On August 24, 1989, the Pete Rose betting scandal came to a close when the all-time hit leader and then-commissioner Bart Giamatti agreed to a deal that would slap Rose with a lifetime ban from baseball in exchange for hush-hush from both sides. Though the agreement allowed Rose to apply for reinstatement after a year, he has been denied re-entry into the game and remains barred 25 years later. With a changing of the guard at top of baseball’s power structure, the next few months will either bring Rose back into the baseball family or seal his fate to a life without closure.
Rob Mafred will take over the commissioner’s seat from Bud Selig next January, and those two men hold a firm grasp on Rose’s future, or non-future, in baseball. Basically, Rose has two chances to get back into baseball before he dies, and those opportunities will likely evaporate if they haven’t been exploited by next spring.
First, Selig could wave his magic wand as he steps down from the pulpit, anointing Rose with baseball’s equivalent of a Presidential pardon. There have been moments during Bud’s reign where he seemed to at least be on the verge of listening to Rose’s pleas, even though nothing came of it. Selig loves to be loved, and he would endear himself to a couple of generations of Rose fans by sucking the Hit King back into baseball’s good graces, even if in a limited fashion. He has little to lose from a PR standpoint, as the overriding sentiment seems to be that steroid users were much worse for the game than Rose was, and there aren’t a ton of blatantly anti-Rose fans out there.
Even though there are some good reasons to think Selig might soften his stance on Rose, the fact is that he’s 20+ years to do it, so Rose can’t count on his old “pal” to get the job done.
If Selig steps down and leaves Rose outside of baseball’s fishbowl, then it will all come down to Manfred, and it shouldn’t take long to figure out what his intentions toward Rose are. Manfred is no newcomer to the game and has been at Selig’s side, in some capacity, for better than a decade. He knows the landscape, knows all about Rose, and almost surely knows what he will do with Pete if Bud leaves this quagmire to his successor.
If Rose files for reinstatement with Manfred and is rejected again, or if no answer comes from the new commissioner’s office, then it’s all over. No new evidence will emerge to make Rose look better over the course of however long Manfred ultimately lasts at the top, which will almost surely take Pete through the end of his life.
If the new commish goes so far as to even open a dialog with Rose, then, it’s a good bet that Charlie Hustle will be reinstated at least to the extent that would make him eligible for the Hall of Fame. The pot would have been stirred, and a new groundswell of Rose support, larger than we’ve seen in the past quarter century, would be too much of a force for Manfred to ignore.
Either way it goes, the final verdict on Rose’s eligibility induction into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime should be clear for all of us to see by the time the Cincinnati Reds head to Spring Training next February. Maybe, just maybe, there will be more to report than just pitchers and catchers.