I, like many at Red Reporter, am not the typical Cincinnati Pete Rose fan boy. I know he is far from a great man (but who of us isn't?) I am too young to have watched Pete Rose in person, I was 2 years old when he was banned from the game. But I have tremendous respect and admiration for Pete Rose the player; he was, by most accounts, the hardest working man in baseball. He never took a game, an inning, a play, or an at bat for granted. He was the ideal blue collar hero baseball player, not tremendously talented but a guy who not only survived but prospered by hard work. I doubt there were many scouts in the early sixties who saw a young Pete Rose play who thought to themselves this guy is going to one day hold the record for most hits in a game. But by sheer will power Pete Rose became that man.
He fit or maybe even created the image of what tends to have been the trademark of successful Cincinnati baseball teams, he relentlessly went after the opposition with aggressive yet smart baseball. In Slyde's book on the 1990 Reds that seemed to be part of that team, and Davie Johnson remarked that the 1995 team was the most enertaining team in the league that year as it was filled with fast guy who aggressively ran the bases. Who can forget Philips 2010 All-Star game quote of "First to third, that's how we do it in Cincinnati, baby".
We all know about Pete Rose's demons there is no need and nothing I can contribute to that discussion, what he did has been fleshed out a great deal. I guess the question is how does what he took from the game compare to what he gave the game? There is not a moral calculator, this is no something a stat or a formula can solve, but for over 20 years Pete Rose was one of the most exciting players in the game.
The Hall of Fame is a place where fans from across country travel to for the purpose of celebrating baseball. Walking around Cooperstown you will see scores of different team's hats. A Red's fan and Cardinal's fan will stand next to each other in the Babe Ruth room and be mournful that they did not get a chance to see baseball's greatest legend. All the players enshrined in that hallowed hall were the most exciting players of their time. Exciting is really the most optimal word to use to describe them. Most of what happens in baseball from pitch to pitch is predictable, most pitches will be balls or strikes caught by the catcher and thrown back to the pitcher, and about 70% of the time the batter will fail to reach first base. But all the inaction builds tension causing baseball is a game of anticipation, you sit and wait for something to happen. If you are down by one run and it is the seventh inning you get excited when the lead off hitter has 3 balls, more excited when he reaches first, more excited when the next hitter laces a single moving the base runner to third. Then, if you are at the game in person, you see all of the vast green space that the ball can safely land and you think about what you will do when the tying and go ahead runs touch home. The players in the Hall of Fame provided the most excitement, they were players, who even though the majority of the time they still made outs, you expected to do something abnormal every time the stepped to the plate. That is why we love Joey Votto because we expect him to break the rut whenever he bats.
Pete Rose may have been the most exciting player of his time. Shouldn't baseball fans be able to celebrate that at the Hall of Fame? He has been held out of baseball for 22 years now, isn't that enough? I do not know if he should ever manage again, that comes down to whether or not you trust him. I do not know Pete Rose well enough to have an opinion on that. But should we not be able to celebrate his accomplishments and what he gave to the game as a player? Let the Reds retire the number, let him regularly stand on a Major League field. Let him be a guest coach in Spring Training and talk to young players about how to play the game the way he did. Let him be an inspiration to the not too terribly talented but hard working AAA third baseman. It is fair to not let him take a strong and active role in day to day operations of MLB, but let him be honored for his accomplishments.
Gambling is a Cardinal sin in baseball for a good reason. While the 1919 World Series was the pinnacle of baseball's gambling problems, gambling had gone on so long that the American public began to doubt the integrity of the game. The results did not matter if one side tried to lose. But Pete Rose's gambling issues occurred after his playing days ended. He would not have been able to put up the numbers he did if he was comprising his play to win bets or be paid off by bookies. So let us celebrate Pete Rose the player, and consider Pete Rose the player to be a separate entity than Pete Rose the man. baseball's writers and punishing Pete Rose, who knows he belongs there, as much as they are punishing fans. Betting does not take away from what Pete Rose the player did. It may take away from people's perceptions of Pete Rose the man, but gambling problem or not Pete Rose was one of the best to wear a uniform.