By Steve Kallas
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It just won’t go away, nor should it. This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose being banned from baseball for life. It wouldn’t be until two years later, in 1991, when the powers that be in baseball came up with the “Pete Rose Rule”. The rule was that if you were on the permanently ineligible list, you could no longer be considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Of course, by 1991, former Commissioner Bart Giamatti was dead, having had a massive heart attack just a few days after announcing the “agreement” between Major League Baseball and Rose, that Rose would be banned for life. And, of course, he could apply for reinstatement after one year.
YET BART GIAMATTI WANTED NO PART OF KEEPING PETE ROSE OUT OF THE HALL OF FAME
New York Times best-selling author Kostya Kennedy wrote a book that came out earlier this year entitled “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma.” It’s an interesting read, perhaps the most interesting item in the bookwas set forth in a footnote at the bottom of page 229.
Discussing the “special committee” put together by the Hall of Fame — specifically, apparently, to keep Rose out of the Hall of Fame — Kennedy discusses the early 1991 meeting and the voting that took place in a Manhattan hotel room. Kennedy, after showing what a joke the meeting was and discussing how the rules were changed to bar Rose, added the following footnote:
“Giamatti himself might have been disturbed by the board’s dictatorial move. When asked at a press conference announcing Rose’s ban from baseball whether the expulsion would have bearing on the Hall of Fame, Giamatti had dismissed the idea, saying he saw no place for intervention: ‘YOU,’ he said, addressing the baseball writers in attendance, ‘WILL DECIDE WHETHER HE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME.’'”
Somehow, those feelings never resonated with Fay Vincent. Somehow, those feelings never resonated with Bud Selig.
After 25 years, will they resonate with Rob Manfred?
SO, WHAT HAPPENED?
What happened was Vincent, Giamatti’s No. 2 man and good friend, became the commissioner of baseball.
Clearly, nobody — not Vincent, not the Hall of Fame Committee and, eventually, not Selig — bothered to look at what Giamatti had said at the 1989 banishment press conference.
Clearly, Giamatti wanted to leave the Hall of Fame decision to the baseball writers.
OTHER FACTORS THAT FAVOR PETE ROSE GETTING INTO THE HALL OF FAME
Well, there are many. Rule 21(d), discussed at length in a prior column (see Kallas Remarks, “The Realities of the Pete Rose Case” from 6/3/08), should be changed in a few ways. Most importantly, the penalty for betting on your team to win — as opposed to betting on your team to lose — should be somewhere between the lifetime ban for betting on your team to lose and the one-year ban for betting on a game you are not involved in.
The ban for life for gambling, of course, came in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series. I’ve never been able to find any evidence as to whether betting on your team to win versus betting on your team to lose was ever even discussed prior to the rule being implemented by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. One could certainly argue that, given a fixed World Series, the issue didn’t even come up.
Obviously, there’s a huge difference between betting on your team to win and betting on your team to lose. While many say gambling is gambling, whatever happened to the punishment fitting the crime?
So pick a number for Rose’s punishment for betting on his team to win: greater than one year and less than forever. Five years? 10 years? 15 years?
20? How about 25? That’s got to be enough, no?
The absurdity continues.
WHAT ABOUT GAYLORD PERRY?
Yeah, Gaylord Perry. He was a non-descript pitcher in 1964 when he came into a 23-inning game against the New York Mets and threw a spitter for the first time, throwing 10 shutout innings against the Mets at Shea Stadium and getting the win.
Perry, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career, wrote a book in 1974 entitled “Me and the Spitter.” He explained how he first threw a spitball in that 1964 game and moved on to throwing vaseline balls.
Perry then went on to pitch 10 more seasons and, ironically, became eligible for the Hall of Fame the year Rose was banned for life (1989). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame the year that the “Pete Rose Rule” was passed (1991).
Interestingly, not only Fay Vincent the commissioner in 1991, but he actually gave Perry his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown. According to the Kennedy book, “Asked now, Vincent says he does not think that Perry belongs in the Hall of Fame (because of the cheating); but at the induction he offered no objections, smiling and joking gently as he handed the plaque to Perry.”
Fabulous. Again, you can’t make this stuff up.
Who did more to hurt baseball: the manager who bet on his team to win or the Hall of Fame pitcher who, by his own admission, had to throw a spitter to even stay in the major leagues, and had the nerve to write about it and pitch 10 more years after that?
It’s not even a debate.
WHAT ABOUT COMMISSIONER KENESAW MOUNTAIN LANDIS?
Yeah, Commissioner Landis, the former federal judge who saved baseball, the tough-minded jurist who came in to clean up the game and did just that. The man who banned the bad Black Sox for life for the good of the game. Of course, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other Black Sox were still eligible for the Hall of Fame.
But, somehow, people seem to have forgotten that it was Landis who kept African Americans out of baseball from the early 1920s until his death in 1944. It was common knowledge then that Landis was the leader in barring blacks from baseball. Understanding the history, it’s no accident that Branch Rickey did not sign Jackie Robinson until AFTER Landis had died in late 1944.
Happy Chandler, who was more amenable to integration, became the commissioner for the 1945 season. Robinson was signed for the 1946 season and came to Brooklyn in 1947.
Judge Landis died on November 25, 1944. Two weeks later, there was a special election to elect him to the Hall of Fame. So the man who, by many accounts, was the leader of the movement to keep baseball white, had his own special election to get into the Hall of Fame. And, decades later, a Hall of Fame committee held its own “special meeting” to pass a rule to keep Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame.
Who hurt baseball more: a manager who bet on his team to win or a commissioner who kept African Americans out of “America’s game” for over two decades?
Again, not a debate.
WHAT ABOUT FAY VINCENT?
Well, what about Vincent? He said an interesting thing about Rose in a June 2008 interview with WFAN host Mike Francesa. Vincent, long viewed as the No. 1 opponent to Rose getting into the Hall of Fame, was plugging a book when the conversation turned to Rose.
Vincent said he thought that if Rose had come clean earlier and admitted that he bet on baseball, he would have eventually been reinstated.
To me, that’s a startling admission. After talking for years about how Rose had to be banned forever because of the deterrent effect it would have against other ballplayers who thought about gambling, Vincent changed his tune. Indeed, by saying that Rose could have eventually been in the Hall of Fame had he admitted his guilt earlier, he changed the conversation.
When does one go from being commissioner to being God? Who gets to judge when an apology is timely and when it’s too late? Who makes up these rules as they go along?
It’s a startling admission that got very little play or press coverage.
Kennedy makes a compelling case in his book against the writers who say they would have then — but wouldn’t now — vote for Rose for the Hall.
As Kennedy states, “It is a galling position, strange and misguided … The argument against Pete Rose’s being in the Hall of Fame, in other words, had devolved, now turning not upon his violation of a sacred baseball tenet, but whether a voter LIKED a guy or not.”
The reality of all of this is that Rose should be allowed in the Hall of Fame for no other reason than the fact that Giamatti, whose legacy these later commissioners think they are protecting, apparently would have disagreed with what they’ve done.
If Giamatti was OK with it, then it should be OK with Vincent.
And, soon, Rob Manfred.
We’ll see what, if anything, happens in the near future.
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