In his well-reasoned denial of Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement on Monday, commissioner Rob Manfred took care to draw a few important distinctions. For example, Manfred wrote: “In my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility.”
That’s a logical and obvious truth, and it was played up by one of Rose’s lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum, at Rose’s day-after press conference on Tuesday in Las Vegas. But the commissioner’s words, and the Rose camp's appeal, aren’t going to change the calcified perspective in Cooperstown. “Nothing has changed,” Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said after Rose's ban was upheld. In other words, Rose will not appear on a Hall of Fame ballot or go up before a veterans’ committee anytime soon.*
(*Whatever anyone might feel about his worthiness or non-worthiness for induction, the Hall of Fame board’s shortsighted 1991 decision to make Pete Rose the only player in the long history of the institution never even to be allowed on a ballot is a sin against its own democratic process.)
Yet even as the ruling solidifies his ban from the game, it also sets the stage for Rose to get into a different baseball Hall of Fame. Sources say Rose, who is still the favorite son in his native Cincinnati, will be officially inducted into the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum sometime in 2016 or '17.
The Reds' Museum, which opened in 1958 and is owned and operated by the team, has thus far followed Cooperstown protocol by displaying Rose artifacts but not making him one of its 85 official inductees. The Reds' Hall uses its own selection process: A governance committee of museum (and thus team) employees establishes a list of eligible players based on time and service requirements similar in kind to those required in Cooperstown. That ballot then goes to fans, alumni and media. Each person gets one vote. The Reds' Hall has even adopted that wacky Cooperstown bylaw: “Players on Major League Baseball's ineligible list are not eligible for consideration.”
But that addition was mainly so that the team could preempt any ill will and stay in the good and uncomplicated graces of former commissioner Bud Selig. Now that Manfred has displayed a more nuanced approach—one that does not appear at all concerned about Rose's Hall of Fame candidacy—the Reds are going to get Rose on their ballot, and he will go right in. The team won’t do that without Manfred’s explicit blessing, but given his enlightened predilections, sources indicate that his blessing is expected to come.
There’s clearly a This Is Spinal Tap quality to having a Reds Hall of Fame induction as an alternative to Cooperstown. But know that the Cincinnati museum is a beautifully fashioned, wonderfully executed place in the city with the richest baseball tradition in the world. Go there. Visit. Walk through. Count the 4,256 baseballs that make up an interior wall, one for each of Rose's record hit total. It’s a small, rich place that should be on any baseball fan’s bucket list. This is a consolation prize for Rose, but as the adoration of him continues powerfully among the Cincinnati faithful and as Rose, at 74, moves deeper into the evensong of his highly unusual life, it is a consolation prize that will be bestowed.
In his Tuesday press conference, Rose alluded to the enormous statues that stand outside of Great American Ball Park, including those of his Big Red Machine teammates Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. The Reds have already discussed what such a Rose statue would look like—he may be depicted in classic, mid-air, headfirst slide—and this is another venture that Manfred is expected to bless.
Rose’s banishment from baseball was quite understandably confirmed, but the new commissioner brought in a fresh and welcome view. Because of that, the fans who love Rose most—and, honestly, who matters more in all of this?—can expect to see him honored again in the coming years.