Not only during the last few weeks, but for 14 years the debate as to whether or not Pete Rose should be in the baseball Hall of Fame has been a topic for discussion among fans and critics who seek to honor the best players of our national pastime. There is no debate when it comes to his qualifying credentials.
He and Ty Cobb had more in common than their ability to get in trouble and attract adverse criticism. Whatever problems each faced in their brilliant careers were of their own doing. Rose, nicknamed "Charley Hustle" by the great Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford, brought excitement to the game not only by his record number of hits, but also by running like a scared jackrabbit every time he received a walk. I doubt that he ever walked or trotted out a walk.
When the first Hall of Fame ballots were cast in 1936, Ty Cobb, who retired in 1928 after 24 seasons in the majors, led all candidates by being named on 222 of the 226 ballots cast. He still holds a record that will probably never be broken, a .366 career batting average. He had collected 4,192 hits, a total far ahead of all others until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1985. The hustling kid from Cincinnati finished his career with 4,256 hits, more than any man who ever played major league baseball.
Pete Rose was named to 17 All-Star teams and even more astounding to a record five different positions -- second, third, first, left field and right field. Other books have been written recounting his unmatched career as a baseball player with all its many honors and accomplishments.
Nobody who is schooled in baseball would insist that Rose be denied entrance into baseball's Hall of Fame based on his accomplishments on the field. The problem comes from his involvement in a non-baseball activity called "gambling". It first erupted on a major league scale in the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and, of all teams, the Cincinnati Reds for whom Pete played second base in his rookie year of 1963.
The underdog Reds won the Series five games to three. Eight players went on trial for conspiracy in June, 1921. They were all acquitted, however, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball, U.S. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, exercised unusual power and banned all players involved in the gambling from ever again playing professional baseball.
Rose and Cobb excelled on the baseball fields of America, but were less successful in other areas of life. Both had problems with gambling. Commissioner Landis excused Cobb, but Commissioner Bart Giamatti placed a lifetime ban from the game on Rose in August 1989. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, one of the greatest hitters in baseball who played for the team often referred to as "The Black Sox" was also banned for life. He was said to be very poorly educated.
As I have listened to baseball writers and talk show hosts talk with and about Pete Rose, I have sometimes wondered if their smoothness with many words may not be overwhelming. Is Pete really feeling in his own mind and heart what they want him to say, but the words they want to hear just do not come out? Part of the problem may lie in his inability to articulate his own thoughts.
When I think of all the players in the Hall of Fame and all who vote them in and are connected with baseball in any way, I am not even close to being convinced that Pete is the only sinner among them. Perhaps he committed the unpardonable sin in baseball, but it seems to me that in the total scheme of things of eternal value there should be no such sin. Punishment, yes. Eternal punishment, no. That will come later at the final judgement for all who reject forgiveness.
"Peter came to Jesus and asked Him, 'Lord, how often am I to forgive my brother who sins against me? Seven times?' Jesus answered him, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times'" (Matthew 18:21-22 NET).
Commissioner Bud Selig, isn't there just "one more forgiveness" and absolution left for Peter Rose? Perhaps he has more sorrow, regret, and repentance in his heart than he is able to express to satisfy all of us who want every ounce of punishment and vengeance we can extract from this tortured man and his twisted mind. We all need daily an extra supply of grace and forgiveness; otherwise, we would live like Pete, in the prison of our own making. Freedom is a wonderful blessing he should experience for the remaining years of his life.
The decision is not an easy one. May Commissioner Selig make the wise choice, the one he can enjoy living with forever. Whatever happens, for Pete's sake, buy the book and read his side of the story. I'm on the side of contrition, forgiveness, and restoration. But for the grace of God we would all be caught in a hopeless trap of sinful addiction.
Copyright © 2004 Bill Ellis. All rights reserved.