By Sean Quinn
My grandfather (Joseph Okomski, rest his soul) used to say that Pete Rose “could turn a single into a double on heart alone”. Rose, nicknamed “Charlie Hustle,” played from 1963 to 1978 for the Cincinnati Reds, where he earned Rookie of the Year honors. The “Hustle” nickname was originally an insult. Rose drew a walk from pitcher Whitey Ford during a spring game with the Yankees and promptly ran his heart out to first base. Rose continued to wear the moniker as a badge of honor.
Rose was later a part of the 1970 Cincinnati team dubbed the “Big Red Machine.” The crew included MLB legends Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. Pete Rose was considered a solid part of this elite squad.
“Mr. Hustle” went on to become a member of the 3,000 hits club and chalked up a 44-game hitting streak during his final years with the Reds. Being a 3,000-hit player used to be an automatic admittance into Major League Baseball’s most hallowed grounds, but times have certainly changed.
Pete Rose played for the Phillies from 1979 to 1983. During his time in Philadelphia, the club won three division championships and a World Series banner in 1980.
Rose went on to join Ty Cobb in the 4,000 hit club with the Montreal Expos in 1984. The plucky fielder went on to bat .259 for the season and was traded back to Cincinnati to finish his career. Rose, true to form, broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record at 4,192 and hit for .365 on the season, proof that the 43-year-old player/manager still had gas in the tank.
Then the wheels came off: Though Rose finished his career well above Ty Cobb’s all-time record (there had been some concerns about double-counting of hits, but they were ultimately inconsequential), x-rays of game bats from 2010 showed that Rose had played with corked bats during his 1985 season.
This would be only the beginning of Rose’s troubles from both an athletic and a legal standpoint. In 1989 he went on record with his lawyer admitting to betting on football, basketball and horse racing. Rose denied betting on MLB games while he was playing/managing, but evidence was later uncovered that Rose had placed bets on 52 Cincinnati Reds games over the 1987 season.
In 1989 Major League Baseball voted to exclude any player that was placed on its “ineligible list” from Hall of Fame consideration. Pete Rose was banned from baseball voluntarily in exchange that the MLB would not issue any official ruling on Pete Rose’s gambling allegations.
No player that has ever appeared on the ineligible list has been considered for the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose’s statistics crown him as one of the best to ever play the game, but betting on baseball has turned “Charlie Hustle” into a persona non grata.
The 81-year-old launched appeals in 2015 and 2020 in an attempt to have himself removed from the ineligible list, with representatives arguing that Rose’s punishment was “disproportionate” compared to how other baseball scandals had been handled.
Fans of Rose’s consideration argue that it was never proven whether or not his gambling affected his performance when Rose was placing money on the Reds. He claims to have never bet against his own team. Rose’s numbers are iron-clad for acceptance into the Hall, but it all hinges on how the gambling is considered, which is an important discussion for any athletic award, admission into any elite club. In addition to the hall of elite achievement, is it also the hall of nice guys? Should there be a moral analysis for every candidate?
The pro-Rose camp would argue that any athletic hall is (and possibly should) be a rogue’s gallery of thieves, drunkards, gamblers, and liars. The Hall of Fame is about recognizing excellence on the diamond, and many of baseball’s legends of old have been deified beyond fault. How easily do we forget Ty Cobb’s nasty play style? Or how easily do we look back on Mike “King” Kelly’s bar stories as lovable anecdotes rather than drunken rampages?
The pro-Rose argument generally hinges upon the thought that baseball should “lighten up.” At least let Rose be voted upon. Removal from the ineligible list would not mean a guarantee into the Hall, and Rose would still have to face the scrutiny of the Baseball Writers’ Association (it should be noted that players are removed from the ineligible list upon their death and can be voted on for posthumous HoF consideration).
The anti-Rose crowd might admit that personal failings shouldn’t be considered for HoF availability. Rose could have bet on other sports and rode off into the sunset, remembered as a swarthy gambler. But he bet on baseball. On baseball. A crime against the very sport. Rose should be locked away and forgotten. He even admitted to “disrespecting baseball” in 2004. It also doesn’t help that Rose has landed in trouble through his later years, serving a 5-month prison sentence for tax evasion and having more details about his gambling habits peeled away that he had previously denied. Age has not slowed “Charlie Hustle” down, but it’s not always expressed in the most penitent fashion. The MLB is also the only Hall of Fame organization that specifically dictates that voters consider character and sportsmanship when casting their ballots.
What is the role of morality in sport? What is a “crime against baseball,” and what does that have to do with performance on the field? What is the purpose of the Hall of Fame? These are all questions that voters will have to consider before Mr. Rose undoubtedly launches his next appeal for eligibility.