After a long and arduous winter, professional baseball has officially begun. The start of every season marks a sign of optimism and hope that “this is the year,” especially for Chicago Cubs fans.
But this year may also bring other changes that are long overdue in baseball. In his first broadcast interview April 3, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said he would hold a hearing for Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose to consider lifting his lifetime ban from baseball. On the same day, Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jarred Cosart was cleared of betting on baseball but was fined for “illegal gambling.”
You’ll find that these two cases have a few things in common.
Rose holds several MLB records, including 4,256 career hits, but in 1989 signed an agreement to join the permanently ineligible list in baseball. Rose was convicted of gambling on his own team to win when he managed the Reds from 1984–89 — a league rule violation written in 1926 that was punishable by a lifetime ban. As a result, Rose has not been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, because he is still considered banned from baseball.
Manfred, who took over as commissioner of MLB on Jan. 25, may be Rose’s best chance of making it to Cooperstown. The Cornell University graduate has already proposed many drastic changes to baseball, including a pitch clock to increase the pace of play. It’s clear that Manfred is trying to take a progressive step for the future of baseball, and one of the first progressive ideas is to consider reinstating one of baseball’s best players and making him eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Manfred stated that he would handle Rose’s case with two different considerations: whether Rose should be allowed to have an impact on the game and whether he should be in the Hall of Fame.
In March, Jarred Cosart was investigated for sports-related gambling. The Marlins starter was found not to have placed bets on baseball, but violated an MLB rule that prohibits players from placing bets with illegal bookmakers or agents for illegal bookmakers. The rule states that Cosart can be subject to any such penalty as the commissioner deems appropriate, but working with an illegal bookmaker is subject to a minimum one-year suspension.
Things get trickier with Rose when you look at all the facts. The official report filed by John Dowd, the attorney who led the investigation of Rose, came to a similar conclusion, which is that no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds. Rose bet on his team to win, which is still a violation, but in his admission of guilt, the league agreed to make no formal finding with regard to the gambling allegations and would give Rose a chance to apply for reinstatement one year later.
But more than 25 years later, Rose is still not reinstated even though no formal evidence has been filed against him. Rose only bet on games as a manager, and though it was disrespectful to baseball, his success as a player had nothing to do with his gambling habits. There are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame who violated league rules both on and off the field.
Sitting below Rose on the list of career hits is Ty Cobb with 4,191. Cobb was one of the most feared and bigoted players in baseball. Cobb also bet on a fixed game in the 1919 World Series but was not banned from baseball. However, Cobb said his attorneys negotiated his reinstatement by threatening to expose further scandal in baseball if he was not cleared.
In the end, baseball’s history has been filled with unsavory characters who have made mistakes. But I go back to what I wrote two weeks ago when I said that the point of athletics is not to be perfect because human beings aren’t perfect. Rose made a mistake and was caught, but the punishment does not fit the crime in this case.
Manfred has the power to end this tirade in keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Even if he is not allowed to further participate in baseball, reinstating Rose will be a means to an end.