It is best to get the basics out of the way first with Pete Rose: He doesn't come off baseball's ineligible list, he doesn't get to be a manager or coach again, he doesn't get to be back on the field for anything except ceremonial occasions, and never in uniform. He gambled on baseball when he managed the Reds and got caught and then lied about his gambling for years. Pete got himself on that list the way he got all those hits.
He still belongs on the Hall of Fame ballot. Once he gets on that ballot, if he ever gets on, then it is up to the voters to decide about him. The voters should make that decision, not the Hall's board, which last week upheld Rule 3E, a rule written for Pete Rose after he was first placed on baseball's ineligible list, and one that states that any player on the ineligible list cannot be considered for induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
3E is the official name for this rule, by the way. The unofficial name, and far more accurate name, is the Pete Rose Rule. It was conceived for him, written for him, upheld once again by the Hall's board last week. So Cooperstown is still being kept safe from 76-year-old Peter Edward Rose except when he shows up for some cheesy autograph signing. Pete: Who is baseball's all-time hit king, who is someone now immortalized (as if he needed any more immortalizing in Cincinnati) with a bronze statue of him -- making his iconic headfirst dive -- outside Great American Ballpark.
"They wrote that rule in 1991, and they certainly didn't write it for Shoeless Joe Jackson, since the last time I checked Joe has been dead since 1951," Bob Costas was saying Monday morning. "And even Shoeless Joe briefly appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, even though he didn't get much support."
Costas has been making this case for Rose's name being placed on the ballot, both sensibly and eloquently, since it was determined that Rose's name couldn't be placed on the ballot. Costas has been making this case since before what will always be known as the steroids era; before there was the kind of debate we have now about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and the rest of the known or alleged users of performance-enhancing drugs. At least those names are on the ballot. At least the voters get to make the determination about them. The name of Pete Rose, who got 4,256 hits in the big leagues, has never been on the ballot, and might never be.
It was the late George Carlin who once sent me a letter about Rose, and explained, as only George could, about how he thought baseball should deal with Pete Rose.
"You really want to punish him?" Carlin wrote. "Take away some of his hits. That'll piss him off."
Pete has done his time for 26 years now. He has been voted onto the game's All-Century team, been honored by the Reds, become a part of Fox Sports' baseball coverage. Now there is this statue on Crosley Terrace at Great American Ballpark. He just can't get on the Hall of Fame ballot.
You may recall that Commissioner Rob Manfred reaffirmed Rose's lifetime ban, and properly so, in December of 2015. This was part of the statement he issued at the time:
"It is not part of my authority of responsibility here 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. … Thus, any debate over Mr. Rose's eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum."
The more you think about this, the more you believe the only forum for that debate should involve a Hall of Fame ballot with Rose's name on it. Let the voters, and not the Hall's board, provide a reckoning about what Rose did both on and off the field. Put him on and leave him on for 10 years, as long as he is maintaining the 5 percent threshold that keeps a player's name on the ballot. You have to start the clock at zero, no matter how long he's been retired, because his name wasn't on the ballot in the first place.
"This is a very easy decision to make when you put it in the starker relief of known or suspected steroids users being on the ballot," Costas says. "I know that those guys aren't banned for life the way Pete Rose is. So I know you can split hairs and be lawyerly and put Pete in a different category. But if you're being logical, in a fair-minded world, it's clear that Pete remains on an island where only he exists.
"You want to know who's gotten it right on Pete from the start? The public has. I'm not saying the public gets to decide this, or that they're always right. But they've been able to perceive what a bunch of guys in suits haven't: That Pete Rose was no saint or no angel, and he did what they said he did with gambling when he managed the Reds. But that he was also one hell of a ballplayer who gave his heart and soul to the game, someone who was a great ballplayer and a tremendously flawed human being.
"Listen: No person would defend what Pete did, or all the subsequent lying he did. He hasn't reconfigured his life, a judgment has been upheld by Bud Selig and Rob Manfred since Bart Giamatti died. But who would ever say that Pete Rose damaged baseball as much as steroids did? It's why we are constantly parsing the achievements of the guys on the ballot. Just not with Pete. Every hit he got was authentic.
"I've said all along that he should be on the ballot. And as time has passed, the case has only become stronger, at least in my mind, because he's served this much time in purgatory. We're talking about a sentence moving up on 30 years, one that could continue for the rest of his life. And for what? Because if someday there is a reconciliation and he does stand on that stage in Cooperstown that people will be thinking, 'Hey, you can bet on baseball and get away with it?' In what world would people think that way, after watching what's happened to Pete since he went on that list, and all it's cost him? All a reconciliation would do, if one ever occurs, is be a show of heart and forgiveness and humanity."
Costas is right about what he has always referred to as an "unnecessary controversy." Pete Rose is no angel, and certainly no saint, and not only did he commit what became baseball's capital crime after the Black Sox scandal of 1919, he did lie about it, almost as if lying to stay in practice. He will always be a cautionary tale in baseball, in the same way all the PED poster players, from Bonds to Clemens to Alex Rodriguez, have become modern cautionary tales. But the voters are allowed to decide on them. Let them decide on Pete Rose, once and for all.