Cincinnati, the birthplace of professional baseball, will host Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star game this year with much pomp and circumstance. Tens of thousands of fans will flock to Great American Ballpark to see the game and attend its various surrounding events. Many will travel down Pete Rose Way as they approach the stadium.
Rose himself – and icon in Cincinnati for good reason – will be there too. Baseball’s all-time leader in hits is being given a hall pass for the event by the very organization that has banished him “for life” from involvement in the game because he bet on baseball games more than a quarter of a century ago. As was the case back in 1999 when MLB honored its “All Century Team” of which Rose was a member, they are making a “one time” exception to the banishment and Rose will be allowed to participate in events surrounding the 86th All-Star game.
It’s a nice gesture, but that’s all it is. Considering whom MLB has gotten into bed with in recent years, the whole Rose situation now smacks of hypocrisy. You could make the case that MLB is using the “Hit King” to help promote themselves and another “King” they’re in business with. While MLB continues to hold to the stance that gambling is the greatest possible sin against the sport, they also continue to accept the big promotional dollars that roll in from their partnership with fantasy baseball – which, let’s face it, is nothing more than gambling in sheep’s clothing.
Baseball is not alone of course. Millions of you will gather in six weeks or so to select your fantasy football teams, which the National Football League also completely endorses – along with promotion of betting lines and point spreads, etc. At least the NFL is less hypocritical about it.
Remember, the NFL had its own Pete Rose-style scandal back in the early 1960’s. It involved Green Bay Packers star Paul Hornung – who is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame AND the College Football Hall (and for good reason.) A Heisman Trophy winner while at Notre Dame, Hornung was a two-time All-Pro running back, an MVP, and four-time Super Bowl champ and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960’s. He was – like Rose – a true superstar.
In 1963 Hornung and another NFL star, Detroit’s Alex Karras, were suspended indefinitely by then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for “betting on NFL games and associating with undesirable persons.” Each acknowledged his guilt and missed the 1963 season. However, the league “reevaluated” their suspensions prior to the 1964 season and each was reinstated. Neither suffered a major blow to their image, their careers, or their status as future Hall of Fame candidates. Today, there’s even a Paul Hornung Award given to college football’s “most versatile player.”
Hornung’s penitence for his gambling involvement also included an agreement to remove himself from all future gambling-related activities, including horse racing and trips to Las Vegas, which he agreed to.
Obviously, baseball has offered no such olive branch to Rose. It’s fair to wonder if – like Hornung and Karras – Rose had admitted his mistakes and come clean back in 1989, would he have been subjected to the same level of punishment he’s already endured? How many times have we seen the cover-up become a bigger deal than the crime itself?
That’s now water under the bridge. Not only did it take Rose 15 years to come clean about his baseball betting (he finally acknowledged his guilt in a book published in 2004) but to this day he remains involved in events in Las Vegas and has not made much of a symbolic gesture – nor even been asked to I don’t believe – to distance himself from any and all other forms of gambling. Rose reportedly underwent some treatment with a psychiatrist for his gambling addiction in 1989, right after his lifetime ban took effect, but he has not been vocal about promoting any sort of anti-gambling platforms since then. It’s a dicey proposition giving a “second chance” to someone who hasn’t really fully addressed their “issues” in the first place. Most people agree that Rose should not be allowed to return to active participation in MLB.
On the other hand, the accomplishments of Pete Rose the player are unquestioned and should absolutely be on display on the ground floor at the Hall of Fame where the plaques of the enshrined reside. There are actually numerous momentous moments from Rose’s career in the museum portion of the Hall, just not the plaque bearing his face that should be on display among the other greats of the game. Those with gambling ties, like Shoeless Joe Jackson, aren’t honored in Cooperstown. Baseball has been steadfast in its policy on gambling. Yet, like everything else in life, when you create a blanket policy and don’t evaluate things on a case-by-case basis, you often miss the boat.
The circumstances surrounding Jackson and the 1919 World Series, known as the “Black Sox scandal,” led to many changes in the game, along with the lifetime banishment of eight Chicago White Sox players who were accused of working with known gamblers to “fix” the outcome of games and the series for their financial benefit. Gambling policies adopted following Black Sox scandal were the basis for Rose’s punishment. However, Rose has never been accused of fixing or throwing any baseball games. The ultra-competitive Rose would sooner cut your throat than lose to you in a game of checkers. So while he placed bets in direct violation of baseball’s most sacred rule, it’s never seriously been asserted that he altered the outcome of games for his own benefit. There is a distinct difference between betting ON your team to win and conspiring to have your team lose.
Regardless, MLB – and the Hall of Fame by extension – continue to adhere to their policies in a very rigid manner, which is their right. While football is far is more forgiving (in many ways, not just gambling… how many admitted steroid users are in Canton?) baseball remains the most difficult sport in which to achieve Hall of Fame stature. That’s okay… except for one thing, which creates the rub: MLB is enjoying unprecedented financial success, due at least in part to the growth of fantasy sports and fantasy baseball in particular. And by any and all definitions, fantasy sports, including the company with multiple signs on the outfield walls at Coors Field, is gambling. A legal and very prevalent form, but gambling, nonetheless. You pay your money, wagering on an outcome and reap a nice monetary award if you win. That’s gambling. And it’s not only endorsed, but promoted by Major League Baseball.
MLB should not be able to have it both ways. Make a decision: Either gambling – and that MUST include Fantasy Baseball – remains THE pariah of the game or it doesn’t. If the man who collected more hits than anyone in the history of Major League Baseball needs to be kept out of the Hall of Fame to continually be made an example of, then fine, leave him on the outside looking in. If that’s going to continue to be the case, then it becomes the obligation of new Commissioner Rob Manfred and the powers that be to disassociate from all forms of gambling, including fantasy baseball. They can’t have one King in and one King out.
Unless they are ready to put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame tomorrow, then it’s time for MLB to put its revenue streams where its mouth is.