Unless you believe left field is actually third base, you can't dispute baseball's case against Rose. It's just that, even though he gambled and lied his way into the game's slammer during the 1980s, he still owns more hits than anybody else, which means he has 4,256 reasons for reaching the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum sooner rather than later.
"Oh, I don't think about that," Rose told me in September between speaking gigs at Miami University, my alma mater in Oxford, Ohio. Within milliseconds, he reversed himself. He probably remembered he was speaking to that scared kid from his past who grew up to become not only a national sports journalist, but a Baseball Hall of Fame voter.
"There is actually one thing about the Hall of Fame that I've never figured out," Rose said, and I'll explain later.
First, Peter Edward Rose was my favorite baseball player when I was a youth, and I met him 40 years ago as a freshman at Miami. He never forgot my name. I discovered as much when I dealt with this always accommodating sports icon often after I went from college graduate to working for The Cincinnati Enquirer within a week. He was the spark plug in town for the Big Red Machine, which won two World Series championships and more games than anybody else during the 1970s.
Now I help decide who enters the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the game's all-time hits leader wishes to have a plaque someday. He deserves it, but here's the problem: The unofficial Pete Rose Rule.
Not coincidentally, the rule surfaced in 1991, two years after Rose was placed on the permanently ineligible list. Those on the list are barred from working in the Major or Minor leagues in any official capacity. The Baseball Hall of Fame board of directors wrote the rule to ban those on the (ahem) permanently ineligible list from reaching the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot.
That involves my ballot.
In fact, this whole "permanently ineligible list" involves Rose. Otherwise, why didn't this rule exist in 1919, when Shoeless Joe Jackson and his Chicago White Sox allegedly threw that World Series to the Reds in conjunction with gamblers? As the game threatened to slide into oblivion after the Black Sox Scandal, baseball announced that those betting on the sport while in uniform would be ousted forever.
Rose flouted that edict when he managed the Reds in the mid-1980s. A baseball investigation determined he was involved in illegal gambling on the game through bookies, and he eventually accepted a lifetime ban from former Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who died days later.
Then came the unofficial Pete Rose Rule out of nowhere.
Just so you know, the 15-member Hall of Fame board of directors mostly consists of baseball executives and Hall of Famers, and many were enraged by Rose's refusal to admit his gambling habits until he confessed them in a book 15 years later. Now add Manfred saying in his four-page decision Monday that Rose still hadn't followed Giamatti's order to "reconfigure his life" and that Rose fibbed at the start of his September meeting with Manfred about his gambling habits around his current home of Las Vegas.
Rose changed his story by the end of his chat with Manfred, and the 74-year-old former All-Star player even admitted to betting on baseball these days, but he says he does so legally.
So he remains on the permanently ineligible list, which is fine, but the unofficial Pete Rose Rule for entry to the Hall of Fame isn't, in my view. According to Brad Horn, the vice president of communications at the Baseball Hall of Fame, its board of directors has the power to create or change rules at any time.
Change this one.
Yes, there is that clause on the BBWAA ballots that says voters should consider the "character" and "integrity" of the candidate. But Rose did reverse himself in a hurry during his session with Manfred. Plus, after I huddled with Rose throughout his trip to Miami -- where he implored students from early afternoon to late evening in various settings to learn from his slew of mistakes -- I'm convinced he has repented.
Which brings us back to Rose pondering something at Miami about the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Since I've never been on the Hall of Fame ballot (because of the lifetime ban), I don't know why my time has ticked," he said, referring to the Hall of Fame rules that say a candidate can stay on the BBWAA ballot only 10 years after his retirement. Afterward, a player's Cooperstown fate goes to a special committee, mostly composed of Hall of Famers.
Most of those Hall of Famers on different boards remain anti-Rose, and Rose knows it. He also knows that more than a few BBWAA Hall of Fame voters join me as Rose sympathizers. So he asked me with wide eyes, "Why has my (10 years) of eligibility on the writers' ballot expired?"
To translate: If the committee decides Rose's fate, he'll never get into the Hall without a ticket. If I, along with the other BBWAA voters, have the opportunity, he has a better shot.
I referred that question to Horn, who said, "The Hall of Fame rules outline the candidacy of a player whose career ended in a span of no more than 15 years from his retirement, so if (Rose) is reinstated at some point ... his candidacy would be through the Era committee (composed mostly of those Hall of Famers), unless that bylaw was changed."
Here's a thought: Change it.