Before the baseball world labels me as just another knuckle-head trying to make a buck at the expense of the game, I want to assure everyone that I have been a fan for a very long time. As a little tike, I was taken to Senator’s games way back when the coolest thing to see on a sunny Sunday afternoon at RFK stadium was big Frank Howard striking out. Man, did he swing hard! Of course, I played little league, and as a scrappy third baseman, I likened myself to Brooks Robinson. As a kid back in the 60’s, I would buy the packs of baseball cards, as much for the gum as the cards, and unless it was a Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron or Pete Rose, I would clothespin them to the forks of my bike to make it sound like I was cruising around on a motorcycle. When I was 10, and heartbroken that the Senators were moving to Texas, my Dad took my brother and me to Game 6 of the 1971 World Series, the Pirates vs the Orioles. I got to see Jim Palmer and Dave McNally pitch, and Roberto Clemente homered. The Orioles won in 10 innings. It was very exciting . It was difficult having to start liking the Orioles because the Senators were gone, but growing up in northern Virginia, there was no other recourse. When I was 13, in 1974, I had a small black and white tv in my room, which my mother allowed unbenounced to my father, so that instead of doing homework I could watch Hank Aaron hit his 714th homerun. When I was on my own in Daytona Beach, Florida, the only baseball on tv were Braves games, back when the Braves were really terrible. It was fun routing for Dale Murphy and the gang. There was an upside to them being so bad. I would occasionally make the drive to Atlanta for a weekend set, and getting to the ballpark early, I would be able to meet the players as they would park in player parking and walk into the stadium. Because there was not much interest in them back then, they were very accessible. It was a great thrill to meet my favorite players, like Jim Presley, Jeff Blauser, and Jeff Treadway. On one such weekend, I had stopped by Paris Island, South Carolina to watch my kid brother graduate from Marine Corps boot camp. I took him for the weekend to get some fresh air and take in some ball games. On the way up, listening to the radio, I learned that Russ Nixon had been fired. I was so angry! When we got to the stadium, I got a program and hanging around the dugout before the game, got the new manager to autograph it, as well as some of the players. Bobby Cox signed it, a rookie named David Justice signed it, and during the game I actually threw the program down from the upper deck to the press box and Skip Carray and Don Sutton both signed it. After the game, I walked shoulder to shoulder with Ron Gant as he searched for his car in player parking. He couldn’t find his car, and he wouldn’t sign my program. (Thanks, Ron.) Starting a family in Sarasota, Florida meant I could take my young children to spring training games for both the Orioles and the White Sox. I’ve got a photo of Hall of Fame Superstar Frank Robinson holding my baby daughter in his arm. I got Cal Ripken Sr. and Cal Ripken Jr. to autograph a program. I even took my kids to see Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan play on the other side of town. Michael Jordan made a tremendous play on a ball in right field where he was in a full sprint and laid all the way out to make the grab. And I remember being intimidated by Bo Jackson just seeing him stand in the on deck circle. His legs were so powerful-looking, it was frightening. And there was a very impressive young player named Frank Thomas. It was a lot of fun following his career. I hope history treats him well, because the Big Hurt’s mastery of the strike zone was like nothing I’ve ever seen for a man with such power, except for maybe some guy named Pujols. When my son reached the age of showing interest in baseball cards, there was an exciting rookie named Alex Rodriguez. I started buying all the A-Rod rookie cards for Christmas presents and birthdays, as well as the complete sets for my son to pass on to his kids. At one particular card show in Tampa, I had the wonderfully exhilarating chance to meet and shake hands with Ricky Henderson. That was a real highlight for me! As my son began to play little league, I coached his teams for a number of years, until he figured out that he wasn’t going to play professionally, then we enrolled him in Karate. One Labor Day weekend we were driving to a family gathering in Maine, and stopped off in Boston to catch a game at Fenway. I was very excited to have my young son see a game at Fenway, and see Ken Griffey, Junior and Alex Rodriguez play. Boston’s pitcher, Tom (Flash) Gordon carried a no-no through six. Mo Vaughn hit a tremendous homerun which seemed to fly out over the monster more in center than in left. Junior ended up hitting a 3-run bomb to win it for the Mariners. While up in Maine, we made it to a Portland Sea Dogs game, and set the record for the largest crowd in Maine to do the Macarena together. My brother-in-law and I took my son to Baltimore to see the visiting Texas Rangers, and yes, we got to see A-Rod homer. I later learned that baseball cards were produced commemorating Alex’s first 500 homeruns. I found out which was the game we saw together that day in Baltimore, and bought those cards for all three of us for Christmas one year. When Washington got another baseball franchise, I took my son to the first home game. He got to see our President throw out the first pitch. We were going to watch Vinny Castilla, the Nats’ third baseman, hit for the cycle in their first ever home opener, but in his last at bat, some punk, 2-bit, no-good reliever plunked him. Booooo. We made it to a few more Nationals’ games, most importantly, once when the Braves were in town, my son got to see Greg Maddux pitch. My son is off to college now, but we still both have our own teams in the same fantasy league, so at least we spend a day together for the draft, and we’ll negotiate trades, and discuss how various players’ careers are going. We’ll catch a game here and there. We’ve been watching some great college baseball lately. On numerous occasions, my son has expressed interest in going to see the Baseball Hall of Fame, to see the exhibit for a relative of ours, who is enshrined there. I told him very simply that we cannot visit there until they enshrine Pete Rose, where Pete belongs. Although it sounds crazy, I pride myself on my ability to hold a grudge against companies. It’s very important to me to not hold grudges against people, and I hope I have successfully taught my children to not hold grudges against people, too. However, holding a grudge against a business is a very healthy way to operate in a capitalist society, as it creates an environment where customer satisfaction is paramount. So, as I grew up liking the heck out of Charlie Hustle, and the way he played the game, I am holding a grudge against the Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball, until Pete gets in. In my opinion, the Hall is incomplete without him, and not worthy of my visit, and we will keep our visitation of ball parks to a bare minimum, as well as merchandise sales. Of course, just as I think grudges are a useful tool to protect consumers, they are not the only answer, if a resolution can be reached. It may be too late as I may have poisoned my son (and his future sons, etc) about the business of baseball, but I hope not. So, this book, in answer to some of my son’s tough questions, is my attempt at resolving an issue that requires some serious consideration. If baseball wants to punish Pete Rose for betting on baseball, maybe it should do so in some other way that lets the fan base know that baseball is serious about integrity, and still make it a deterrent, but without trying to erase Pete from the history books. Don’t try to erase him from the history of baseball. My son asked, “Why isn’t Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame?” I’m telling him that the jury’s still out on that one. Pete Rose played Major League Baseball for over twenty years. Because baseball was such a large part of Pete’s life, he quite possibly knew the game better than just about everybody. And, because Pete knew baseball better than most, he could bet on it and win, and bet on it he did. The problem with his betting on baseball is that as a player and a manager, he could directly affect the outcome of a game which tarnishes the integrity of the each game he bet on, and tarnishes the overall public perception of a sport that may not always be played fairly. It’s a form of cheating, or at least a perception of the door being left open for cheating, as players may be motivated to play the game a certain way to affect the outcome. Did Pete ever throw a game? There’s no evidence that he ever bet AGAINST his team. But he did bet, and that is forbidden by baseball. Pete was wrong. As punishment for his transgressions, Pete was banned for life from all Major League Baseball activities, because that was in baseball’s best interest. Baseball’s commissioner has been very clear that it’s all about what’s best for baseball. My son asked, “What if Pete was only betting on his team to win?” I explained how rules are rules, and if the fans get even the slightest notion that the game is not being played fairly, it might jeopardize their loyalty. If the fans lose interest and turn to other sports or other activities, it would impact a lot of people who make a living through baseball. There are the players, of course, and the managers, coaches and trainers. Then there are the folks associated with stadium operations like ticket takers, food and merchandise vendors, grounds crews, security, administration, maintenance, ticket sales, luxury box sales, catering, marketing, public relations, and so on. Then there are the media folks, the television camera operators, producers, announcers, and also the radio and print people. Then, there are others involved, as well, like medical personnel, insurance providers, lawyers, agents, uniform makers, bat makers, glove makers, beer brewers, etc. And, even outside the stadium it continues with parking, taxis, limousines, airlines, hotels, gas stations, restaurants, merchandisers, etc. Then there are the nearby neighboring businesses, too, that may get business from being close to a stadium. And, just when we think we’ve got our brains wrapped around all the people making money from their association with baseball, then one has to factor in all of the same networks associated with all of the minor league teams all across the country. And, as if that weren’t enough, there are the online merchandise sales, and baseball card shops, and even online auction sites which make commissions from the sales of baseball related merchandise. So, when the Commissioner says he needs to protect the integrity of the game, he’s doing so for historical reasons, and pragmatically, for business reasons. And, he wants to protect MLB because it’s a business. There are a lot of jobs created by a baseball team. So, protecting the integrity means people will continue to trust and love the game, and a lot of folks will have jobs, so protecting both seems like a good idea. Oh, and did I mention the part about the owners of the 32 Major League Baseball franchise? Yes, they like making money, so protecting the integrity of the game is of great interest to them too. So, when it was discovered that Pete had been betting on baseball, it was very important that a deterrent was implemented to signal to the fans that baseball takes integrity seriously and that baseball has no room for anyone who might jeopardize the fan base, or the jobs associated with selling the product known as baseball to that fan base. So I acknowledge that Pete strayed pretty far from acceptable behavior. I also believe that the punishment no longer fits the crime. In the pages that follow, I will put forth my arguments, and in good old baseball fashion, just like getting three swings per at-bat, I will support each argument with three solid examples. This whole project is short and sweet, and by the end of it, you will see I have even outlined an Action Plan. In this day and age, we have the power of the internet to access all the people involved in this. We baseball fans may very well have the power to change this situation. Please read on. I’ve come up with 10 arguments that hold water as to why it’s OK to let Pete back into baseball. Hopefully, as Pete turns 70 this year, we can find it in our hearts to help him.
If a baseball fan wants to question the altitude of that high moral ground from where the Hall currently enjoys such a marvelous view, one must simply ask the question, “Are there no bad people in the hall?” Well, if I’m going to stick to my parameters of three examples per argument, I need to find three bad people in the Hall, right? Wrong. I would prefer not to judge folks in such a manner. Let’s say that I would need to identify three people that have done bad things, but their transgressions have either been forgiven or conveniently overlooked. My point here is that if there is room in Baseball’s heart to forget or forgive these guys, then, maybe there’s room for Pete.
Of the original inductees into the Hall of Fame, Ty Cobb is the easiest to identify as someone who did bad things. Cobb’s career statistical accomplishments earned him a shrine in the Hall. For a long time, he was the Hit King. He had a great lifetime average, and he could steal some bases too. I, in no way, intend to lessen the accomplishments of Cobb or any other ballplayer. However, there are stories about Mr. Cobb out there that in today’s society could not go overlooked. Just his hateful and dangerous way of sliding into bases with his spikes up would not be tolerated, or the way he treated Babe Ruth around the batting cage before games when their teams would meet. It is regarded as common knowledge that Mr. Cobb was verbally abusive to Ruth and heckled him with racial slurs simply because of the shape of the Babe’s nose. There’s also a story about Mr. Cobb rushing into the stands and attacking a heckling fan, while the fan had no hands to defend himself. Then there is the speculation surrounding how the Commissioner at the time was considering action against Cobb and others for betting on and throwing games, and how Cobb must have had something on the Commissioner, because after they met, the whole matter was dropped and not spoken of again. The validity of these stories are only going to be as trusted as the writers who wrote them. And back before television, the writers must have enjoyed a very unique relationship with the wealthy and powerful team owners. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to surmise that writers might put a spin on any story so that the fans would love baseball, not hate it. I’m sure ticket sales were very important, back then too. So, regardless of how it’s spun, and romanticized, it is widely accepted that Ty Cobb was not a great ambassador fo baseball, but nonetheless, he is in the Hall.
Another original inductee into the Hall was George Herman “Babe” Ruth. His career numbers are legendary. There are other aspects to the Babe which are legendary, as well. The Babe was known for his appetites. He enjoyed life like the larger than life character that he was. I’m not here to judge the man. I bring him up not as an example of someone who did something bad, but because I want folks to acknowledge that we would all be sent to counseling, and probably lose our jobs and our families if we tried living life like Babe Ruth did. So, Cobb a good example for my argument, Ruth not (because nothing specific).
My next good example is going to be Ferguson Jenkins. As much as I would like to use Joe DiMaggio as my next example of a person in the Hall who did bad things, has anybody read that recently published book by Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Ben Cramer, about Joe? If it were even remotely possible that DiMaggio had seedy connections or loose morals, or had gotten physical in his purported abuse of his wife, Marilyn Monroe, than he should be forever remembered as someone who did bad things and was not an appropriate ambassador for baseball. Let’s just say that for every American that fondly remembers John F. Kennedy, and has a place in their heart for Marilyn Monroe (it’s funny how the collective American nostalgia works!), then Joe DiMaggio would be remembered as somebody who did something bad. But, I’m not going to use Joe as my second example. Instead, I’ll use Fergie Jenkins, a man caught with multiple illegal drugs in his possession by customs while trying to cross a border. Illegal drug use. Is it violent? No. Is it a victimless crime? I don’t want to open too many cans of worms at once. All I know is that charity and forgiveness are available if you’re lucky, as Ferguson Jenkins is not only back in baseball after being banned, but is even enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.
For my third example of a ball player in the Hall who had done something bad, I was going to cite one of a couple pitchers who had cheated by way of doctoring baseballs. Don Sutton even joked about it many years ago in an interview. But, for my third example, the Baseball Writers Association of America made it easy for me. They just elected Roberto Alomar into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Alomar played for 17 seasons, was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Gold Gloves, had a career .300 batting average, drove in over 1,100 runs, scored over 1,500 runs, and spit a mouthful on an umpire in the heat of an argument. If you want to say that he was borderline when deciding whether he crossed the line or not on that one, you’re kidding yourself. I’m utterly amazed that nobody has breathed a peep about it in the time surrounding his election to the Hall. At the time it happened, it was the most disgraceful and despicable act, and everyone immediately distanced themselves from him for that. I remember it well because I thought a lot about Alomar as a ballplayer up until that moment, at which time I lost all respect for him. I was disgusted. I guess it just goes to show that time heals all.
So, I guess the point being made here is that we’re obviously not looking for people who never made a mistake. We’re not even pretending that all the ballplayers in the Hall of Fame are perfect. On the contrary, it is this wonderful collection of characters that makes up baseball’s history; that makes up America’s history. So, because sainthood and perfection are not requirements, Pete should no longer be excluded. More importanly, because Pete Rose was told he needed to admit publicly that he had bet on baseball, for no other reason than to teach Pete some humility, Pete admitted. Pete apologized. He endured the embarrassment, and he apologized. Pete should be forgiven by baseball, reinstated, and elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s just that simple.