“LET PETE IN! LET PETE IN!..” The defiant chant from a Cincinnati crowd as their hero, Pete Rose, took to the field in a pre-game ceremony at the 2015 All-Star Game. He is a symbol of better times in Reds baseball, when “The Big Red Machine” dominated the game in the 1970s by brute force and concentrated will. Incredible hustle and a strong core knowledge of the game won them World Series titles in 1975 and 1976, and brought names like Bench, Griffey, Perez, and Geronimo to households across the world in an era where more people watched World Series Baseball than the Super Bowl. For many baseball historians, they were the best team with the best players in the best era of baseball ever. Their “Fear No One” attitude and swagger is perfectly embodied by their third baseman, the man that stood at The Great American Ballpark 40 years later, panhandling for support to back his latest push for baseball immortality, hoping the deafening cheers of the Cincinnati faithful would drown out the facts that he not only committed the cardinal sin of the game he professed to love so much, but that he lied about it… and lied about it… and lied about it for 4 decades.
Baseball is a funny game. It’s history is both factual and fictional, and the two are so essentially intertwined, that one cannot exist without the other. It’s the only game where ghosts from centuries ago are still the standard that we hold for ballplayers in perpetuity. Even the intangible factors of the game remain something that are hotly debated. No one hit the ball as hard as Bo, as far as Mickey, or as often as Joe. Threw as hard as Walter, as keenly as Greg, or as crazy as Satchel. Yet we insist on defending or attacking these traits as though they were stone cold facts, and the players were our own sons. I would conjecture that the only true qualifier for a players debatable greatness is the hallowed halls of Cooperstown: The Baseball Hall of Fame.
It is the undebatable facet of playing America’s game at its highest level, the one unanimous overall objective for anyone who dons a major league uniform, regardless of where they are, what position they play, and how they got there. It’s members are elected annually, and debated hourly. It is also the great contradiction in the games history as well. It is the place we claim integrity rules all, that the players that are elected contributed to the game in such a way, that they are worthy of being remembered forever, regardless of what lies ahead. Yet drunks, racists, addicts, cheaters and even gamblers line the walls and are revered as saints and true examples of greatness, worthy of immortality, which screams hypocrisy on a truly epic scale.
So why keep Mr. Rose out?
Because it doesn’t need him in.. In fact, they shouldn’t take him.
It’s a disservice to the game itself to say that it’s ever totally fair. In the batters box, you can hit a ball on the screws, right into the glove of an unsuspecting short stop. On the mound, a perfectly placed pitch can bounce off that same short stops glove and allow the winning run to cross. In the field, that short stop (statistically) makes that exact same play 98% of the time, but flubs the game winning line drive, allowing the run to cross and lose the game. Over time, many adjustments have been made to the ball, the mound, the field itself, and even to us as fans, coaches, owners and players to negate any concept of fairness. Ruth never played against black players, Koufax benefitted from a new strike zone and raised mound, and Branch Rickey never had to deal with free agency. We need that imperfection, because it is a reflection of us as a people. Ty Cobb is undoubtedly one of the worst (in terms of character) people to ever play the game, but he is an important landmark in society that SHOULD be preserved, thanks to his astounding on-field accomplishments.
So why not Pete Rose?
The commissioner who sent this controversial icon into exile probably said it best himself, and we can learn from his words, for they transcend baseball into our lives as Americans, sports fans, and people.
“It will come as no surprise that like any institution composed of human beings, this institution will not always fulfill its highest aspirations. I know of no earthly institution that does. But this one, because it is so much a part of our history as a people and because it has such a purchase on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played – to its fans and well-wishers – to strive for excellence in all things and to promote the highest ideals.” – Bart Giamatti
I believe the message that he’s trying to deliver is that Pete Rose NEEDS to be banished from the game. He is the example, the collateral damage in a life lesson. He did the one thing that he couldn’t do, and while your head will have to be firmly buried in the sand to claim that no one had ever done it before or since, he needs to be the one to pay the price for it. No human governed body will ever be perfect, but simply do the best it can when it has the chance, and that will leave some people in its wake.
Charlie Hustle will live on in our memories, a sort of verbal heirloom of the game that will permeate little league fields across the world as an inspiration to those who may not have the natural gifts, or were not given all the advantages of their more heralded peers, and a stark reminder that no matter who you are, the dignity of the game, for better or worse, will always come first.
Keep him out of the hall, but in our memories. That’s the way it should be.