Why Charlie Got Hustled: The Long Overdue Call From The Hall

Wrote this on Sportscolumn.com a long time ago…one of the articles I’m most fond of…pics and quotes taken from wikipedia and the Baseball Almanac, respectively.

“Playing baseball for a living is like having a license to steal.” – Pete Rose

Major League Baseball has committed a sin; an absolute crime. They have robbed a man of his lifelong dream; of the ultimate accomplishment in the game that he loves more than anything in the world. He was robbed of this achievement, which he rightfully earned, and perhaps deserved more than any other player in the history of the game. Pete Rose was cruelly robbed of his place as a baseball immortal.

“The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is a sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. There is absolutely no deal for reinstatement.” – Bart Giamatti

At least Commissioner Giamatti acknowledged that Rose was one of the best players to ever grace a diamond. But with this announcement on August 24, 1989, Giamatti banished one of the greatest heroes of the sport and cast a dark shadow over the game.

Since Charlie Hustle’s banishment that fateful day, we have never seen another player with so much heart, hustle and determination as him. Rose collected hits like they were being handed out for free: He is the all-time record holder for most hits in a career with 4,256 and currently holds the second longest hitting streak in the history of baseball, one that lasted 44 games. Rose finished his 24-year career with a .303 batting average and a .375 on-base percentage and holds the all-time record for most games played and most at-bats. If he could, he would’ve played every inning of every game for his entire life. That’s how much Rose was in love with baseball.

Rose won the National League MVP award in 1973 and Rookie of the Year in 1963. He made 17 all-star appearances at five different positions, and won three World Series titles with the Cincinnati Reds. He was MVP of the 1975 World Series and a leader of the `Big Red Machine’. He won three batting titles, two gold gloves, and has more seasons of 200+ hits than anyone else, with 10. Rose was extremely versatile too, playing over 500 games at five different positions over his career.

So what is a player with such amazing credentials doing sitting on the bench, riding the pine, NOT in the Hall of Fame? The reason is that Commissioner Giamatti banished Rose from baseball for betting on the Reds as their manager, a charge Rose denied, but still agreed to be placed on baseball’s ineligible list for. Rose denied the ruling for years after his expulsion, until 2004, when he published a book called My Prison Without Bars, an autobiography in which he admitted to betting on baseball.

Seventeen years after Rose’s ban, he has yet to be re-instated and still watches the Hall of Fame inductions every year instead of being included in them. So was Rose’s betting on the Reds really “detrimental to baseball” as Giamatti claimed? Is it really any worse than taking steroids to enhance one’s play? Because if it is, it’s unfair that sluggers like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire will most likely be Hall of Famers and Rose won’t. Today, people are arguing that Bonds should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer based on accomplishments alone, not on merit. Well, Bonds pumped up his muscles, lied to the Supreme Court, and unnaturally changed his performance. That is a lot more detrimental to the game then betting on a team you manage. Besides, it’s not like Rose was paying the pitchers to throw the ball down the middle.

Steroids and gambling: both can be unhealthy, both are illegal in baseball, but only one physically affects how an individual plays the game. I’m not saying steroids helped Barry Bonds have a beautiful swing, have the power to hit a home run, have a better eye at the plate, or have loads of talent. In fact, I agree that Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame based on his career before 2001. But, if Bonds is a Hall of Famer, Rose is undoubtedly one as well. Both players made a choice and both have been criticized for what they’ve done. The only difference is Rose got the ultimate heave-ho. Rose committed a crime against baseball that is much less harmful to the game, yet he was punished in the harshest way possible. Bonds and other substance-abusers are getting to walk free, and with every step they taint the game a little bit more.

The bottom line is that Rose betting on baseball was a minor crime compared to what’s going on today, for two reasons. First, Rose’s play and managerial tactics were not affected in any way, shape or form. Secondly, what Rose did does not resonate with younger players who look up to the pros and try to mimic everything they do. Steroids have crept all the way into high school locker rooms, and there is no doubt in my mind that part of the blame has to go to the professional players who make it seem okay to be juiced. Rose is a god and a role model compared to some of the superstars of today.

“I think just about everybody ought to get a second chance and I’d like to see it worked out, because he brought a lot of joy to the game, and he gave a lot of joy to people, and he’s paid a price – God knows, he’s paid a price.” – Bill Clinton

Of course you think everybody deserves a second chance, Bill. Of course you do. Jokes aside, our former President makes a couple good points. Rose really did bring a lot of joy to the game and he really did pay a price. Being thrown out of the baseball world and stomped on for seventeen years is a pretty good price to pay. We baseball fans have never seen a player who hustled all-around as much as Rose did since he was banished and I don’t know if we’ll ever see someone with as much heart and who loved the game more than he did.

“Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose and I believe in letting the other guy lose.” – Pete Rose

The picture I ripped out of Sports Illustrated that is on my wall says it all. It’s a shot of Rose in 1976 sliding headfirst into third base, his body completely off the ground, eyes full of steely determination, focused on nothing but reaching the bag safely. That is how he played for 24 years straight. Now, I challenge you to find a player today who has never jogged to first on a groundout or who has played his heart out on every pitch of every inning of every game of every season. Let me save you some trouble: You won’t find one.

There are no Pete Roses left in baseball. Charlie Hustle played harder than anyone else and never let up. He played every game like it was his last and did whatever he could to win. Without a doubt, at the very least, this man deserves re-instatement to baseball. I’m too young to have ever seen him play, but I still envy and worship him as a player, for moments I’ve seen clips of and heard about; plays that I will never forget.

Scene: 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, bottom of the 12th inning. Rose is on second after his leadoff single, Bill Grabarkewitz of the Dodgers is on first, and the Cubs’ Jim Hickman is at the plate. (The All-Stars back then would play the game to win, but it was still an exhibition in a way, just to assure players’ safety. And unlike today, there was just pride on the line, no home-field advantage for the World Series.) Unfortunately for Indians’ catcher Ray Fosse though, Pete Rose was of a different breed. He didn’t care about getting hurt, just as long as his team won the game. So, when Hickman singled to center and Rose came barrelling around third, looking to score the winning run, he ran over Fosse, who was blocking the plate, and won the game for the National League. That’s how Rose played: to win at any expense.

“Does Pete hustle? Before the All-Star game he came into the clubhouse and took off his shoes and they ran another mile without him.” – Hank Aaron

Everyone who played with him or against him knew it. They knew he was one of a kind. The kind that had so much desire to win and so much love for the game that nothing would slow him down. They all knew that he was a star and that he would eventually have a spot in the Hall of Fame. If Rose was re-instated today, he would be unanimously voted in on the first ballot and rightfully so.

With the way rules are already bent so much on a daily basis in every level of baseball, it’s hard to believe that Commissioner Bud Selig can’t re-instate the best pure hitter to ever play the game. It seems like the only reason he won’t, is he’s either afraid of the backlash from people who support the decision to ban Rose, or he just doesn’t want to be the one to do it. When cheaters like Bonds and Sammy Sosa are given pardons and second chances, it’s a travesty of monumental proportions that Rose doesn’t even get the place in Cooperstown that he deserves.

We all know that the Cincinnati Reds organization subliminally supports Rose in his quest for re-instatement and wants him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. How do we know this? It’s not just a coincidence that Rose’s number 14 jersey has not been worn full-time by any other Reds player since Rose played (His son had a short stint with the team in which he was issued his father’s number). It’s sort of an informal retirement of the number out of respect by the Reds, because as part of the lifetime ban, the Reds were not allowed to officially retire his jersey.

“When you play this game twenty years, go to bat ten-thousand times, and get three-thousand hits, do you know what that means? You’ve gone zero for seven-thousand.” – Pete Rose

This article may simply sound like a plea to get Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. And in a way, it is. But, mostly, I am just giving one of the greatest of all time his due. He deserves to be given a second chance and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame amongst the rest of the best players in baseball history. Rose gave his life to baseball, the least baseball can do is give it back.

“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” – Pete Rose

And I’m sure he’d do the same to have a plaque in the Hall of Fame of the game he loved.

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