Charlie Hustle, for 25 years now, has been waiting for a second chance that continues to outsprint him.
When is a lifetime ban long enough?
When that life ends? At an arbitrary juncture sometime before? Perhaps when that life has reasonably passed the point where the man can do much more with the tools of his trade other than sit and reminisce?
Now, 25 years to the day (Sunday) Pete Rose was suspended for life by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti, the stars are realigning and the rows of corn are rearranging in baseball’s Field of Dreams. Two upcoming events now are positioned for what probably will be Rose’s last, best chance for reinstatement:
- Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred is set to replace Bud Selig on Jan. 25.
- The All-Star Game is scheduled for Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park on July 14.
So maybe right now is the time to begin the discussion surrounding whether Rose has done his time, enough time, and maybe the game should move toward some sort of reinstatement.
Mr. Manfred, tear down that wall.
While Selig would not offer details of what might happen in Cincinnati next July, he hinted that Rose will be allowed on the fringes.
"That will be up to the Cincinnati club, and they know what they can do and can't do," Selig said last month during his annual All-Star Game meeting with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. "It's sort of been subjective. They've done some things with Pete, but they've been very, very thoughtful and limited. But that's a subject that I’m sure they'll discuss next year."
So let's begin that discussion.
First, understand: Rose broke baseball's most sacred rule—no betting on the game—and he should have been harshly punished. He has been. No man who is still living has been iced for as long as Rose. Life with the Ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson surely has been interminable.
So let's all agree on that. And from here, if you want to keep Rose locked up in solitary until he ascends (or descends, your pick) to meet Ty Cobb in the Great Hereafter, I respect that.
Rose long ago wrote his own future first by committing the crime, then by lying about it for 15 years. Even after voluntarily accepting the ban from Giamatti on Aug. 24, 1989, he still denied that he bet on the game. This surely killed any chance he had at leniency.
That Giamatti stunningly died of a heart attack just eight days after sentencing Rose further complicated things. Had he lived, would Giamatti eventually have commuted Rose's lifetime ban? We'll never know.
What we do know is that in the NFL, in 1963, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended the Lions' Alex Karras and the Packers' Paul Hornung for one season for gambling crimes that included betting on their own teams.
Looking back, those suspensions were shockingly light.
But they do make you wonder: Is 25 years enough?
Understandably, baseball has carried a zero-tolerance policy where gambling is concerned since the Black Sox Scandal that fixed the 1919 World Series (the Sox's opponents, interestingly, were the Cincinnati Reds).
Unlike the Black Sox, Rose never was accused of fixing games. The Dowd Report documented that he gambled on Reds games between 1985 and 1987. He was a player-manager in 1985-86, then retired as a player and solely managed in '87.
He did the crime.
And he hasn't been allowed in the game on an official basis since.
At 73, Pete Rose is not going to manage. He's not going to pull on a uniform and affect the outcome of games. He's been away for far too long. Besides, baseball can bend and twist rules as it sees fit (see the Giants' protest from Chicago this week involving the rain and the tarp).
What about at least taking him off the permanently ineligible list and, even if you tell clubs he's off-limits as a manager, allowing him to, say, work as a guest hitting coach for the Reds during spring training (if they'll have him)? Or volunteer during the season?
As things stand right now, Rose is barred from going anywhere in a ballpark that a regular fan cannot go.
Except, and here is where hypocrisy steps to the plate, MLB allowed him to participate in an All-Century Team celebration at the 1999 World Series. It also permitted Rose to take part in festivities at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park in 2010 marking the 25th anniversary of his record-setting 4,192nd hit.
But he is conspicuously missing in other celebrations, such as when the Reds closed Riverfront Stadium, or when the Phillies closed Veterans Stadium.
There comes a point where it is unconscionable to trot Rose out like a show horse for some occasions and keep him locked in the barn like a glue horse for others.
One of Manfred's biggest challenges will be to reconnect with a generation of young fans who slept through the World Series games of their youth because baseball long ago sold its soul to television.
Yes, Rose was well before their time. He's been in the hole for so long that he was from their grandparents' time.
Still, at this point, Rose can be an asset for baseball. As he will be the first to tell you, nobody can sell baseball like Pete Rose (well, maybe after he's done selling Pete Rose).
His enthusiasm remains contagious. The first question he asked a couple of writers when at Cooperstown, New York, last month was whether they thought there was any chance Derek Jeter would be elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously.
Manfred, so far, has not tipped his hand as to how he will approach the application for reinstatement Rose filed way back in 2002, the one Selig has just let sit there like a piece of junk mail. There are those who believe Manfred will keep Rose on ice because, after 20 years working in the commissioner's office, he's been conditioned to lean that way.
Then again, unlike Selig, who was very close with Giamatti, Manfred has no personal ties to Giamatti and 1989.
It's difficult to predict how he will play it, and so far, there are no tea leaves to read.
But can you imagine the scene in Cincinnati next July if an apologetic and rehabilitated Rose is reinstated back into baseball's clubhouse?
It is one of sports' longest-running and most enduring tragedies, how a man with the most hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053) and times on base (5,929) of anybody in baseball history is locked out of the game for good.
As he told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap recently for an Outside the Lines special on the 25th anniversary of his lifetime suspension, "I've been led to believe America is a forgiving country, and if you do the right things—keep your nose clean, be a good citizen, pay your taxes, do all the things you're supposed to do—eventually you'll get a second chance."
Now is a good time for eventually.
Forgiveness can be an incredibly complicated concept. As a Hall of Fame voter, I do not vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire or any of the suspected performance-enhancing drug cheaters.
Granted, the PED scandal is totally different from that of Rose.
Still, though, I wonder: In a quarter of a century, will I change my mind?
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
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