Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Monday, May 25, 2009
Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame

A commenter to my post on steroids and the Hall of Fame asks about Pete Rose. I thought it warranted a new post, rather than a comment. I actually wrote about this point three years ago.

Rose should not be in the Hall, because different rules apply. Rose is ineligible for the Hall under Rule 3E, which bars selection of anyone who is on MLB's permanently ineligible list. Rose is on that list because he agreed to be placed on the list (which he did to avoid the now-we-know-was-inevitable finding that he did, in fact, bet on games involving the Reds). There is no character/integrity/sportsmanship debate to be had with Rose--he is out because the rules (properly, I believe) keep him out.

But as the commenter notes, Rose was suspended for post-playing conduct. This raises a couple of points.

First, I still agree with the current outcome under Rule 3E. The ineligible list is the ineligible list for Hall purposes, regardless of when or why the suspension occurred.

But note the anomalies. Rose retired as a player in 1986 and would have been on the ballot for the first time (and almost certainly elected) in 1992. Suppose his gambling had not been revealed until 1995? I cannot find whether there is a procedure for removing someone from the Hall if that person is suspended from the game subsequent to his induction. So we could ask whether it makes sense to deny admission to a player based on a suspension for post-playing conduct when we would not remove him from the Hall for the same conduct. Actually, this happened in miniature in the early 1980s, when Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were barred from any official involvement with MLB because they held PR positions with casinos (although Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had meant the suspension only to apply to formal employment and not to all involvement in the game). The Hall did nothing and the "suspension" was lifted after two years. Worse, under my counter-factual, Rose might not have been removed from the Hall (if no such procedure exists) even if had been discovered, post-induction, that he had gambled as a player.

Second, the commenter implicitly raises a different counter-factual: Suppose there were no Rule 3E (actually, the Rule did not exist until 1991, enacted specifically to ensure that Rose and the rehabilitating Shoeless Joe Jackson did not make it in). Now we squarely have the situation the commenter suggests: Baseball-related, post-playing, against-the-rules conduct, subject to the integrity/sportsmanship/character clause.

I say he still should not get in. First, I would not divide his baseball conduct between playing and non-playing conduct; it is all what he did as part of baseball and whether he violated specific rules of the game. And he did. Note that this makes his tax evasion conviction/prison term irrelevant, because that was non-baseball.

More prominently, Rose violated a specific rule of MLB through acts that go to the basic integrity of the game in a way that steroid use does not. The game's integrity demands that every player go all out to win every game to the best of his ability and effort, for the sake of winning (and the intrinsic values associated with winning), within the established rules of the game. A player who uses steroids or other PEDs is trying to maximize his performance and his success--that is the basic argument in the Zev Chafets piece that I originally linked to. Gambling on games involving one's own team (even if always to win) runs contrary to that understanding of the game's integrity.


I followed most of Pete's career and I can't remember a time where he wasn't trying to win. There are other viewpoints in society besides that of lawyers.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/27/2009 8:05 AM  

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my query.

I think we will have to disagree on the proper outcome here. I believe that Pete Rose's on-field accomplishments - witnessed by all baseball fans who maintained consciousness for about 20+ years - earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. One can put as many asterisks and disclaimers as one may wish on his bust/display at Cooperstown and one may censor his acceptance speech as much as one may want, but he amassed 4,256 base hits in his career and no one else in the history of the game did that.

Now if Rose had been a very good player whose on-field career put him on the cusp of HoF worthiness, I would clearly agree that his wagering activities as a manager would negate any managerial accomplishments that might "put him over the top" and get him elected to the HoF. However, I do not think that is the case here; I believe there are 4,256 reasons to put Pete Rose in the HoF.

So, here is the secondary question along this line:

Joe Torre's accomplishments as a player have not yet been sufficient to get him into the Hall of Fame. However, as a manager he has a bunch of World Series Championships and a ten-year streak of playoff appearances with the Yankees. That looks awufully good - - until you count up the number of steroid users who were on his teams during that run of successes.

Torre has never been connected with using steroids but his teams had more than a few good players who did. Should his managerial accomplishments with the Yankees be devalued in the context of Torre's qulaifications for the Hall of Fame?

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 5/27/2009 10:24 PM  

Mr. Curmudgeon (or may I call you "Sports"):

Before I an answer, I have to pose a question to you: Suppose Rose's gambling had come to light in 1985, while he was still playing, and he accepted the suspension then. Should he still be in the Hall because of all those hits and other on-field accomplishments? If yes, then we are working from entirely different premises. You also are rendering Rule 3E a nullity.

As for Torre, I don't think there is any question he is a Hall of Fame manager. I don't believe the fact that he was managing during the era when many/most players (including some of his own) were using changes that (at least absent some finding that Torre was actively dealing or ordering his players to use). But remember that my starting point was agreement with the argument that steroid use should not be disqualifying for Hall consideration (at least pre-2005). So my answer on Torre should not be surprising.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 5/28/2009 7:12 AM  

Call me anything - - except late for dinner...

If Pete Rose had been gambling on baseball while he was a player and if that fact had been proven by reasonable standards - - recognizing that it would not have been a court proceeding that rendered the adjucication - - I would NOT want Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.

In that case, I would put him in the same category as the Black Sox players back in the early 1920s in terms of improprieties that cast the game of baseball in a very bad light.

However, I don't think there is much evidence to suggest that a suspension in 1985 was a likely event even with all of the investigations and revelations that happened in the subsequent years.

I think that the Hall of Fame needs to recognize on-field accomplishments more than anything else. Sure, a person such as Branch Rickey belongs in the Hall of Fame for his contributions even though they did not include prodigious "game stats". But when a situation exists wherein a player has been an outstanding performer for 20+ years and has achieved something no one else in the history of the game has done, then that person needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

If in addition he was such a miscrant that the situation merits it, then the display around his bust whould be filled with exhibits testifying to his "miscreant-hood".

Let me be clear about the other point I made. In no way was I even hinting that Joe Torre encouraged, aided or abetted any of his players to use PEDs. I merely meant to point out that there were a lot of Yankee players who were "using" and that has come to light rather clearly in the past 2-3 years. And in that light, I merely wondered if some of his managerial achievements need to be discounted.

Based on his performance as a player only, I would personally not vote Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. [For the record, I also would not have Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Bill Mazeroski or Don Drysdale in the Hall of Fame and I would have flipped a coin to decide whether or not to vote for Ozzie Smith.] However, I believe that Torre's managerial achievements add to his playing record very favorably and that he should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 5/28/2009 3:27 PM  

To my mind there are only two reasons that disqualify a player from the hall of fame. One is intentionally throwing a game or taking money to do so. The other is to engage in illegal conduct off the field that enhances the player's level of performance or increases his team's chances of winning.

Consequently, Joe Jackson is properly kept out of the Hall, no matter how one interprets his performance in the 1919 World Series. A player who participated in a plot to physically injure an opponent off the field would be similarly banned. (As far as I know, this has never happened.) The use of illegal anabolic steroids and other such substances is also a proper grounds for denial.

Pete Rose was not guilty of any of these offenses (so far as I know) and thus should not be banned from the Hall of Fame.

I understand why there needs to be a rule against betting on your own team--although Jeff Standen has made an interesting case that such betting is actually a good thing. However, I do not see the breach of that rule as fundamentally disqualifying the player from HOF consideration.

Rules against beanballs, spitballs, stealing signs, and intentionally failing to touch bases are similar. On field cheating is part of the game. Such acts do not destroy the integrity of the game, they mere challenge the efficacy of officiating. Such conduct carries a risk of punishment appropriate to the offense.

Blogger J Gordon Hylton -- 6/03/2009 10:39 AM  

Based on his stats, of course he should be in. I will point out, however, that some of his stats are inflated by the fact that he hung around way after he was washed up. In 1982, for instance (5 years before he retired) he played in every game and batted .271 with 3 HR and 54 RBI. Undoubtedly the worst regular 1st baseman in MLB that year.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/05/2009 6:43 PM  

So as I have read it, he signed a paper agreeing that he did something "Banworthy" but not admitting what it was. This document also stated that he could apply for reinstatement after one year. Then 2 years after this happened, the rules were changed which procluded him from making it into the HOF. I'm no legal expert, but in nearly every instance that I can think of, such rule changes are not retroactive. Which to me means that people on the "Banned List" before this rule was enacted would not have been effected by it. The only thing I can see here is that it appears as if this rule was put designed specifically to keep Pete Rose out of the HOF. That makes it personal. Some person or group of persons, (for whatever reason they may have) has decided that it was up to them to keep Pete Rose out of the HOF and they set about doing that. His inclusion shouldn't be about someone's feelings about him, it should be about his records and accomplishments. I believe he earned his place there. I believe he deserves a place there and I believe someone is or has screwed him out of his rightful place there. Thanks for the time and place to present my thoughts on this matter...

Anonymous BealzaBob -- 7/05/2009 12:09 AM  


Non-criminal legal rules can be (and frequently are) made retroactive; the only requirement is that the enacting body make clear its intent that the rule would be retroactive. The Hall did this.

Rule 3E unquestionably was enacted with Rose in mind (and, to a lesser extent, Shoeless Joe, who was enjoying a renewed groundswell of support from some veterans in the late '80s and early '90s). But most legal rules are enacted with a specific case in mind; the rule still applies generally, so that does not render it improper as a "legislative" rule.

The Rule was not necessarily a dramatic change. Jackson was not under consideration for the Hall all that time, in part based on an implicit understanding (a Common Law rule, if you will) that players on the Permanently Ineligible list should not be in the Hall. Rule 3E simply codified that informal practice.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/27/2009 9:34 PM  

Post a Comment