When it Comes to Pete, MLB’s “Integrity of the Game” Argument is Bullshit
Once again the Pete Rose Hall of Fame topic has raised its dirty face. I drive along, tuned into MLB Network Radio, and listen to the hosts – usually company men, shills for the organization – and callers, rant about how Pete knew what he was doing, committed the Cardinal Sin of baseball and therefore should not ever be allowed into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Sometimes I feel compelled to call in, but think better of it. What’s the use? Argue with a host that already has pat answers, refer to calls from raving mental patients? There’s better ways to spend one’s time; so I flip the station to something else and continue on my merry way.
The reason, however, I think Pete deserves to be in the Hall is pretty basic. The argument for anyone saying he shouldn’t be in is that he bet on baseball, so the integrity of the games – the most sacred of sacreds – is on the line. After all, if the outcome might be affected – such as the Black Sox scandal of yore – who gives a crap about baseball?
I would facetiously argue that “reality TV” is drawing pretty well, as does professional wrestling, and perhaps other fixed sports such as boxing, the NBA and NFL (no proof on the latter, but it’s always fishy the way things go down, especially when the games matter). This is my light, cynical reasoning, but the biggest reason I would argue on Pete’s behalf is what integrity of the game?
Pete’s gambling occurred as a manager, so his playing days might be considered separate altogether. Apparently they’re not, so lumped together, Pete is seen as a gambler who while there’s no proof he affected games at all, may have had some hand in outcomes. Anyone who understands Pete knows he is such a competitor it’s completely unreasonable to assume he threw games. That leaves potentially damaging pitchers’ arms to ensure winning them. Well, there’s no proof of that, and in a country that maintains proof to convict, it’s a bit sketchy at best.
The only thing that matters to me though is that assuming Pete affected games’ outcomes, or not, and just placed bets on his team to win, is that more of an affront to the integrity of the game than Bud Selig either incompetently allowing big leaguers to rewrite the (just as sacred) big league record book by not knowing their “too good to be true” numbers were chemically enhanced, or perhaps more obvious – happy it was going on?
Either way the “integrity” aspect was and continues to be shot to hell to me. Baseball – from Bud on to broadcasters, managers, players and fans, were and are involved in deception. The numbers were heavily padded for an entire era, and continue to be padded. PED cheats still pop up, many are allowed to cash in on the next large contract, and younger stars are passed off as the next Mantle, Mays and Aaron. Until they’re caught – if they’re caught.
Players bulking up to the size of NFL linebackers and being judged not on baseball skills but “tools” – earning contracts through football-style combines where they pull or push cars, lift weights, drag cement blocks, etc., as opposed to traditional baseball skills.
Bud is gone, but it’s yet to be determined how different the new commish, Rob Manfred, is. After all, MLB wants viewers, wants asses in the seats and knows it must compete with the NBA and NFL for those who require superhuman achievements and action – action – and more action! The modern fan is deficient of mental skills required to appreciate what makes baseball the best game, and what put it atop all other sports and called the National Pastime. The time of a game was never in question as fans understood the nuances of the “game”, not necessarily the “sport.”
Today we are supposed to buy massive bodybuilder type players gaining weight over the few month off-season and when an older player improves in his advanced years, hitting everything in sight in a red hot post-season run, we’re supposed to assume it’s legit. We know in the very recent past the players were all doped up and cheating, but now – well, it’s different. It is, it really is!
Then some busts happen or someone is outed and we’re told it’s an isolated incident, not to worry. The commish will handle it. Whatever – it’s an insult to fans’ intelligence and speaks volumes to me that there is very little “integrity” left in the game. If the 100+ year record book is peppered with trickery, why do we draw a line in the sand where baseball’s all-time hit king can’t cross?
All I know is Pete played the game like all of us would want any player on our town’s team to play the game. When Steve Sax came up from AA ball to play second for the Dodgers, it was like watching our own blue Pete Rose. He ran to first base when he walked, he hustled non-stop – it was fun, it was energy. Pete played that way every game of a very long career. He amassed, legitimately, more hits than anyone who ever played the game. If sportswriters mull over whether Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Palmiero, Big Mac, Piazza, Sosa, etc. – even nice guy Andy Pettitte – deserve to be in the Hall – eventually – then Pete should get that level of respect. More. Pete didn’t do anything unethical as a player – unless you count overly enthusiastically bowling over a catcher in the All-Star game.
Yet I see many baseball writers in my Twitter feed saying they voted for PED-era users or suspects and feel they should be in. I will say Bud and MLB created a very messy problem for the writers to figure out. In reality, if Pete is not allowed to be in the Hall, none of the PED users should either. And I would argue perhaps even if Pete is allowed in, the PED users shouldn’t (plenty of old-timers they could allow in first – Gil Hodges, for one). What the dopers did was affect outcomes of games and took away a large part of the mystique of baseball’s record book. No other sport considers its record book as gospel as much as baseball – a game built on its past and its statistics. Pete gambled, but he didn’t do it as a player, and there’s no proof his gambling affected games. We KNOW all those extra home runs, RBI and pitching accomplishments did.
I don’t get the dislike of Pete. I see him in interviews and he seems very genuine in his lifelong love of baseball and regrets what he did. Some punishments cannot be lifted – this I get – but it seems once Bud touted “Chicks Love the Long Ball” as MLB’s post-strike mantra and advertising campaign, all bets were off the table. There has been no “integrity” so to speak in over 20 years. No one can look at Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Papi, Yasiel Puig, etc., etc. and know for sure that what they’re doing, that seems so incredible, is in fact all-natural. That is the legacy of Bud and why the game’s morals are damaged.
I don’t see the talking heads on MLB Network Radio or the TV side, MLB Network, or during games, on the radio, in columns, etc., saying this. Baseball writers, ex-jocks and pundits don’t want to be the one caught calling out the game or the commish. They don’t want to be blackballed – like that reporter in San Francisco was when he went after Melky Cabrera – and they certainly don’t want to lose access to the locker room, or free food. So they talk up the incredible achievements happening on the field and never do their duty as reporters and ask – “Do we know for sure that this is real?”
I am suspicious immediately when anything looks too good to be true. The old adage is that if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. We certainly learned Bud’s heralded home run chase of Roger Maris by pumped up buddies Big Mac and Sammy Sosa was. The aging Roger Clemens pitching as good as he did when he was a young man, etc., etc. Baseball has a past steeped in dirty behavior – racists, drunks, abusers, drug addicts, etc. In that way, unfortunately, it is like any walk of American life. The Hall is full of bad eggs, but as MLB Network Radio hosts says, what Pete did goes beyond being a bad boy – he made us call into question the scores themselves. Ok, if that’s true (again, no proof that it is), how are Bonds fantastic accomplishments at age 40, Clemens, and all those hits, homers and RBI by the rest of them any less? You’re going to tell me that in those record-breaking stats, no achievement directly affected the outcome of a game? There was no walk-off homer, no 15 K pitching win, no 4-5 RBI night that helped a team win? Please… it’s offensive to anyone with a brain in their head.
Baseball and the writers not having the balls to bring any of this up are sickening. Listening to them continue to paint Pete as something akin to a Nazi because he bet on games as a manager is pathetic. I don’t know how the old or new commish sleep at night, nor the guys who know more than they’ll ever tell. Managers, former and current players, announcers, beat reporters, etc.
There is no baseball Hall of Fame without the all-time hit leader in it. And if you’re going to ban him from having a plaque next to violent racists and other offenders, fine, just don’t ever cast a vote – or even put on the ballot – a whole generation of players we know either did performance enhancing drugs, or whose numbers suggest they likely did. They do not belong as they hurt the “integrity” of the game. As a fan, I find this inexcusable – but more than just blame the players, who wanted accolades and tens of millions of dollars – I point the finger at those who allowed, and even promoted, their offenses.
In the end, Pete deserves to be a Hall of Famer – with a comment or two on his plaque how after he retired, he admitted to gambling on baseball when he managed. I am not sure it will ever happen, or most certainly not sure it will happen in his life – which is just sad. On a bright note, Pete won on the field and continues to win in life. Kiana Kim? Once more – please – the man is a genius. And certainly the textbook description of how a person is supposed to play the game of baseball.