Let me say one thing up front: I don’t believe that Pete Rose should ever be reinstated into Major League Baseball.
Rose gambled on his team while as a player and a manager, the cardinal sin of not just baseball, but professional sports. It is true that he never fixed a game and that there is little evidence he bet against his own team. However, the Dowd Report found he did not place bets every single game, so every time he didn’t bet was the sports equivalent of insider trading with gamblers.
Additionally, he had control over personnel decisions as a manager and gambling on the game has the potential of biasing one’s judgment. So no, I do not believe Rose should ever be allowed a position in the Majors ever again.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, however, is not the Major Leagues. And Rose is as deserving as anyone of being inducted.
About the Hall
Many people do not realize that Major League Baseball does not own and operate the museum in Cooperstown. It is privately owned, though it does work closely with the big leagues in areas like artifact preservation. MLB does not have any direct say in who gets elected and who does not. Since the Hall is not run by MLB, there is no direct reason why a player like Rose cannot be inducted.
It is true that the Hall has set their eligibility requirements based on MLB performance: A minimum of 10 MLB seasons; a five-year interval between the end of a player’s career and their Hall eligibility; a maximum of 15 years on the ballot; quicker eligibility for the death of active players who are otherwise eligible; players on MLB’s ineligible list are not eligible for the ballot.
However, the rules for the Hall of Fame have changed many times over the years. The five-year waiting period was not added until 1954. Addie Joss was elected to the Hall in 1978 even though he only played nine seasons. The rule about deceased players was created for Roberto Clemente in 1973. Many Negro League players never played an inning of Major League Baseball. In the mid-1990s, players who did not make it in after 15 years on the ballot were permanently ineligible, even for the Veterans Committee (this rule has since been changed).
Clearly, the eligibility requirements are not set in stone.
So why not petition the Hall of Fame to change the rules so that those on MLB’s permanently ineligible list can still be inducted via the Veterans Committee? Wouldn’t this allow everybody to save face?
Great players like Rose would still be ineligible for the regular ballot, yet it would still give the Hall of Fame a chance to honor the career of a great player. They could even keep all of the other rules the same so that any future additions to the permanently-ineligible list would have to wait until the 15-year ballot window is closed before they can be enshrined.
Most importantly, it would dampen accusations that the Hall is trying to whitewash history.
First and foremost, the Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to the history of baseball, and baseball has gone down many dark roads in the past. It is the mission of the Hall of Fame to remind us of the total story—both the good and bad—from an objective stance.
This is an important fact to remember: the Hall is not condoning any form of bad behavior, but instead are preserving the memory of it.
Saying Pete Rose’s election would condone gambling on baseball is like saying that Cap Anson’s election condoned segregation, Gaylord Perry’s election condoned spitballs or that numerous other players’ elections condoned PEDs. All of these things are a part of each player’s legacy to be sure, but the reason they were elected was that they were one of the best to ever play the game of baseball, not because they broke the rules in various ways.
If Pete Rose wants to be inducted into the Hall of Fame he should try appealing to the Hall itself to change the eligibility requirements. It is highly unlikely that Bud Selig or any future commissioner will ever reinstate him, but the decision to elect him does not have to rest in their hands. Many people, both inside and outside of baseball, would love to see him enshrined, and this is the way to do it.