's a total prick. Let's reserve the HOF for amphetamine users.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger DrewL said...

Of course, probably the biggest prick of them all was Ty Cobb, arguably one of the top ten players of all time. But he was a surly, racist SOB who didn't get along with anyone. He's in the HOF. And, no doubt, we'll see others who abused drugs, alcohol (Babe Ruth?) and steroids enshrined in Cooperstown, which is pretty sad. But at least when a guy who's on steroids hits a home run, it's a home run that he tried to hit (in theory). When gamblers get involved, you don't know who's trying and who isn't. The game becomes a complete sham (instead of a partial sham).


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