This site has been in existence for a little under a year now, and my most popular post by far remains a list I published last May, The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. It gets the most visitors, the most comments, and the one time so far that I’ve received any money from this site, it was because an online casino wanted to advertise on that page. The irony, I suppose, is that the ad was a text link to a betting site in the paragraph I wrote about Pete Rose, who’s No. 1 on my list.
The Hall of Fame, I’ve learned, gets people talking, and one of the things that’s stirred some controversy among my readers is that I included banned players Rose, Joe Jackson and Hal Chase unlike other people who’ve written on this topic, such as Tom Verducci. My take is: If we’re talking about making a list of all the best players not in the Hall of Fame, the list should be just that. Cooperstown’s rules for admission shouldn’t apply, at least in my view, if all we’re doing is debating the 10 best players not enshrined. It’s not like I’m offering a list of the 10 best people not in the Hall of Fame.
With that said, I think the standards for Cooperstown eligibility should change. I think it’s time baseball call an amnesty and elect Rose and Jackson and strongly consider the merits of Chase, a great defensive first baseman from the Deadball Era. Let bygones be bygones. On talent alone, Rose and Jackson are both immortals and earned their plaques long ago. Jackson has the third highest batting average all-time, .356, and Babe Ruth is said to have modeled his swing after him. Rose meanwhile has the all-time hits mark and probably also rates as one of the 10 most competitive players in baseball history. Without either player, the Hall of Fame doesn’t seem complete, at least to me.
Granted, what either man did to qualify for banishment is morally reprehensible, with Jackson helping gamblers fix the 1919 World Series and Rose betting on games his teams played in (though he has since said he played to win.) But baseball has long been a sport of questionable characters and unabashed degenerates. Cooperstown has honored cheats like Mike “King” Kelly who used to cut from first to third on the base paths when the umpire wasn’t looking and given plaques to Rogers Hornsby, Gabby Hartnett and Tris Speaker who were in the Ku Klux Klan. Regardless of if Jackson or Rose ever gets forgiven, baseball will still be the same sport that didn’t let black players in the majors until 1947, didn’t feature a black manager until 1975 and let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn in the interim.
I understand KKK membership was once considered socially acceptable and that gambling is a huge no-no, the ultimate sin in baseball. I think the game has long since made its point with the draconian bans meted out to Jackson and Rose. After the decades-long waking nightmare that both players received for betting on the game, I’d be astonished if any player wanted to risk a similar fate. It’s been like the baseball equivalent of Scared Straight!
Baseball could do well to forgive, but definitely not forget. Imagine what an occasion such an induction ceremony would be, what Rose’s speech might sound like. I think honoring Rose and Jackson would be amazing publicity for the game. I think baseball has suffered a lot in the last 20 years, between the Steroid Era and the still-lingering effects of the 1994 strike, and that’s just the obvious stuff. Baseball has gone a long way from being America’s Pastime to a sport of petty gripes and selfishness. Forgiving a couple of sick men who were also incredible players would be a show of the sort of altruism the game should welcome.
Jackson died in 1951, and Rose turns 69 in a couple of weeks. This opportunity isn’t going to exist forever.