MLB Hit King Pete Rose Turning 70: Hall of Fame Vote Would Be Nice Birthday Gift

Greg StarddardContributor IIIApril 10, 2011

1986:  Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds sits in the dug-out during a MLB game in the 1986 season. ( Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Baseball's all-time hits leader is still staring through the pearly gates of the Hall of Fame from the outside, as he approaches a milestone in his life. Pete Rose will turn 70 years old this week, and he's still waiting for the call from Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. 

Will he ever get the call? Does he deserve to get the call? Will one of America's top professional athletes in history ever receive the highest honor bestowed in his sport? I'm quite sure he carries a blackberry, but it ain't buzzin'. It should be, however.

Look, it's been a very, very, very long time. And Pete isn't getting any younger. Hard to believe he's gonna be 70 years old Thursday. Time is passing quickly. Hasn't he suffered enough?

He's been banned from baseball since 1989. C'mon, who are we kidding here? How much punishment is enough? I know what you're saying. And I understand there are issues. But the man has paid his dues on this one, as serious as they may be, and it's time. Isn't it?

I make no bones about growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and witnessing much of what Pete accomplished in his long career. I was there from his famous buzz cut flat top, to the bangs and sideburns. I saw it all. Front row seat. Good stuff, people, if you love baseball.  Good stuff regardless.

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I'd linger outside old Crosley Field near downtown Cincinnati and stare up at the famous tall white fence around the outfield. The street was just outside the fence, and we'd wait for home runs to fly over the fence.  When they did, we'd go racing down the street after the ball. Little boys enamored with America's favorite pastime.

Rose was breaking in as a rookie at that point. Crew cut hair style and all. He quickly gained the reputation as Charlie Hustle. Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and the red pinstripe uniforms. That's true old school, folks. Kids should know those names because they were great ballplayers. Especially Frank and Pete.

His career has been undeniable. No one in their right mind can question what he did on the field. All-time hits leader to this day. Numerous other records as well, although not as famous as the aforementioned.

From Crosley field he bolted for Riverfront Stadium with everyone else, and that's where the incredible was about to happen. Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine in the '70s ruled baseball, and that was that. Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion and all the others. The World Series championships, sold-out Riverfront Stadium on the banks of the Ohio, and Pete Rose.

He created baseball history long before, when he slammed into Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game. Knocked him over. Fumbled the ball. Rose scores, National League wins, and Fosse was never the same. Classic baseball moment with Rose the guiding force.

But it was the Big Red Machine that put him on the map, and gave him a chance to pursue and pass Ty Cobb's all-time hits record. No one in the '70s and '80' played more exciting baseball than No. 14.

They were good without Rose. Bench could knock 30 to 40 homers out the park and drive in 130 runs. Perez was good for another 25 home runs. Morgan provided even more power and speed. It was a wrap and most of baseball knew it. Sparky was a shrewd tactician and if he got ahead, he was hard to beat.

With Rose leading off, he didn't have much to worry about. If you needed someone to get on base during a one run game, Rose was your boy. He'd slide into first base head first if he had to. Oh wait, he actually did.

Oh, I know many if you aren't Pete Rose fans. He lied about betting on baseball. The late Bart Giamatti kicked him out, and Pete still insisted he did nothing wrong. And yes, finally the admission from Pete during the famous Charlie Gibson ABC News interview. Yeah, he screwed up—big time. I hear you screaming at me, geez! At least he came forward and admitted he lied. That says a lot. right?

It took a long time for him to tell the truth, but you know what? He fessed up. He's been out of the game for a very long time. I ask you: When is enough, enough? 1989! It's 2011, and we still don't think Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Seriously? He may not be your cup of tea, but the man worked hard and it showed.

Most people outside don't know Pete grew up in a blue collar, rough and tumble neighborhood. The streets of Price Hill weren't the toughest in Cincinnati, but they weren't a walk in the park either. Pete earned his respect and came out of the neighborhood with exceptional baseball skills. 

He ignored the call of the streets, and focused on what he loved: baseball. Drafted by the Reds, he played for his hometown team and loved it. He was the King.

People ask me all the time. What was Pete like? Did you ever meet him? Is he cool? Yes, as a matter of fact he was cool the once chance encounter I had while working at Riverfront briefly. After the game, Rose passed a small group of us arriving at work. He smiled, said hello and made his way to the locker room. I thought he was genuine and down to earth. That's the vibe I got.

Everyone knows Pete's life story as if it was our own. He's a tremendous public figure, and therefore he's on the front page sometimes when he shouldn't be. Not his fault. He sells newspapers and produces ratings. His second official divorce recently made headlines. His much younger girlfriend is googled every other minute. 

Like I said, his lifestyle may not be consistent with yours, but too many people think it's relative to the Hall. It isn't. The same goes for his IRS troubles.

How can we deny the fact was one of the best ever? Don't get it twisted. I know betting on baseball is a huge no no. I respect that. I'm not surprised Giamatti banned him. The message was sent, and sent clearly. I can hear you shouting how Rose's behavior compromised the integrity of the game. It did. But geez, call off the dogs.

Dude's game was so tight, he left Cincinnati, headed to Philly and started winning all over again. He was older, but still pretty good, and formed a powerful team with Mike Schmidt and company. More playoff baseball, more record setting performances and more exciting baseball.

The Phillies were lucky to get most of what Pete had left toward the end of his career. He made the city of Philadelphia happy, and they loved him. And we all know Philly fans are the hardest to win over. Especially for outsiders. Ask Donovan McNabb.

Commissioner Bud Selig may be riding off into the sunset soon. He has the Rose Case on his desk. It's right there, commissioner. Where it has been for a couple of years now. I get the sense Selig wants Rose in the Hall, but may lack the intestinal fortitude to actually make the decision. Why? Because there might be backlash. Either way, I think Selig likes Rose and that's a good thing.

Of course, if Selig does retire soon, he may fade from public view without making a decision on Rose. He's certainly not obligated. Leave it for the next guy, you know? Let the new commissioner deal with it. I hope he doesn't do that, but I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't make a decision on Rose. Selig doesn't like controversy or the limelight. So, he might chill and leave Pete waiting.

Pete Rose is getting ready to turn 70. He's been banned from baseball for 22 years. Twenty-two years! Has he not paid his sentence? You know, baseball with Pete is much better. He's a huge draw for attendance. He has immense knowledge that younger players need. And he's a true legend. We don't have many left in baseball.

Let's embrace this legend while we still can. Let's show the world we can forgive. Let's send the message that if you screw up and admit you screwed up, we'll give you a second chance. Give the man his just due. Honor his contributions to the game while he's still able to say thank you. 

Pete Rose deserves a second chance. Inducting him into baseball's Hall of Fame should happen soon, and perhaps we make a statement about who we are as a society when he's finally recognized with baseball's highest honor.