It seems like every couple of years, we revisit this issue. Has he paid his dues? Does he deserve more recognition?
And just like always, Pete Rose has visited the spotlight and left it without any change.
I’m not here to say that’s a bad thing, necessarily. I’m just tired of hearing about it.
Let’s call a spade a spade, here. Pete Rose wants to be in the Hall of Fame. He wants to be recognized for his achievements, and he wants to be part of baseball again. He’s doing shoe commercials mocking the fact that he’s not allowed "in the Hall". It’s his primary cause in life right now, outside of doing what he can to capitalize off of the fame he still has left. (Which includes a bomb of a TLC reality show.)
I say "fame he still has left", because the newer generations of baseball fans aren’t as sympathetic to his cause, especially outside of Cincinnati. I didn’t grow up watching Pete Rose. Personally, I grew up watching a Reds franchise who feebly attempted to placate a fan base of Pete Rose fans. I watched the team I loved run Chris Stynes, Ryan Freel, and Adam Rosales out onto the field, and watched them get standing ovations at my home ballpark. I grew up in a city where any talk radio caller will tell you how the Reds don’t play enough "small ball", and rooted for a franchise who tried to build a team to cater to those fans. I watched my fellow Reds fans run Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn out of town because they didn’t sprint to the outfield in between innings.
Don't believe me? The Reds' flagship station, WLW, ran this promo on the same day Dunn was traded.
Do we still wonder if the local media here has influence on fan opinion?
I think a lot of this is further influenced by Pete Rose.
To understand Pete Rose's relationship with Cincinnati, you have to understand Cincinnati. Cincinnati is and has always been a blue-collar town, especially on the West Side of the city, where Pete grew up. The personality you see on national FOX broadcasts? Go to any dive bar and Cheviot, and you can find that same guy.
Cincinnatians identify with Pete, for better or for worse. His supporters still stand by him because he's still the same guy that they've known their whole lives. Pete Rose is every Cincinnatian's bumbling uncle at the barbecue, telling a story about a guy he saw at the horse track last week. Same old Pete.
Except, somewhere along the way, somebody decided that all Cincinnati Reds aren't "true Reds" if they don't share Pete's "aw shucks" personality. Somehow, Pete being the kind of player from humble beginnings who scrapped and clawed his way to more hits than anyone else translates into the Pete Rose Way being the only way to be a baseball player.
Even today, with the 2015 Reds. The blue-collar fans here are absolutely done with Jay Bruce. They’ve been done with Joey Votto for a while. They have a mindless reverence for Brandon Phillips, despite declining play on the field and the fact that he bullied a beat writer in front of the manager and didn’t get disciplined for it. They look at him and see Joe Morgan, to the point where Bob Castellini gave him a 6-year, $72M extension before the 2012 season. He’s been worth 9.2 bWAR since signing, including his 4.0 bWAR season in 2012 before his steep decline. The reviled Joey Votto’s been worth 17.2 bWAR since then.
Pete Rose’s influence steers fan opinion away from productive baseball players, and to flair and panache. Last time I checked, that doesn’t win ballgames. As a Reds fan, I think the Reds franchise would be better off if Pete Rose had never played for them.
Other fan bases don't have that problem, do they? Cardinals fans aren't running every shortstop out of town who isn't doing backflips. Why is "being like Pete Rose" still this important in Cincinnati?
(photo David Kohl, USAToday Sports)
As for the future, I’m not sure how MLB should handle Pete Rose. If they recognize him while he’s still alive, Pete gets what he wants, and honestly, he doesn’t deserve the satisfaction. Pete broke the cardinal rule of baseball, and deserves to live out the consequences of that. Anyone talking about how he’s "paid his dues" has Rose-colored glasses on, and is probably a Reds fan feeling nostalgic. And the upcoming generations of Reds fans don’t have that nostalgia. Since they’ve been alive, "Pete Rose in baseball" has been past tense, and they’ve heard more about him as a cheater than they have as a winning baseball player.
On the other hand, Pete Rose has more MLB hits than anyone else in the Hall of Fame. That’s an accomplishment that absolutely deserves to be recognized, and I think most MLB fans and the commissioner’s office can see the conundrum there.
There’s also the argument that the sooner there’s a resolution, the sooner Pete leaves the spotlight, which I also think is true. If you let him in now, then all future debate about whether to reinstate him goes away, which I think MLB would be fine with. I can’t imagine Rob Manfred wants to spend his entire tenure as commissioner answering these questions like his predecessor did. That, and even if he is reinstated, that probably just means he'll come back up in Hall of Fame discussions every year as the voters don't vote him in.
As I said before, I’m not sure what the answer is. But like some fans in Cincinnati, I’m ready for my favorite team to move on without him.