It has been 25 years since Pete Rose, the MLB record holder for most hits,4,256, games played, 3,562 and at-bats, 14,053 was banned from the game of baseball. In that timeframe, the game itself has been marred by steroids, drug use, pine tar, corked bats, spitballs, Vaseline balls, cut balls, and yet, out of all of the madness, Rose continues to be at the top of baseball’s list as “Enemy Number One.”
Everyone knows the story, the gambling, the banishment, and the refusal of MLB to reinstate one of the greatest players to ever set foot onto a diamond. It is a story which has been covered ad nauseam, and at this point, most people are sick and tired of hearing about it. It is a clear-cut case against Rose; as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he gambled, and for that he has been punished. The point has been proven. He bet on the game, then he paid the price. Everyone understands the ramifications of betting on the game, so now it is time to move on. The man has served a long sentence, so now it is time to stop using Pete Rose as the poster child of unacceptable behavior, and reinstate the man who played harder and with more passion than anyone in the history of the game.
For 24 seasons, the man known as “Charlie Hustle” gave everything he had to the game of baseball, performing at the highest level on baseball’s grandest stage. He played hard, at all-times, and played the game the way it was meant to be played. If there was a text-book written with the title, “How to Play the Game of Baseball,” Pete Rose would grace the cover. The most saddening part is that his baseball sins have overshadowed his production and accomplishments as a player, and for that, there is an emptiness that resides at the center of the baseball Hall of Fame. There should be a bronze statue of the man, not some black hole that has swallowed up the all-time hits leader. His recognition as one of the greatest is not an acceptance to unacceptable behavior, it pays homage to a man who would have given life and limb to the game he loved. For that, he must no longer be vilified; he should be glorified, and given his rightful position next to the giants of the game like: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
In 2016, it will mark 30 years since the retirement of Pete Rose. In those three decades since “Charlie Hustle” hung up his cleats, baseball has seen the game slowly disintegrate into something that is becoming unrecognizable. Bloated salaries have led to a lack of “hard-nosed” baseball players, out of fear of injury. Perhaps, instead of Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB using Rose as the poster boy of what not to do, maybe they should focus on using his style of play as a model to younger players on how the game should be played. Maybe then fans will flock back to the game of baseball, and maybe then events like the World Series will draw better ratings than singing and dance competitions that have plagued American television. The reinstatement of Pete Rose back into the game of baseball is not righting a wrong, nor is it the admission of guilt on either side of the fence, it is about honoring the 73-year-old legend, and giving him his rightful place among baseball’s elite. It is time to forgive Rose for his past wrongdoings, and time for visitors to “The Hall” to pay their respects not to an enemy of the game, as a blackballed player, but to what the man accomplished on the field between the years of 1963 and 1986.
Commentary by Johnny Caito