If anybody knows discipline, it’s Pete Rose. There probably isn’t a player more infamous for his crimes against the game, and there certainly isn’t one who has paid as steep a price. In 1989, Rose – the all-time hits leader in MLB history – received a lifetime ban from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds (it has never been proven and Rose has never admitted that any of those bets were placed against the Reds, which is an important distinction when considering the impact his gambling may have had on the integrity of the game). Despite being one of the greatest players ever to step foot on a diamond, Rose cannot in any way be associated with Major League Baseball, which includes a permanent ineligibility from election into the Hall of Fame. The door remains open for reinstatement; but for now the lifetime suspension stands, and there is no indication that Commissioner Selig or Major League Baseball are considering lifting it.
Yesterday, Rose appeared on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN 98.7 FM, where he discussed crime and punishment, the baseball edition. In Rose’s mind, the recent and rampant use of performance enhancing drugs by players have tarnished the sport more than his gambling ever could.
“They’re both bad,” Rose said. “I think in my case, I know I didn’t do anything to alter the statistics of baseball. As you know, baseball statistics are sacred. That’s why baseball cards are worth more than football cards, why that Honus Wagner card is going for a couple million bucks, why baseball memorabilia is much more valuable than football or basketball memorabilia.
“I had nothing to do with altering statistics of baseball, and these guys, that take PEDs – wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask Babe Ruth the same question, or Roger Maris the same question or Hank Aaron, who won’t talk about it? I’d like to hear what their response will be because those are the guys who lost their records because of supposedly steroids.”
I will say that, when listening to Rose speak publicly it’s always important to keep in mind that there is probably an underlying agenda involved. Rose wants back in the game. He wants on the Hall of Fame ballot. And public opinion is his only chance – though it may be remote – to sway the powers that be to consider his reinstatement in a new light. And Rose is no dummy. He knows that suspected PED users are beginning to show up on Hall of Fame balloting, and that in a few years some of them could get elected and enshrined in Cooperstown. If he can convince the media and the public that their offenses are worse than his, then why shouldn’t he, too, get the opportunity for baseball immortality – and not the kind that comes with his lifetime ban infamy?
The issue is one that often leaves me conflicted. I love Pete Rose, the player. And he played for MY team. But in my opinion, insider gambling is the biggest threat to American professional sports.
Rose is correct in that there is at least a good probability that PED use has directly impacted baseball statistics (I fall short of claiming the PED effect on baseball statistics is fact, because we really don’t know what has been used, by whom, and to what physiological effect). He’s right in recognizing that, in baseball, statistics and records are absolutely sacred.
But a sports’ integrity is its lifeblood. A sport that’s results are not the product of true and all-out competition is not a sport. It’s pro wrestling. That’s why the baseball crime of gambling carries with it such a stringent penalty. It would be so easy for a player, manager or owner to bet against his own team, and to manipulate a game or season for economic gains. That would result in a fraudulent on-field product.
Records achievements come and go in sports, and it certainly is disheartening to see long-standing marks fall to players who appear to be getting a performance enhancement that was not used in setting them in the first place. But individual statistics are absolutely meaningless if they are compiled within a game that isn’t real. One that is fixed. Corrupt.
Rose’s position is officially on record: he says performance enhancing drugs are worse for the game of baseball than gambling. I can’t agree with him, for some of the reasons stated above.
But what do you think? I welcome you to weigh in on the poll and voice your opinion in the comments section below.