x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Rose will never get to blossom again

For the better part of the last five or six years, the biggest Baseball Hall of Fame debates have centred around the worthiness of players linked to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

For the better part of the last five or six years, the biggest Baseball Hall of Fame debates have centred around the worthiness of players linked to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Such discussions have replaced the old stand-by: should Pete Rose be eligible for - and, subsequently, voted into - the Hall? That shift highlights part of Rose's problem. The longer his banishment lasts, the less people debate his absence.

Though Rose has never truly disappeared from the baseball landscape, he has been marginalised - out of sight, out of mind. Twenty years ago this month, when then-commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose for gambling on the game, Rose became a cause célèbre. To his die-hard fans, Rose, baseball's all-time hit leader, was railroaded from the game. But it is difficult to well up much sympathy for Rose's plight. As manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he bet on games, and while maintaining that he never bet against them. That is a moot point. By betting on them to win some games but not others, Rose effectively picked his spots and valued some games more than others.

Worse, in the eyes of baseball, Rose repeatedly lied about his culpability. Rose personally told Giamatti, then Fay Vincent, and finally, Bud Selig that he never bet on baseball. But when he was offered sufficient money to write a book, tell-all Rose finally came clean - for a price. Recently, at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Henry Aaron expressed hope that Rose would someday have his ban lifted, and a day later, a New York Daily News story suggested that Selig was considering such a move. But a day later, Major League Baseball sources refuted the story and the issue receded into the background again.

There is a school of thought that while Rose publicly pines for reinstatement - and, by extension, induction into Cooperstown - privately, he enjoys his outlaw status as the best player not in the Hall of Fame. This is reinforced each July, when during Induction Weekend, Rose sets up shop independent of actual Hall of Famers, selling his books, autographs and other wares. To be sure, Rose still has his supporters, though they seem to be shrinking in volume. They argue that a Hall of Fame without Rose is incomplete, given his status as the game's all-time leader in hits, at-bats and games played. Indeed, Rose's achievements are substantial - he won three batting titles, three championships, one MVP, two Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team from five different positions.

They further argue that Rose's transgressions are no worse than the many players who dabbled in PEDs and thus, like Rose, impugned the integrity of the game. But that is precisely where Rose's backers' argument comes up short. While it could be argued that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and other users - documented or alleged - cheated themselves and the game, Rose crossed another line. By gambling on games while sitting in control of a team's fortunes, Rose invited doubts about the outcome. Once fans and others have reason to question whether the result is orchestrated or worse, pre-determined, the essence of competition is compromised.

Rose's records will never be erased, nor will his contributions to the game. But part of his legacy is his foolish and arrogant disregard for one of the game's cardinal rules. His utter lack of remorse, coupled with some of his post-career off-field troubles, call into question his contrition. And if Rose is being made an example, he has no one but himself to blame. @Email:smcadam@thenational.ae