Will Rob Manfred lift Pete Rose's lifetime ban, and does the Hit King have any shot at the Hall of Fame? Here's why MLB and the Hall are likely to say no to Rose.
With the changing of the guard in the commissioner's office, Pete Rose has decided to try his luck again. On Monday, Rob Manfred told reporters that he has received a formal request from Rose to have his lifetime ban lifted, something predecessors Fay Vincent and Bud Selig refused to do. At 73 years old, the all-time hits leader appears to be angling less for another job in uniform than for a chance to have Hall of Fame voters consider his case. But from here, his odds on getting to Cooperstown would still appear to be very long—as they should be.
Manfred told reporters that he had received a formal request from Rose to lift the ban, which has been in place since 1989. The commissioner, who succeeded Selig in January, said that he would be in touch with Rose's representatives about how to handle the request, but he did not tip his hand as to how he might rule. Via USA Today's Paul White:
Manfred warned, "I don't think people should read any predisposition into what I'm saying. I see it as simply he's made a request. Part of my obligation under the major league constitution is to deal with those requests. I don't have any predisposition.
“…I'm prepared to deal with that request on the merits… I want to make sure I understand all of the details of the Dowd report and commissioner Giamatti's decision and the agreement that was ultimately reached. I want to hear what Pete has to say and I'll make a decision once I've done that."
Reinstatement by the commissioner is a necessary first step for Rose to be considered for election to the Hall of Fame. Under a 1991 rule adopted by the Hall's board of directors, no player on baseball's permanently ineligible list can be considered for the Hall either by the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee. Rose is the only living former player affected by the rule, which also prevents the consideration of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his fellow Black Sox conspirators banned by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1920 for taking part in a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series.
Since more than 15 years have elapsed since the end of his career, Rose's case would be considered by the Expansion Era Committee, one of three chronologically-based committees that consider long-retired candidates whose BBWAA ballot eligibility has expired. The Expansion Era Committee, which covers players whose greatest impact came from 1973 onward, votes on a triennial basis, and under current rules, the earliest that Rose's case would be considered would be in December 2016, for induction in '17.
Were it not for his connections to gambling, Rose—a vastly entertaining player who brought a hair-on-fire intensity to the game—would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Over the course of his 24 seasons in the majors (1963–86), he set all-time records for games played (3,562), plate appearances (15,890), at-bats (14,053), hits (4,256) and times on base (5,929). He won the NL Rookie of the Year award in '63 and MVP in '73, took home three batting titles, helped his teams to six pennants and three championships and made 17 All-Star teams, starting for the NL at a record five different positions (first, second and third base and both leftfield and rightfield). He collected his 3,00th hit on May 5, 1978, with a single off the Expos' Steve Rogers, the same year that he tied the NL record with a 44-game hitting streak. He became the second player in baseball history to reach 4,000 hits with a double off the Phillies' Jerry Koosman, and he broke Ty Cobb's record with his 4,192nd hit, a single off the Padres' Eric Show on Sept. 11, 1985.
Despite the fact that the last seven seasons of his career were largely window-dressing—Rose was 1.4 wins below replacement level from 1980 onward, and was last worth more than 1.0 WAR in a season in '81 (1.7)—he ranks fifth among leftfielders in JAWS, with a 61.9 score based on his 79.1 career WAR and 44.7 peak WAR. Though he played more games at first base (939) than in leftfield (673), he's classified at the latter position because he accrued more value there, or rather, more value as an outfielder as an infielder, with leftfield his most valuable position among the three. Three of his best five seasons in terms of WAR came while he played left, including his MVP-winning campaign, which produced a career-best 8.2 WAR; two more of his seven peak seasons came when he played most often in rightfield, with one apiece at second and third base.
Rose never officially appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, as he was banned for life by commissioner Bart Giamatti on Aug. 24, 1989 after investigator John Dowd concluded that Rose violated Major League Rule 21 by gambling on Reds games during the '85, '86 and '87 seasons while serving as manager of the team, the first two of those seasons as player-manager. The ban has not only prevented Rose from holding any job in organized baseball, but also from participating in all but a very limited number of official functions.
Dowd's findings, which were based on the testimony of witnesses, documentary evidence and telephone records, including a taped 1988 conversation that featured Rose’s discussion of his substantial gambling debts, showed that Rose bet about $2,000 a game on five to 10 games a day in baseball, football, basketball and hockey. During one month, he lost over $67,000, and at one point, he was more than $200,000 in debt to a Mafia-linked bookie from Staten Island. Dowd's documentary evidence showed that Rose lied repeatedly during his deposition, though he denied betting on baseball until 2004, when he publicly admitted doing so as a means of promoting his book, My Prison Without Bars.
Dowd's investigation began under commissioner Peter Ueberroth in February 1989, before he yielded to Giamatti, who had been elected as his successor in September 1988. In May 1989, Dowd delivered his 225-page report to Giamatti, who handed down the ban in August, announcing via a statement that Rose "neither denies nor admits that he bet on any major league baseball game" but "acknowledges that the commissioner has a factual basis to impose the penalty provided."
The statement added, "The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts.… The burden is entirly on Mr. Rose to reconfigure his life in a way he deems appropriate." A defiant Rose continued to deny the charges, saying at the time, "Despite what the commissioner said today, I didn't bet on baseball," and vowing to apply for reinstatement after one year.
Just days later, the 51-year-old Giamatti died of a heart attack. He was succeeded by deputy commissioner Fay Vincent, a key figure in the investigation. Rose first applied for reinstatement in 1992, but Vincent did not rule on the request before being ousted in September of that year. Rose applied again in September 1997 and met with Selig in 2002, though the commissioner never formally ruled, nor did he pardon Rose on his way out of office this past January, as some—including Rose himself—expected, or at least hoped, that he might. Selig did allow Rose to participate in the festivities for the MLB All-Century Team at the 1999 World Series, a 25th anniversary commemoration of his 4,192nd hit in 2010, and the 2015 All-Star Game, to be held in Cincinnati. Additionally, last year, he conceded that he had no jurisdiction to prevent Rose from a one-game stint as manager of the independent Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish.
Many believe that the commissioner should show Rose leniency in curtailing the lifetime ban. By this reasoning, the now-25-year-punishment has served its purpose, both by making a harsh example of Rose and by preventing him from holding any job where he could affect the outcome of games. Any agreement for his reinstatement could be brokered so as to continue that, perhaps limiting Rose to serve in a ceremonial capacity for the Reds or another team but not in uniform.
Some believe that leniency should be based upon an evolving recognition that the compulsion to gamble is an addictive behavior that stimulates the brain's reward system as drugs and alcohol do. Others believe that Rose's transgressions are less serious than those of players who used performance-enhancing drugs. Still more believe that because Rose claims to have bet on his Reds only to win—Dowd has since claimed to have evidence to the contrary, though he did not include it in his report—he's somehow less guilty than if he had admitted to throwing games.
Of those arguments, I'm most sympathetic to the idea that any move from the commissioner should be based upon compassion for Rose given his pathological gambling disorder. However, for years, Rose repeatedly denied that he had any gambling problem, in addition to showing a lack of contrition for his actions. He also tried to profit off his confession, not only with his book but also by selling autographed baseballs reading, "I'm sorry I bet on baseball," and even autographed copies of the Dowd report. In short, he hasn't exactly demonstrated a reconfiguration of his life.
I have far less sympathy for the "not as bad as PEDs" argument. In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, which Landis was hired to clean up, Rule 21-D has become a permanent fixture, posted in every major league clubhouse, to make clear the consequences of gambling on the game:
"Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."
Rose thus violated baseball's only capital crime. By comparison, MLB did not begin suspending players for illegal PEDs until 2005, decades after they began infiltrating the sport. Prior to that, MLB had no means to determine which players used the drugs or to punish them with fines or suspensions. Though they may have been outside the law, the consequences of those actions with respect to MLB boiled down to player having no fear of sanctions.
As for the "gambling only to win" argument, a manager who only bets on some of his team's games may manipulate his player usage in connection with his betting, using his best relievers in those games but resting them—and/or perhaps key regulars—in ones where he’s abstained. By doing so, he would be tacitly signaling that he's making less of an effort to win those games and encouraging gamblers to bet against his team. In 2002, Dowd noted that Rose did not bet on the Reds whenever Mario Soto—a three-time All-Star who by '86 and '87 had declined to replacement level—started games, which "sent a message through the gambling community that the Reds can’t win" on those days. In '07, Rose told ESPN Radio that he bet on the Reds every night: "I love my team, I believe in my team.… I did everything in my power every night to win that game." Dowd countered by saying that in '87, Rose did not bet on games pitched by Soto or Bill Gullickson, whose up-and-down career included a 4.85 ERA with the Reds that year.
More than anything, it's the repeated lies from Rose, his ever-changing stories, that make me wary of his reinstatement. What if Dowd or another investigator were to reopen the case and find that Rose's gambling extended further back into his playing career, possibly affecting outcomes of postseason games? The fallout would be a massive black eye for the game.
Even if Rose does win reinstatement from Manfred, he has an uphill road to a plaque in Cooperstown. The Veterans Committee and its era-based successors have not elected a living ex-player on the merits of his major league playing career since Bill Mazeroski in 2001, though they have added managers, umpires, Negro Leaguers and deceased players since then. In 2014, when the Expansion Era Committee last met, they elected Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre as managers, passing on the slate’s six players, including Rose’s former teammate, Davey Concepcion. This past winter saw them pitch a shutout on the Golden Era ballot, illustrating just how difficult a place it is to marshal a 75% consensus. The 16-man committees include a rotating cast of eight Hall of Fame players, as well as former executives and writers, and given the fact that many Hall of Famers, from the late Ted Williams to Bob Feller to the still-living Nolan Ryan, are among those who have come out against Rose at some point, it's hardly clear that he'd have the backing of his peers.
On the other hand, as Expansion Era Committee member Tracy Ringolsby—also a BBWAA Hall of Fame voter and a Spink Award winner—told the Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans earlier this week, if Rose were to come up for a vote, he would consider him on the merits of his playing career, as he does for those who are alleged to have used PEDs:
"My own feelings are, if a person is cleared to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, I can't be the judge of morality. I'm not saying that to endorse Pete Rose. My opinion has always been that if a person is cleared to be on the ballot, it's my job to evaluate that person's career. I don't have a problem voting for Roger Clemens, or voting for Barry Bonds or any of those players. My feeling is that if they're included on the ballot, it is a tacit endorsement that they're eligible to be in the Hall of Fame."
In any event, the day that Rose comes up for a vote isn't upon us yet. As Selig showed, it isn’t even necessary for a commissioner to rule on an application for reinstatement; he can kick the can down the road for his successor to confront. So while the announcement that Rose has applied again is certainly newsworthy, don’t expect Manfred to race toward a favorable outcome for the Hit King.