The Point After: On Pete Rose and the Steroid Era

Pat Higgins | Sports Editor

On Aug. 24, 1989, baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose accepted a lifetime ban from baseball from Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Two years later in 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame voted to ban Rose and those others “permanently ineligible” list from induction.

Just under 25 years later on Aug. 16, baseball legends Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Each man accepted his place among the pantheon of the sport’s best, but the Hall is missing baseball’s greatest hitter, the man once known as “Charlie Hustle.”

At the time, the ban seemed legitimate. Rose broke baseball’s cardinal rule by fixing games. But according to the Dowd Report, baseball’s official investigation of the matter, “no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds.” Since then, he’s applied for reinstatement two times, first in 1992 and then in 1999, but neither comissioners Fay Vincent nor Bud Selig acted upon the application.

Rose told ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp in an interview on Aug. 19 that managing the Reds “was like I had 25 sons going out there. I had so much confidence and I knew I was going to win a lot more games than I lost.”

So now 25 years later, after McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Rodriguez and just about every other power hitter not named Griffey to play between 1995 and 2005 have been connected to rumors, reports and hearings on Capitol Hill related to the use of performance enhancing drugs, why is the man who is the all-time Major League leader in hits and a laundry list of career totals banned from the Hall of Fame? His 4,251 career hits put him above Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Derek Jeter and every other man ever to appear in the Major Leagues.

He’s no Shoeless Joe Jackson. He never bet against his Reds. He never injected himself with human growth hormones, creatine or Manny Ramirez’s favorite, women’s fertility drugs. He never wagged his finger in front of Congress like McGwire did. He never faced perjury charges like Bonds or Clemens did. He never held a press conference professing his innocence only to be found guilty a year later like Braun did. He never visited the Biogenesis firm in Miami like Rodriguez did.

Was he wrong to compromise the integrity of America’s pastime? He sure was. But when you consider the damage the perpetrators of the Steroid Era did to baseball in the past decade have caused and the insignificant 50-game or season-long suspensions that have been handed down to guilty parties since baseball began testing for PEDs, Pete Rose deserves some forgiveness a quarter of a century after he was banned for life.

The Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the best to ever play the game. Rose is the best hitter to run the bases. He’s been justly punished for mistakes he made in the 1980s, received counseling for a gambling addiction after accepting his ban and now deserves parole from his prison without bars in which he’s been living since 1989.

“I’ve been lead to believe that America is a forgiving country,” Rose told Schapp last month. “If you do the right things, keep your nose clean, be a good citizen, pay your taxes [and] do all the things you’re supposed to do, you’ll get a second chance.”

At 73 years old, it’s time Rose is granted some forgiveness. Everyone fights vices. His 25-year ban from baseball immortality lasted long enough.