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Monday, July 27, 2009
Rose to be reinstated? Baseball and gambling
Reports are coming out that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is considering reinstating Pete Rose to baseball, this after Henry Aaron spoke in support of Rose at Sunday's Hall of Fame induction. Reinstatement virtually ensures Rose's induction into the Hall, perhaps as early as next year. The only thing that had been keeping Rose out was Hall of Fame Rule 3E, which bars from Hall induction any person on MLB's Permanent Ineligible List. I think the Veterans' Committee will vote him in, probably overwhelmingly; former players typically are more forgiving of player transgressions than writers.
Some random thoughts.
First, I have to get past my instinct to simply conclude that, if Bud Selig is thinking about doing this, it must be a bad idea. The timing is interesting, as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of both Rose' ban and the brief commissionership and untimely death of Bart Giamatti. Selig would be undoing the signature act of, arguably, the last strong non-owner commissioner.
Second, what does this say about our system of punishment? Rose accepted permanent ineligibility from the game and has admitted to conduct (betting on games in which his own team was involved) that, under Major League Rule 21(d) carries an automatic punishment of permanent ineligibility. But now it appears he is going to get back into the game (and probably the Hall) within his lifetime, although the 20 years he lost as a manager, executive, ambassador, etc., certainly are nothing to sneeze at. Is this the equivalent of a commuted sentence--he served his time, he has reformed himself, let him get on with his life? Or is this more like a pardon--a subsequent statement that Rose did nothing wrong? Are the goals of punishment and of MLB furthered by this move, which ultimately gives Rose everything he wanted?
Third, what about the Black Sox? This move would establish precedent that a permanent ban for gambling-related activity is not, in fact, a permanent ban. If Rose can be reinstated after twenty years, is there any argument against reinstating the Black Sox players after eighty? Can there be any rational distinction drawn between the Sox players and Rose that would justify reinstating the latter and not some or all of the former? And does Selig know the Pandora's Box he may be opening? (See # 1).
After all, some of them were suspended for arguably less-serious infractions than Rose--Shoeless Joe Jackson took money but did nothing to lose games; Buck Weaver took no money and was punished only for knowing about the fix and not informing team and league officials. Reprehensible conduct to be sure; but Selig seems to be in a forgiving mood. Moreover, without excusing the Black Sox, context matters. Baseball during the first twenty years of the last century was a few steps above professional wrestling--gambling, fixing games, etc., were pervasive, constantly discussed, and mostly ignored. Talk of fixed World Series games went all the way back to the first Series in 1903 and there was talk of fixes in both the 1917 and 1918 Series, as well as late-season shenanigans in 1917-19. The hiring of Kenesaw Mountain Landis reflected a conscious move by the Major Leagues to shed that image as entertainment and become a true, on-the-level competition. Of course, the gambling problems continued even into the '20s, notably with the forced "resignations" in 1926 of managers (and retired greats) Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb in the wake of allegations of they fixed regular-season games. By the time Rose came along, on the other hand, the rules and the history were well-established and could not have been clearer--gambling, especially gambling on games involving your team, was the ultimate baseball sin; it even was posted on the wall of every Major League Clubhouse. That knowledge arguably makes Rose's conduct more unforgivable.
Fourth, Buster Olney of ESPN argues that reinstatement and enshrinement does nothing to Rose's legacy one way or another; his conduct over the past twenty+ years has tarnished his reputation, although his greatness as a player remains undeniable (if too-often dramatically overstated and overrated). So this presents two questions: