If you want to throw a match onto a gas-soaked pile of timber, conversationally that is, ask a group of fans whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.
The opinions will zing across the room, and the tempers will rise along with blood pressure. Plus, shouting and interrupting will commence.
This is precisely why the topic still has relevance 20 years into Major League Baseball’s ban on the all-time hits leader.
I’ve personally been involved in about a "jillion" of these conversations, including one heated exchange with former car salesman Bud Selig. Most of these heated exchanges revolve around what’s the appropriate punishment for gambling and how detrimental gambling is to baseball.
I would like to take a different approach to this subject, however.
Although Rose was my first childhood hero and I became a sports fan at the height of the Big Red Machine, I believe my take is fair and objective.
The reason I say this is that I don't want Rose to be inducted so that he can have the satisfaction of being a Hall of Famer, making his induction a type of personal reward.
I think that the debate surrounding his contriteness and the need to establish an anti-gambling example spins endlessly in all directions.
There is one angle, though, that seems to fly under the radar.
The Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Punishment.
It is an historical exhibition dedicated to the greatness of the game of baseball, wherein the Rose's accomplishments certainly belong.
As I type this, I know that some baseball fans are gasping in horror at the idea of rewarding Pete Rose with a Hall-of-Fame induction after his admitted gambling violations.
But, again, I am not trying to reward Rose.
In my opinion, keeping Rose and his accomplishments out of the Hall of Fame is punishment to the Hall, to the fans, and to baseball. As the proverb goes, this is like "cutting off your nose to spite your face."
Why shouldn’t I be able to take my 12-year-old nephew to the Hall of Fame and show him through videos, plaques and memorabilia that chronicle the legacy of the greatest hitter and winner in baseball history?
Neither I nor my nephew have been banned from baseball.
Yet, it is the Hall of Fame and the fans of the game that are punished by not being able to see his exhibit.
It has been stated that his infamy as well as his greatness could be part of the exhibit. As an historical display, it would be inadequate to not include Rose's ban from baseball and the events that caused it. Fay Vincent and Rose's admission would add context to the display.
What is clearly lost in Selig's stubborn stance on keeping Rose out of the Hall is that the fans and the Hall lose.
If Rose's character is still in question, it would be understandable that he would retain his ban from holding any position of influence in the game. As such, he could have no impact on betting or the outcome of games.
But displaying his accomplishments in Cooperstown would do nothing to threaten the integrity of the game nor validate Rose's notorious actions.
After all, it is the Baseball Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Saints. There are plenty of players in the Hall who have dubious backgrounds, but their accomplishments on the diamond have made them worthy of Cooperstown.
There will be a whole new wing required to accommodate the steroid users who will be honored in the Hall. These players have tarnished the game and left a bad taste in the mouths of baseball fans. Yet, their plaques will haunt the exhibits. Are these atrocities less egregious than Rose's?
Sure, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved baseball after the strike and did so while ostensibly cheating. As such, they are receiving induction snubs. But neither was banned and both are eligible for induction.
Plus, there are questions as to whether they would be Hall of Famers without the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs. The same can’t be said for Rose.
Perhaps this would be less of a lightning-rod discussion if Rose were a fringe player in the Hall of Fame discussion. That’s not the case. He is a slam dunk from a performance perspective.
As such, the fans deserve to be able to experience his legacy along with other all-time baseball greats.
All I’m saying is that using Rose’s status as a Hall of Famer to punish him for betting on baseball has too much collateral damage and that should be considered as we are now in our 20th year without Rose in baseball.