Nothing’s ever easy with Pete Rose. You don’t earn the nickname “Charlie Hustle” for compliance to the easiest path. He hustled as a player, hustled as a manager, hustled as a gambler, and has hustled ferociously in pursuit of reinstatement and a place in the Hall of Fame—a struggle that I’ve watched painfully engulf this town since I moved here five years ago. I cannot find a comparison for the unwavering outrage shared, almost unanimously, by the citizens of Cincinnati, that Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a crime against their own personal humanity. But it certainly seems justified in the wake of ESPN’s Outside the Lines report that Rose did indeed bet on baseball as a player. It’s the final level of Rose’s multi-tiered lie. For 15 years, it was that he never bet on baseball. Then, once he could use some semi-truth to promote his 2004 book, “My Prison Without Bars,” (a disappointing read) he admitted to betting on baseball, but not as a player. Now, it appears we know the truth, which should come as no surprise considering he was investigated for gambling in the late 1970’s before any of the present-day disaster unfolded. And if it should ever come to light that he actually bet against the Reds, this city will burn.
The general consensus now is that this is the final nail in the coffin of Rose’s hope for reinstatement, although most, including major voices in the baseball world, feel that his accomplishments are still worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame. It raises the question of whether or not it’s still possible that Rose could ever be reinstated, and in that discussion we know only two truths:
1: Before the ESPN report, Rose was as close as he’s ever been to reinstatement.
2: In a sport so obsessed with its own history, there is no historical precedent for the handling of this case. If there is ever a resolution to this saga, Pete Rose will be the case study for what merits the forgiveness or permanent banishment of a legendary baseball figure.
In the history of baseball, 42 individuals have been the recipients of a lifetime banishment. Of the 42, only 13 were ever reinstated. The challenges with drawing a comparison between Rose’s case and other historical banishments/reinstatements begins with the simple fact that Rose is the only living person on the list of banned players. In fact, only six individuals have been banned since Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis’s tenure ended with his death in 1944. Of those six, only four were players, and only Rose’s ban was gambling related.
Rose is, however, in rare company in terms of his place on the banned list. Of the 28 other men on the lifetime ban list, 25—including eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox—were banned for contributing or conspiring to the throwing of games in one way or another. (In 1908, New York Giants’ team physician Joe Creamer literally tried to bribe home-plate umpire Bill Klem into conspiring against the Chicago Cubs. Classic.) Of the other three men on the permanently banned list with Rose, despite no connection to fixing games, two appear to be victims of circumstance and one draws a significant comparison to the Hit King. Philadelphia Phillies owner Horace Fogel (1912) was banned for accusing umpires of favoring another team, and Benny Kauff of the New York Giants (1920) was banned for allegedly selling stolen automobiles, even though he was acquitted of the charges. It’s quite puzzling that neither was ever reinstated, given that both of those instances would likely result in simple fines in present-day major sports. Former Philadelphia Phillies owner William B. Cox, however, is the one direct link to Rose on the banned list. Cox, who owned the team for only one year, was banned for placing bets on his own team, and, like Rose, lied about the allegations before coming clean. Also like Rose, Cox claimed his bets were always in support of the Phillies. By sheer virtue of not throwing games—if all of Rose’s lies are now fully exposed—Rose and Cox seem like the lesser of several evils in terms of those who remain permanently banned. And frankly, Rose has 4,256 hits, and Cox is irrelevant for anything other than being banned. The only real comparison to Rose on the banned list is Shoeless Joe Jackson, as they’re the only two historically great players being kept from Cooperstown. But Jackson was at least minimally complicit in throwing a World Series, which is far less forgivable than Rose’s actions—again, assuming we now have the full story.
A comparison to those who’ve been reinstated sheds no further hope for Rose’s future. The majority of the 13 individuals who have been reinstated were banned in the first place for non-game related issues (contract disputes, ownership mistakes, drug issues, etc.). Ironically, three of the thirteen reinstated individuals have been Cincinnati Reds.
-Third baseman Heine Groh, a member of the Reds Hall of Fame, still holds the record for being banned for the shortest period of time. He was banned and given an ultimatum by Landis that he could not hold out for a larger contract. He agreed after just two days, and was reinstated.
-In the same year, Reds pitcher Ray Fisher was banned by Landis after he refused to play because the Reds reduced his salary by $1,000—worth approx. $14,000 when adjusted for today’s inflation. The Reds refused to release him and he went on to a legendary coaching career at the University of Michigan. He was not re-instated until 1980. Obviously, both Groh and Fisher’s banishments took place long before the advent of free agency.
-Former Reds owner Marge Schott, banned in 1996 by Bud Selig, holds the distinction of being the only woman ever banned from baseball, the only person ever banned during Bud Selig’s 15-year tenure at the helm of Major League Baseball, the most recent person to be reinstated (1998), and the only person ever to have received their ban in the first-place by simply continuously putting their foot in their mouth (Hitler, racism, etc.).
Perhaps the most damning fact for Rose is that there have only been three individuals reinstated who were considered to have compromised the integrity of the game via associations or actions, and it happened so long ago that nothing is really known of the circumstances. Thomas Dvyr, Ed Duffy, and William Wansley of the New York Mutuals were banned in 1865 for associating with known gamblers. The three were allegedly the driving force behind the first fixed baseball game in history. All three were eventually reinstated, but long before the formation of the MLB, and even longer before a commissioner wielded absolute power. It’s also worth noting that Ferguson Jenkins is the only player in the history to be elected to the Hall of Fame (1991) after having been previously reinstated from a lifetime ban (1980). He was originally banned for going through the Toronto airport with a suitcase full of uppers and downers that would’ve made Hunter S. Thompson proud, but it was overturned by an outside arbitrator after the season.
Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays—both already Hall of Famers and long retired—were banned in 1983 by commissioner Bowie Kuhn because he didn’t approve of the two being hired to sign autographs and shake hands at an Atlantic City Casino. Both were reinstated in 1985 by Peter Ueberroth, and Kuhn goes down as being responsible for the two most idiotic bans of all time.
The truly sad thing for the now visibly tortured Rose is that he was closer than ever to achieving what Jenkins achieved: reinstatement and a shot at the Hall of Fame. Fox hired him as an analyst, support for his reinstatement had literally reached the point of possible political action, and it’s been said that new commissioner Rob Manfred was seriously reviewing Rose’s case. That’s all gone now. Realistically, Rose is no more guilty today than he was in 1989, although the thought that his bets were being placed through mafia affiliates certainly brings more concerning questions to mind about the possibility of his connection to fixes we may not yet know about. And what we may not know about is the problem. How can we, or any future MLB commissioner, believe that all of Rose’s lies have finally been told? What other damning revelations could come from this? What if they don’t come out for another 15 years? To make matters worse, for Rose and the Reds, the news of the past week will likely cast a dark shadow over Cincinnati’s hosting of the 2015 All-Star weekend, in which Rose had been granted special permission by Manfred to participate. That guilt will way on him, just as all of his other guilt has for so many years now. It’s hard to imagine Rose ever overcoming this, his newest hurdle in pursuit of reinstatement. If he does, it’s even harder to imagine he’ll be alive to enjoy it.
Joshua A. Miller is a Nuxhall Way and Cincinnati Magazine contributor. You can follow him on Twitter at @_J_A_Miller.