Any player/Any era: Pete Rose

What he did: Rose has the career record for hits with 4,256, as well as most games played, plate appearances, at-bats, outs and, I’m guessing, money bet on baseball. The latter feat helped get him barred for life from the game in 1989. I consider Pete Rose the greatest baseball player not in the Hall of Fame, I align myself with those who say his ban is cruel and unusual punishment, and I believe baseball should grant an amnesty to Rose and another banished great, Joe Jackson. I say enough is enough, but it’s not my decision.

Era he might have thrived in: The Deadball Era

Why: Rose’s problem is not that he got caught up in illicit activity. It’s that he played 60 years too late.

As the Ken Burns Baseball book recounts, baseball suppressed a betting scandal in 1926 involving future Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis permitted both players to quietly retire (and later let them play again) while American League President Ban Johnson paid $25,000 to have information destroyed that Cobb and Speaker bet on a game of the 1919 World Series they knew to be fixed. Rose is not known to have done anything approaching this yet he’s long gone from baseball.

Gambling was endemic in baseball from 1900-1920, the height of the Deadball Era, with many players being barred for fixing games or betting on them including Heinie Zimmerman, Hal Chase and the eight Chicago White Sox players, including Jackson, who threw the 1919 World Series. But there hasn’t been anything substantiated that Rose ever threw a game. Rose finally admitted to betting on games where he was a manager, after years of lying about it, but he maintains that he always played to win. Assuming that’s true, it’s far different than conspiring with underworld figures to rig a game.

Evidence shows that Rose was a compulsive gambler, and addictive behavior can rear its head in any generation or environment. Rose may have gambled on baseball no matter the era. But in the early days, long before free agency or seven-figure contracts, Rose would have had a fraction of the money to gamble with. He also would have had baseball’s brass on his side — rather than being directly responsible for his exile — had his transgressions become public.

There are other reasons Rose would have thrived in an earlier era. His style of play always suggested he was plucked from another generation, a scrappy throwback who gave his all, earning the nickname Charlie Hustle. Rose’s gregarious, roughhouse character also would have been perfect in an era where players scarcely ranked above street criminals in the social hierarchy.

Needless to say, had Rose played in the Deadball Era, I think he’d be in the Hall of Fame.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a ballplayer might have done in a different era than his own. The feature debuted June 3, 2010 under the name “Different player/Different era.” I’m changing the name, effective this week, because the first one is confusing.

6 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Pete Rose”

  1. To me, this is a no-brainer. How can the man with the record for lifetime hits–one of the most cherished records–not be in the Hall of Fame? What do the man’s personal moral failings/pathologies have to do with his playing ability and his unsurpassed stats?
    I don’t like Pete Rose, and I never did. He was a bit of a bully and probably not all that bright. But I have to respect what he accomplished on the field. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

  2. I think you underestimate the affect of a Manager betting on a team- even if he bets to win. In an effort to win a bet on one game, maybe Rose burns his bullpen out, or risks an injury to someone, or makes a decision that another manager would not. All in the effort to win 1 game. A great manager plays for the length of the season and knows 1 game might not be as important as the next. A manager betting on a game feels that game is much more important than the next.

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for commenting.

      Someone offered this argument in the comment section before. I don’t know if I agreed with it then or now, but maybe I’m not placing enough importance on what you’re saying.

      I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a Rose apologist too. I think he got a raw deal for what he’s known to have done.

  3. Dan makes a great point. But with that thinking in mind, I could see suspending Rose for a time as a manager or front office man. But that his betting while managing should pre-empt him from being in the HOF as a player is at this point absurd.

    I only met Pete once when I was in college and worked as a waiter in a hotel where his team stayed while he was playing. Pete was a really nice guy, very down-to-earth and much more accessible than most of his peers at the time. I remember a comment Pete’s first wife made about how Pete would have his stats out on the kitchen table every day while he calculated what he need to do to bat .300 and get his 200 hits each year. He sounded and to me in my short knowing of him, was like a big kid. Very competitive, ambitious and utterly addicted to the adrenalin rush of playing the game. I think gambling was the replacement for that. He’s paid the price. Let him in the Hall, let him be a hitting coach somewhere for a pro-team. He’s a very flawed man, but he is a treasure.

  4. I wanted to add a bit of HOF irony here. Although it is another sport, the escapades of HOF Football great Paul Hornung are a good counterpoint to Rose’s oppressive treatment. Hornung and Alex Karras were caught betting on football games and associating with suspicious types of people. They were at first suspended indefinitely, but soon the suspension was lifted after barely a year.

    Rose on the other hand has been suspended for over 20 years.

    Hornung made it into the Football HOF easily.

    Since Hornung’s reinstatement and HOF election, I’ve seen that the integrity of Professional Football and the Football HOF have survived quite well. Yet MLB and Cooperstown still cling to a faux-standard of excellence that is quite flawed; one case being the Cobb/Speaker incident that Graham wisely pointed out.

    A further irony is that Hornung and Rose shared similar reputations. Both were hard-nosed, old school players who liked to party and live on the edge. They were both dominant players of their time who were also known for their versatility, playing different positions with excellence.

  5. Either you loved or hated Pete Rose,depending on what side of the fence you were on. He definitely brought a crowd to life. It was funny to watch him getting booed in Atlanta one sunny day when Atlanta had nothing to cheer about. He raised a clasped fist as he ran around the bases for a home run. 🙂 What better way to stir a crowd ! Other then leading in the statistic columns he was a real fan attendance draw,like Mark “The Bird” Fidritch was for the Detroit Tigers. Pete would make a Great coach as he is the one responsible for most of the data others use on computers. He knows baseball, but most people don’t like him and believe he should be reprimanded. He probably cussed out more than a few sports writers in his day. Sports writers;not fans, decide on Hall of Fame candidates

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