Marolt: Seeing the rulebook through Rose colored lenses
“Any player caught gambling on baseball will forfeit any chance of ever being inducted to the Hall of Fame; unless, of course, that player is actually talented enough to be in the Hall of Fame.”
This may be how Major League Baseball soon rewrites its sacrosanct rule against gambling.
How do you solve a problem like Pete Rose? His 4,256 career base hits is possibly the most impressive record in Major League Baseball, but he broke the only rule in the book that says he is absolutely, positively banned from baseball for life. The greatest hitter in history cannot be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame … yet.
Major League Baseball Rule 21(d) is the sport’s equivalent of an electric chair in the deep end of an unheated swimming pool. So clear is its intent and call for punishment that a cadre of lawyers could only stretch it to 76 words. A layperson can reduce it to this: Don’t bet on baseball games or you’re through.
It is drilled into professional players’ memory banks. Representatives visit every major and minor league clubhouse each spring and lecture everyone involved about this one rule and the penalty for breaking it. There is a sign conspicuous from the front door of every professional locker room reminding players to never, ever bet on a baseball game. The rule is as present in a professional baseball player’s life as is home plate.
What’s at stake with the rule is obvious: The game’s survival. If baseball players are allowed to wager money on games, there is the possibility/probability of players rigging games for desired outcomes. If games are rigged, it is no longer sport. If it is no longer sport, then what’s the point of going to the ballpark? Broadway provides much better scripted drama.
In defense of Rose, people say that his gambling on baseball is no worse than Barry Bonds and pretty much every other star who excelled in the first decade of this millennium using drugs to boost their performance, inflate their paychecks and skew the baseball record books forever. I disagree.
While the steroid era was despicable, at least we could see the effects of drug use on the field. Players got bigger and offensive statistics ballooned. As enhanced as the performances were, we could still watch games assured that the outcomes were not preordained. Albeit in a profoundly perverse way, use of drugs confirmed that players were trying their hardest to perform at the highest level possible. That is what we demand from professional athletes.
Here’s the crazy thing: I can actually picture Rose’s bust next to Hank Aaron’s in the Hall of Fame without my stomach turning. Everything Rose did on the field was earned as honestly as Aaron. Every one of his base hits are as equivalent to Ty Cobb’s as Hammerin’ Hanks home runs are to Babe Ruth’s. By contrast, if you put Barry Bond’s bust up there next to Aaron’s, I’ll lose my lunch.
Although it truly comes down to preserving the integrity of professional baseball for me, in the case of Rose there exists the deleterious nag of unequal treatment in favor of accumulation: money, prestige, records — basically whatever puts you into a privileged class. Even outside the game it is the osteoporosis in the middle-class backbone of our country.
In the case of a minor league player struggling to make it, if he gets caught gambling on baseball, he is banned forever from the game he has devoted his life to. There will be no appeal to the commissioner of baseball. Rose, on the other hand, has lived a life of fortune and fame despite his punishment. Rose’s greatest suffering has come from his severely self-traumatized oversized ego.
In the end, if Rose is inducted into the Hall of Fame, a rule set in stone will be turned over into the mud just long enough to exonerate the exact type of player it was intended to deter: one with enough talent, respect and influence to actually be able to artificially engineer the outcome of a game.
Although I have been a Charlie Hustle fan for as long as I can remember, I can’t fathom having the rule book rewritten for him even though a big part of my heart believes it should be. I’m pretty sure that statement gets me disqualified from sitting on the jury that will decide his fate. For that, I am thankful. It is simply a job I’m not qualified for.
Roger Marolt is not taking bets on Pete Rose’s baseball fate. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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