|'There's only one pinch hitter who can win this game and his name is Pete Rose'|
If you've been around long enough to remember Pete Rose as an actual baseball player you probably have fond memories of him. If not, I better not hear a peep about 'playing the game the right way' because in researching this piece it sure sounds like Pete Rose went out and played the game the 'right way' every damn day. You don't record 4,256 base hits by lolly-gagging it down the line. You don't make the All Star team at 5 different positions if you're not a team first guy. And you don't plow through a catcher in an All Star game if you don't care about winning more than anything else. If that's not 'playing the game the right way', then I don't know what the definition is.
But if you're not someone who remembers baseball from the 60's and 70's then Pete Rose is something more like a cartoon character. He's sort of like the Michael Jackson of baseball. While Rose was doing his thing he was great, one of the all time greats, but people's opinion of him changed after certain things came to light. To be clear, I am not comparing the alleged crimes of either man to the other, only how are perceptions of these men have changed. Michael was never the same musician and Rose was never officially a baseball man again, but both persisted in the peripheral, periodically grabbing our attention in passing.
However, while Michael's existence lent itself to a short lifespan, Rose has mad the absolute best of the hand he's been dealt. He's largely gone the Donald Trump route by using his heyday exploits combined with savvy marketing to continue to make a living off his image. According to Wikipedia, Rose is able to pull in close to $1 Million a year for just being Pete Rose. For that I give him a lot of credit, but then again you don't earn the nickname 'Charlie Hustle' because you sit around on your ass all day.
Now, I'm not here to excuse away what Pete Rose did. He bet on baseball while he was an active player and manager and the sport has always had a sore spot for that. It's probably because baseball is such a precise sport dependent on so many single moments, controllable by individuals that even the smallest hint of maleficence for profit feels like such a betrayal. There have been very clear rules in place in baseball regarding gambling for a very long time and Pete Rose broke them. Whether or not you agree that the punishment fits the crime, the rules were on the books and Rose himself agreed to the banishment.
Bud Selig seemingly had no interest in entertaining the idea of a baseball world with Pete Rose as a card carrying member. I get where he's coming from. During Selig's tenure baseball went corporate. Once a sport in decline Selig shepherded an era with unprecedented revenue and player salary growth combined with a 20 year period without any labor disruptions. Guys with Rose's reputation would have been bad for business. The thing is though, Selig wasn't exactly playing on the level either. PED use was rampant during his time as commissioner and he did nothing to stop it until after all the new stadiums were built and public pressure finally made it a priority. Once again, I don't necessarily blame Selig fom handling the situation that way. There's a fine line between integrity and opportunity, and when you're playing a game for a living opportunity weighs.
New commissioner Rob Manfred recognizes the position MLB is in now regarding Rose, PED's and the future of the game. We've already seen his openness to do something about the pace of play, at least discuss the affects of defensive positioning and shifts and he let Will Farrell fly by helicopter to different Spring Training games in a charity stunt that was far more interesting that last summer's 'look at me fest' Ice Bucket Challenge. Manfred has a clear idea of where things are going, what the sport needs and how baseball's position regarding Rose has changed at the conclusion of the PED era.
Baseball can no longer sit back an claim that Rose has no place in the sport because he's a gambling addict. Yes what Rose did was bad for the game, but on a whole his contribution to the game has been an unequivocal positive. Just like with PED's. Does it send the wrong message to the children? Sure. Did it prolong the careers of otherwise great players? Probably. Did it elevate some meh players to the spotlight? Maybe. Did it drive ticket sales, merchandise sales, advertising sales, TV contracts? Yep. Because at the end of the day teams win, but stars sell. Just ask Brian Wilson or Pablo Sandoval.
Probably the funniest thing that I heard during my podcast research for Fantasy Baseball season this year was the claim that if Pete Rose was reinstated he would just start gambling on baseball again. I get that these guys look at baseball in a different way, but that doesn't make a lick of sense. Pete Rose could be betting on baseball right now and maybe he is. Its not like if he got reinstated tomorrow that teams would be lining up to hire him as a manager, GM, team liaison, or beer guy. It ain't gonna happen. The Reds might have a welcome back ceremony or Phillies might do something because it would be the most entertaining baseball story in Philly this season, but Rose's days as a paid baseball employee are over.
Funny thing is that reinstating Rose might actually be the worst thing for him financially. Right now he is able to make a good living on being the outcast. The best player who ever played who cannot get into the Hall of Fame. He goes to Cooperstown every year and signs autographs. He makes commercials. Hell, he's in the WWE Hall of Fame. He'd probably get an initial bump for a year or two after he was reinstated and maybe another when he gets in the HOF, but after that nothing. His whole appeal would be gone. Then he'd just be another face the on the autograph tour. He'd lose his sports villain status. Bonds and Clemens could try to claim it, but why. They made so much money that they can do what they want now. Rose didn't play in that era. He may need to keep working his image as long as he can.
So Rob Manfred has an interesting choice to make. He could leave things the way they are. Rose broke an established rule and agreed to the punishment, Manfred doesn't have to do anything. But doing nothing leaves baseball in the position of looking like a hypocrite for punishing one type of transgression while leaving the other in a sort of limbo. Or he could really punish Rose be reinstating him and watching his revenue streams dry up. I'm not suggesting that's the right thing to do, but Manfred would look like the 'Great Forgiver' for letting Rose back in baseball while still finding a way to twist the knife quietly.
For the record, I think Pete Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He's one of the greatest players who ever lived and he's ultimately no worse than a lot of other players whose plaques hang in that museum. And while actually reinstating him may do him more harm than good, I also suspect that Pete knows the score. I wouldn't doubt that he has a 3rd act up his sleeve, People have been counting him out for as long as he been able to tie his shoes. You don't get the nickname 'Charlie Hustle' because you sit around on your ass all day.