The Lion Doesn’t Roar For Pete Rose

The only thing surprising about Major League Baseball's promotional deal with MGM Resorts is that anyone would be surprised that the deal prompted Pete Rose's partisans to surge forward. Enough to proclaim that, at long enough last, it's time for their flawed and aging hero to be brought in from the cold and up to the Hall of Fame.

NBC Sports writer Craig Calcaterra writes that the news generated a little about what the partnership means practically, and a lot of But what about Pete Rose?!!!! How can MLB keep him banned?!! Hypocrites! Calcaterra goes from there to try a little reason, which isn't always something in play whenever the 77-year-old Rose comes up in a conversation, as he still does now and then.

"While there may be the broadest, most cosmic level of discontinuity between baseball going into business with a casino given its ban on players, coaches, and umpires gambling, there is no practical inconsistency or hypocrisy or irony or anything else about it," Calcaterra continues.

"This is because baseball's ban on gambling was never, ever about gambling being some moral abomination that cannot be countenanced in any way. It was about the manner in which gambling compromised the competitive integrity of the game and thus imperiled baseball as a going concern. Players were gambling on baseball and cozying up to gamblers to throw baseball games. That had to be stopped and it was stopped. Full stop."

The 1919 World Series fix finally forced baseball to face and destroy the game-fixing culture. But you're entitled to argue that the Reds institutionally are victims of the game's two worst gambling scandals. One left them a suspect World Series winner, whose longtime untrue image was that they couldn't have beaten those White Sox in a Series played entirely straight. The other cost them their franchise face, which is exactly what Rose was for at least two decades in their uniform, despite a couple of stops in Philadelphia and Montreal.

Whenever Rose returns to the general conversation it still seems forgotten at times that his original banishment from baseball didn't mean his immediate banishment from Hall of Fame election, for which he was to stand a year after he was banned in 1989. The prospect of Rose elected to the Hall despite banishment from baseball was real enough that the Hall of Fame — never an official, formal arm, or division of organized baseball itself — quaked.

No player qualified otherwise but banned from baseball had ever appeared on a Hall ballot. There was no formal rule against it before 1990 because the Baseball Writers Association of America was sensible enough to recognize that the banished had done dishonor and that to honor them otherwise was dishonor itself.

Rose's banishment wasn't acclaimed universally in the moment and there was great fustian on all sides of the issue, precipitating the likelihood that a player and manager who had been thrown out of the game for violating its gambling rules would yet be elected to the Hall of Fame, where the two Black Sox most likely to have been enshrined otherwise, outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson and pitcher Eddie Cicotte, had not been and would never be.

Thus did the Hall, well within its rights as an independent entity, rule that players ineligible for standing in organized baseball were likewise ineligible to stand for election to the Hall. The Baseball Writers Association of America went nuclear over the new rule, but the fallout proved erasable as the years went passing by.

One or another revelation finally punctured Rose's prevarications and diversions. His own ill-timed confessional was published just as Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor were elected to the Hall of Fame, eroding somewhat their just acclaim. The eventual exhuming of the Michael Bertolini notebooks finally nailed tight shut what commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti and his investigator John Dowd believed, that Rose was a bettor on baseball as a player, manager, or both, in games in which he had an obligation to perform or manage.

Rose's partisans still insist upon treating Rule 21(d) as a mere technicality that ought to have nothing to do with whether he can be elected to the Hall of Fame:

"Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.

"Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible."

But the Hall made and has since stood fast upon its own prohibition against the banished standing for election. And Rule 21(d) is not rendered inoperative or rescinded merely because Major League Baseball, a corporation in the franchise business, forges a promotional partnership with a legalized gambling concern such as MGM Resorts for the purpose of giving a legal blessing to fan betting.

About the only real question the MLB/MGM partnership raises ties to pace-of-game questions so often pondered aloud by commissioner Rob Manfred, who says it may not necessarily be terrible that fans at the sports books can get a little creative with their betting during games. Emphasis on fans. See Rule 21(d) to relieve further doubt. Bryce Harper, a native of Las Vegas, still can't mosey into the MGM Grand next season and lay down a bet on whichever team wins his services for the next, say, 10 years.

His partisans still insist that Rose has "suffered enough" for his crimes. Few players loved the game as deeply as Rose; few enough played the game with six parts bullhead determination and half a dozen parts a kid's reckless joy. It's not unreasonable to suggest that earning six figures a year as a broadcast analyst and memorabilia salesman offers only so much relief from suffering even from self-inflicted wounds and self-invited consequences, including the knowledge that he wounded the game he loves grievously. They are left yet again to ponder that the Hall of Fame isn't where the end of your banishment for breaking the rule under which you played and managed begins.

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