By Abram Erickson
Despite entering the 31st year of his lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, Pete Rose is back in the news.
The Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal has recently exposed the pervasiveness of cheating in baseball. As a result, Rose has chosen to submit a petition to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred asking for his lifetime ban to be lifted.
Notwithstanding the tarnish that now accompanies his name, Pete Rose is undoubtedly one of the most successful baseball players ever. Over the course of his playing career, which lasted from 1963 to 1986, Rose amassed an incredible amount of accolades. Chief among them include the major league records for games played (3,562), at bats (14,053), hits (4,256), and singles (3,215). However, he is rarely remembered for these accomplishments. Instead, it is the gambling scandal that resulted in his banishment from the game that often defines his legacy.
Banned for life
In early 1989, the MLB received a tip that Rose previously gambled on games as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. As a result, MLB Commissioner Bart Giammati hired John Dowd, a Washington lawyer, to conduct an investigation into these accusations.
After compiling hours of testimony from multiple sources, Dowd concluded that Rose had a regular history of betting on games. Most importantly, this included games in which his own team was playing.
The MLB Rulebook clearly prohibits gambling. Rule 21(d) states: “(1) Any player, … who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year. (2) Any player, … who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Major League Baseball carefully crafted these rules following the Black Sox Scandal. In 1919, eight members of the Chicago White Sox took money to throw the World Series to benefit gamblers. As a result, the MLB banned all eight men, including all-time great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, from baseball indefinitely.
This scandal served as a major blot on baseball’s record as “America’s Pastime,” and forced the league to swiftly enact strict rules with strict punishments to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
However, exactly 70 years after the events of the Black Sox Scandal, baseball had another gambling problem on their hands. Despite all of Pete Rose’s incredible success, Commissioner Bart Giammati implemented his lifetime ban from baseball on August 23, 1989.
Rose’s ban removed him from his role as manager and guaranteed he would never manage or play in a professional baseball game ever again, however, his punishment is relevant for other reasons. Most importantly, the ban stipulates that he is permanently ineligible for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Rose amassed numerous impressive accomplishments during his playing career. There is no doubt he would be a Hall of Famer today, were it not for his involvement in gambling.
Periodically, Rose has submitted petitions to the Commissioner asking for reinstatement into the voting process of the Hall of Fame. In 1997 and 2002, he met with then-Commissioner Bud Selig, while in 2015 he submitted a petition to current Commissioner Rob Manfred. Most recently, he submitted a proposal to Manfred on Feb. 5.
A Fourth Try
Differing from previous attempts, this time Rose and his lawyers have a new defense for why he should be reinstated. “No objective standard or categorization of the rules violations committed by Mr. Rose can distinguish his violations from those that have incurred substantially less severe penalties from Major League Baseball,” the petition says.
The petition refers, of course, to the recent news that in the past three seasons, the Houston Astros used technology to illegally steal signs and relay them to batters at the plate. This sent a shockwave through baseball, considering that the Astros won the 2017 World Series while relying on the practice.
Following a wide-reaching investigation and punishments to the management of the Astros, Commissioner Manfred opted to offer immunity to the players involved in the scandal. He believes the blanket of immunity will allow the players involved to share information on how they stole signs to help the MLB prevent the practice in the future.
Rose and his lawyers claim that the actions of the Astros’ players, who stole signs, and those of Rose, who gambled, had a similar effect: they undermined the integrity of the game. However, the Astros’ players got off scot-free, while the 79-year old Rose continues to pay the price.
Manfred has yet to respond to Rose’s petition, and while many believe it will swiftly be denied, others have hope that Rose will finally be welcomed back into baseball’s good graces. Whatever happens, rest assured his story won’t disappear.