Greg Cote: Time to bring Pete Rose back to baseball

Pete Rose has his hand squeezed by Hunter Bowen, 7, as he signs autographs in Cooperstown. Rose hasn’t inspired sympathy by making money in Cooperstown. (Associated Press)
Pete Rose has his hand squeezed by Hunter Bowen, 7, as he signs autographs in Cooperstown. Rose hasn’t inspired sympathy by making money in Cooperstown. (Associated Press)

Twenty-five years ago this week, Pete Rose was banished for life from baseball, and thus from the red carpet ride he would have taken into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Sympathy hasn’t often come his way since, partly because Rose can come off as irascible, unlikable, his own worst enemy – but mostly because he agreed to his ban, with a swipe of a pen trading immortality for indelible notoriety.

Well, anniversaries are occasions to pause, reflect and take stock, and so it is time.

Let Pete back in, baseball.

It has been long enough, and he has paid enough. Bring him home.

No ballplayer ever had more hits (the very object of the game) than Rose’s 4,256. His nickname, Charlie Hustle, and headfirst style of play made him an icon, a piece of Americana. But that all changed in 1989 when, as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he was found to have placed bets on his own team in violation of the sport’s strict rules against gambling.

Rose is 73, and still serving his time. Men who commit murder have been freed sooner.

This is the perfect time to rescind Rose’s ban, welcome him back to the sport he helped define and make him eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t mean he would be. Maybe enough voters would lump him in the same category with the Steroids Era guys being denied entry. But, like the PED crowd, he should at least be on the ballot. Voters should have the chance to say whether they agree he has been punished enough.

That’s really all we’re talking about when we talk about Rose’s reinstatement. At his age, with his baggage, no team is going to hire him for any meaningful position. A shot at Cooperstown, and not waiting until it might be posthumous, is all we mean.

The timing is right not because the 25th anniversary beams fresh light on Rose’s purgatory but because a new commissioner, Rob Manfred, takes office in January, and reinstating Rose would be a signal that he is his own man, embraces common sense and understands that the punishment has exceeded the crime.

(Outgoing commissioner Bud Selig could one-up Manfred by pardoning Rose in a parting gesture of forgiveness, but that ought not be expected of a man who has let Rose’s appeal for reinstatement languish “under advisement” for a preposterous 17 years.)

ESPN on Wednesday premiered an “Outside the Lines” special on Rose, in which the former player claimed he never intended to agree to a lifetime ban.

“It was a mistake, because I didn’t read the fine print. I looked at it like it was a year suspension,” he said in the interview. “To this day, I have no idea why my lawyers would accept a lifetime suspension.”

Whether you believe that or not – and it stretches credulity to a snapping point to think Rose was unsure what he was signing – the greater point is that 25 years is ample time for the crime.

Rose has shown reasonable contrition. In 2010, he tearfully admitted he had “disrespected baseball.” In Wednesday’s interview with Jeremy Schaap, he said, “I wish I was able to erase the whole past, but I can’t. We all make mistakes, and I made a big mistake.”

The curmudgeonly, combative side of Rose also appeared, though. It’s as if he can’t help himself.

“I am trying to move on with my own life,” he told Schaap. “I’m kind of surprised that you are worried about things that happened in 1987, and it’s 2014. I’ll tell you the same thing I told everybody else: Get over it. It happened. Get over it.”

That’s the Rose who is hard to like. That’s the Rose who for years has tweaked MLB by showing up in Cooperstown to sign autographs (for profit, of course) most Hall of Fame induction weekends.

That is the Rose who hasn’t inspired a lot of sympathy in his quest to get back in baseball’s good graces. Because it’s tougher to forgive someone who is telling you, “Get over it,” right?

Still, it seems strange that players who use performance-enhancing drugs typically are banned for 50 or 100 games for literally cheating, while someone who placed bets on his team got life without (so far) parole.

This is not to diminish gambling or why baseball treats it so harshly. The integrity of the game is at stake. The shadow of the 1919 Black Sox scandal remains. But Rose in effect already has served his lifetime ban; his livelihood and good name were taken from him in his 40s and not returned.

Schaap asked Rose what he would say to Selig if given one minute with him. Here was the only part of his answer that mattered:

“I was 100 percent wrong and I wish it never happened, but I hope you find it in your heart to give me a second chance.”

So baseball has a choice now.

It can continue to be stubbornly punitive with Pete Rose.

Or it can discover its heart and finally forgive.

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