By David McCollum
Log Cabin Staff Writer
The issue has resurfaced (as if it ever really left?) about Pete Rose being reinstated to baseball.
There’s the purist argument and the realistic argument. For the first time, it seems realism is gaining an inside track.
Rose, the all-time hits leader in professional baseball, incurred a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball because he gambled on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds. That means he’s ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
One of the oldest mandates in professional baseball is no gambling on baseball. A sign that gambling on baseball is prohibited is posted in every major and minor league clubhouse. It’s a clear, longstanding rule.
That’s the purist argument and it has had merit for decades.
The principle behind the rule is to keep the perception of what happens in baseball is pure — that the wins, feats and records were established by legitimate means.
That gets more complicated in the light of recent revelations and ongoing discoveries that several of baseball’s icons and most prominent stars of the 1990s were using banned substances.
There’s the ongoing shadow that many of the records established during the 1990s, in particular, deserve an asterisk. The records were set because many stars were breaking the rules, bending the rules and becoming icons because they were juiced.
Every record or significant achievement that was set in the 1990s is questionable about whether it was set by legitimate means and within the boundaries of the rules concerning substances. You can’t examine such records with a sense of purity — that they were achieved without aid of some our most powerful pharmaceuticals.
Other than a few signs in a few places, what is the difference in what Pete Rose did and what so many stars who followed him did — and might still be doing? There’s no real difference in principle.
Babe Ruth, and many other stars of his days, indulged greatly in alcoholic beverages. The difference there is that alcohol takes away from so many of the skills necessary to play a sport. Steroids enhance those abilities. In the light of that, what Babe Ruth accomplished after so many nights on the town is extraordinary.
The bottom line is if we continue to recognize the feats of those tainted stars of the 1990s, not ban them from baseball and keep the records in the record book (which you have to do because it’s impossible to determine completely how many were not juiced), then there’s a stronger argument for lifting the ban on Rose.
The question is whether it’s a clean-living and morality hall of fame or one based on achievement, regardless of the personal lives and transgressions of those honored. Based on achievement, it hurts the legitimacy of the hall of fame to keep the all-time hits leader out of it, although Rose certainly has to pay any public relations consequences because of what he did. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned what Rose did on the field wasn’t legitimate. Few players in baseball history have played with such passion and gusto.
And while folks are pondering these things, they also might reconsider the case of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, the poster child for the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, which first put gambling on baseball in the public light. Yet, Jackson’s teammates later stated “Shoeless Joe” was not in on the fix of the World Series and played as hard to win as anyone. Many maintain he was an innocent victim of a witchhunt to preserve the image of baseball.
To use to baseball terms as metaphors for the situations: The line in the batter’s box have been wiped out and the strike zone is obscured and inconsistent.