Charelie’s Hustle

Ty Cobb accumulated 4,189 hits during his professional baseball career, surpassed only by Pete Rose with 4,256 hits. Cobb earned more than 200 hits in each of 9 seasons, more than anyone else save Rose who accomplished the same feat in 10 seasons. Cobb led the league in hitting for a record eight seasons, while Rose nearly duplicated this feat by leading his league for seven seasons. Ty Cobb was a self-centered mean-spirited vicious competitor and an avowed racist. We all suspected and now Pete Rose admits that he wagered on baseball while a manager. Ty Cobb is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. For betting on baseball, late Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti declared Rose declared “ineligible” to participate in baseball, including the Hall of Fame.

Over the last 18 years, Rose steadfastly denied having bet on baseball despite a formal report by John Dowd, former special counsel to the Commissioner of Baseball. Rose even had some convincing defenders, like Bill James, baseball analyst, now with the Boston Red Sox and historian of the game, who found Dowd’s evidence unpersuasive. Rose’s latest admissions make his supporters and friends now look like chumps and naive fools.

Baseball rules provide a window of 20 years for sports writers to vote retired players and others into the Hall of Fame. In two years, this window slams shut for Rose. Perhaps realizing that his continual denial has not managed to pry open the doors of Cooperstown, Rose has apparently decided to come clean about his betting [1]. The question now is whether it is just and fair to have players of clearly disreputable character, like Cobbs, in the Hall of Fame, while Rose, who bet on baseball, is excluded. Is betting on baseball really worse than racism, womanizing, or drug consumption? Is not admission to the Hall of Fame an acknowledgement of contributions to baseball and not a place to canonize saints? By admitting players like Cobb, baseball has clearly suggested that only contributions directly to baseball and not character are relevant.

Every clubhouse in baseball posts this rule:

“Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee,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.”

This rule and its consequent punishment for violation are categorical and clear. Rose’s on field accomplishments are, by a large margin, worthy of the Hall of Fame. But if one subtracts from these the harm done to the game by undermining its integrity, where should Rose’s contributions be historically placed? His chronic betting and continual denial certainly place a heavy thumb on the other side of the balance.

Americans are a forgiving people and baseball fans are eager to believe the best about Rose If Pete Rose had admitted his transgressions when caught and spent the last 18 year asking for forgiveness and perhaps counseling other players, there would be a stronger case for the Commissioner of Baseball to wave the ineligibility rule on Rose’s behalf. Perhaps, Rose could have been made eligible for the Hall of Fame, while not eligible to join a baseball franchise in any capacity. The last 18 years could have served to mend part of the damage his betting caused. Rather his 18 years of denial have compounded his damage to the game to say nothing of the embarrassment he now causes his stout defenders. His admissions, just as his eligibility for the Hall of Fame is about to expire, smack of just more self-centered behavior rather than true remorse. His recent appearances on television have promoting his book, clearly convey the image of faux sincerity. As others have noted, who exactly is “Charlie Hustle” trying to hustle?

It could reasonably be argued that other transgressions like racism, drug use, or the “jerk factor” should also weigh against admission to the Hall of Fame. These activities detract from the game just as surely as wagering. However, such peripheral though important negatives are best weighed by the baseball writers as they vote for Hall of Fame admission. The sport writers need to consider whether, taken as a whole, a particular player’s baseball career and overall demeanor brought honor and credit to game. There is a strong case that under such a regime, Cobb should not be in the Hall of Fame, but he was voted in a different time and place in our culture. Moreover, much of Cobb’s disgracefulness became common knowledge after his admission to the Hall of Fame.

If Rose’s transgressions had not extended so far after he left the game if he had not compounded his original sin with years of lying, it would be reasonable to allow the balance of his baseball feats and how his other acts to be decided by the sports writers. However, too much time has passed and Rose has not acted to redeem himself. Unfortunately, Rose will and probably should remain the best baseball player to not be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

[1] Rose denies having bet as a player.

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