By Mike Schmidt
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — I received numerous phone requests over the last few days to comment on the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball.
Seems like only yesterday, rather than 15 years ago, when I met Pete in Milwaukee for his famous “confession” talk with Commissioner Selig.
Following Pete’s apologetic admittance to gambling after 14 years of denial, Commissioner Selig seemed in a cooperative and forgiving mood, actually helping to map out an itinerary for Pete’s possible reinstatement.
Over the following few months, things went sour, as did the commissioner’s attitude.
Pete’s penchant for bad decisions and relationships, plus a need for money, caused a premature book release in New York, which conflicted with the Hall of Fame election news conference. This was a direct hit to baseball and couldn’t have come at a worse time for Pete.
Commissioner Selig never returned to this issue with the same attitude he had that day in Milwaukee, and the Rose case file hasn’t been opened since.
This anniversary does bring light to some points relevant for discussion, possibly for the final time. Pete is 73 years old and getting close to the age where it will be hard for him to enjoy the fruits of baseball’s forgiveness, if it ever happens.
Yes, Pete finally admitted to betting on the Reds. But never bet on them to lose a game, so forget the idea that he may have altered the outcome of a game with managerial decisions.
Part of his path to reinstatement called for him to clean up his life by eliminating gambling, staying clear of that environment, and working to become a model citizen.
For sure, in the minds of the baseball hierarchy, that has been a stumbling block.
The final and most important point for discussion, related to this 25th anniversary, is the retirement of Commissioner Selig, the takeover of Rob Manfred and the possibility that the Pete Rose issue could be revisited.
Some food for thought on these points:
I remember it like yesterday, growing up in Dayton and having the poster of Pete as a Reds rookie on the back of my grandmother’s bedroom door. It was there so she could tailor my Little League uniform to look exactly like his.
He was Charlie Hustle, the guy who ran to first base on walks, who ignited the Reds’ offense, and infuriated the opponents with his style of play.
Did we know then that he’d stroke 4,256 hits, set numerous records and lead two franchises to World Series championships? God knows how many other adjectives could apply to his Hall of Fame playing career. It was his short managerial career that brought him down.
With 25 years of his sentence gone by, isn’t it time for a parole hearing? This wasn’t a capital crime. He placed a couple bets on his team, but never altered a game’s outcome.
Yes, this is a crime against baseball. But to make him an example as if he were some sort of criminal, or menace to society, is ridiculous.
Sure, there have been other personal issues with Pete’s open-book life of which he is not proud. But he’s 73 now, and at least his case should be re-examined for the sake of closure.
For those who’d say Pete’s gambling indiscretion is no worse than players being caught using PEDs, you’re not far off. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
Commissioner Selig saw it as a very serious crime against baseball that went directly to the heart of the game. He believes Pete broke the most sacred rule — players are warned about the gambling rule each spring, and there’s a sign on the clubhouse door that reminds them every day during the season.
From the commissioner’s perspective, it’s the worst offense possible, and his is the only one that matters.
You might ask how Pete could have gotten caught up in this as manager of the Reds in 1989. Remember, Pete Rose was an American sports icon then. He was in the headlines for something every day.
Pete did not have what Michael Jordan had and LeBron James has, people to shield them from the outside world, to help sift through the less-than-desirable hangers-on who want to use them only for financial gain, bad people who in the end will only expose you to more bad people.
Pete was on his own and allowed the wrong people into his life, providing access to things like gambling. Understand, famous people like Pete think they are invincible, above the law, and that rules don’t apply. They believe they can wriggle out of anything because of their fame.
I’ve been there. What cop in Philly would’ve given me a speeding ticket in 1980?
This attitude, and an entourage of thugs looking for personal gain, eventually took Pete down. A little of this, a little of that, then a slip-up by a trusted sleazy friend, and Pete got caught doing something he couldn’t beat, placing bets on baseball games.
Don’t think for one minute I’m making excuses for Pete. He was and is guilty. I’m asking, hasn’t Pete been punished long enough?
His example is there to act as an additional deterrent for those who might think like Pete once did. Possibly, incoming Commissioner Rob Manfred could cut ties with Selig on this, revisit the issue, and be willing to consider that Pete has been an example and been penalized long enough.
Pete’s example will never go away. Heck, he would be willing to go to spring camps and tell his story to make it even more effective, should he be reinstated. If Manfred were so inclined, he could make Pete an asset.
Why, while Pete is still able to walk and talk, and most of all appreciate it, can’t baseball forgive? In light of other serious indiscretions today that receive a hand slap, you’d think one of its greatest of all-time would at least receive closure.
For so many years, Pete Rose fans were everywhere. But the base is shrinking every day. I’m amazed how at every banquet at which I speak, during the Q-and-A segment, someone of my generation asks if I think Pete will ever get into the Hall of Fame.
It’s a subject that still captivates older baseball fans. And the window to satisfy not only Pete, but also fans who appreciated and were entertained by him, is closing.
So it’s not only Pete growing old and running out of time, it’s my generation of fans who need to know: “Will Pete Rose ever get into the Hall of Fame?”
Until Pete is reinstated into the family and his name appears on the Hall ballot, we’ll never know. Let’s hope the incoming commissioner has the time to help us answer that all-time great sports question.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was 13 years old when Pete Rose made his big league debut in 1963. In 1980, Schmidt and Rose teamed to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series championship.
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