Hall of Fame Stacked Cards Against Pete Rose


Sep 6, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pete Rose of the Big Red Machine takes the field after the Reds 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of CBS News’ interview with Pete Rose this morning, this seems like a good time to take a step back and remember that his constant battle to regain Hall of Fame eligibility is not what he signed up for in his 1989 ban agreement.  In fact, the Hall of Fame itself slapped an unprecedented restriction on Rose nearly a year after he accepted his lifetime ban from baseball.

For most of the Hall of Fame’s history, there was no direct, official correlation between a player’s eligibility to work in the game and his eligibility to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In face, all-time great Willie Mays was banned from baseball for working at a casino in 1979, the same year he was elected to the HOF.  

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In February of 1991, though, the Hall of Fame board of directors met and declared that any player on baseball’s permanently ineligible list would NOT be considered for election to the Hall of Fame.  With that, Pete Rose’s name dropped off future ballots, maybe forever.

Coincidentally(?), Rose was set to appear on the ballot for the first time that December.

The Hall of Fame board maintained, of course, that they were just codifying a rule that had always been informally enforced, and that the action was not aimed at Rose specifically. I was dubious then and remain so today.

Rose was an outright pariah in the early 1990s, and today’s younger fans probably don’t appreciate the extent of vilification that he endured. In those pre-steroid days, baseball was not accustomed to such universal bad guys, and Rose was a convenient target for the powers-that-be when they wanted to divert attention from baseball’s other problems.

This is a different day in the game, though, and we understand that there are shades of gray and compromises all around us. There is no reason that Rose can’t be swept up in our new kindler, gentler handling of offenders.

In fact, the very decree that damned him 23 years ago could be his ticket to HOF salvation now.

The “simple” solution to this whole Pete Rose situation is for the Hall of Fame to remove its restriction on voting for baseball’s ineligible players and get Rose’s name on the ballot.  He has been ineligible all these years, so he has all 10 years remaining in his HOF ballot life.

If, after 10 years the voters haven’t elected him, well, then that’s another matter.

But it’s time to take the question of Pete Rose’s immortality out of the commissioner’s hands and give him his shot at the Hall of Fame.