Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bart Giamatti would have let Pete Rose in, why not Rob Manfred?

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

It just won’t go away (nor should it).  This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the banning (for life) from baseball of Pete Rose.  It wouldn’t be until two years later, in 1991, when the powers-that-be in baseball came up with the “Pete Rose” Rule, that is, a committee which decided that, going forward (just months before Rose could have been voted into the Hall of Fame), if you were on the permanently ineligible list, you could no longer be considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Of course, by 1991, former Commissioner Bart Giamatti was dead, having had a massive heart attack just a few days after announcing the “agreement” between Major League Baseball and Rose that he [Rose] would be banned for life (and, of course, could apply for reinstatement after one year).


New York Times best-selling author Kostya Kennedy wrote a book that came out earlier this year entitled, “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma.”  An interesting read, perhaps the most interesting item in the book (at least from a Pete-Rose-in-the-Hall- of-Fame perspective) was set forth in a footnote at the bottom of page 229.

Discussing the “special committee” put together by the Hall of Fame specifically, apparently, to keep Rose out of the Hall of Fame, Kennedy discusses the early 1991 meeting and the voting that took place in a Manhattan hotel room.  Kennedy, after showing what a joke the meeting was (indeed, Jack Lang, one of two sportswriters invited to be on the committee, said the committee process was “a sham, from start to finish”) and discussing how the rules were changed to bar Rose, added the following footnote:

“Giamatti himself might have been disturbed by the board’s dictatorial move.  When asked at a press conference announcing Rose’s ban from baseball whether the expulsion would have bearing on the Hall of Fame, Giamatti had dismissed the idea, saying he saw no place for intervention: ‘YOU,’ he said, addressing the baseball writers in attendance, ‘WILL DECIDE WHETHER HE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME.’ “  (emphasis added).


Somehow, those feelings never resonated with Fay Vincent.  Somehow, those feelings never resonated with Bud Selig.

After 25 years, will they resonate with Rob Manfred?


What happened was Fay Vincent, Giamatti’s number two man and good friend, became the commissioner of baseball.  While he claims no part of the joke of a meeting that eventually would stop any notion of Pete Rose even being considered for the Hall of Fame (he didn’t attend the meeting in New York and he didn’t vote on the new permanently ineligible list ban from the Hall of Fame), Kennedy (and many others, including yours truly) find that hard to believe.

In any event, clearly, nobody, not Fay Vincent, not the Hall of Fame Committee and, eventually, not Bud Selig, bothered to look at what Bart Giamatti had said at the 1989 banishment press conference.

Clearly, Bart Giamatti wanted to leave the Hall of Fame decision to the baseball writers.


Well, there are many.  Rule 21(d), discussed at length in a prior column (see Kallas Remarks, “The Realities of the Pete Rose Case,”6/3/08), should be changed in a few ways.  Most important, the penalty for betting on your team to win (as opposed to betting on your team to lose) should be somewhere between the lifetime ban for betting on your team to lose and the one-year ban for betting on a game you are not involved in.

The ban for life for gambling, of course, came in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series.  This writer has never been able to find any evidence on whether betting on your team to win versus betting on your team to lose was ever even discussed prior to the rule being implemented by Commissioner Landis (more on him later).  One could certainly argue that, given a fixed World Series, the issue didn’t even come up and everybody was focused on a fix, an intentional loss, rather than a team trying to win a game(s) to make money.

Obviously, there’s a huge difference between betting on your team to win and betting on your team to lose (in the former you are trying to win and in the latter you are trying to lose; that’s pretty simple).  While many say gambling is gambling, whatever happened to the punishment should fit the crime?

So pick a number for Pete Rose’s punishment for betting on his team to win: greater than one year and less than forever.  Five years?  10 years? 15 years?

20? How about 25?  That’s got to be enough, no?

The absurdity continues.


Yeah, Gaylord Perry.  He was a non-descript (he was 1-6 with a 4.03 ERA the season before) pitcher in 1964 when he came into a 23-inning game against the New York Mets and threw a spitter for the first time, throwing 10 shutout innings against the Mets at Shea Stadium and getting the win (for you real old-time Met fans, that was the second game of a double-header that is still known in New York City by old-timers as the game where Willie Mays wound up playing shortstop).

Perry, who went on to a Hall of Fame career, wrote a book in 1974 entitled “Me and the Spitter” (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).  He explained how he first threw a spitball in that 1964 game and moved on to throwing Vaseline balls, etc.

Perry then went on to pitch 10 more seasons (of course, in the book he said he had stopped throwing illegal pitches) and, ironically, became eligible for the Hall of Fame the year Rose was banned for life (1989) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame the year that the “Pete Rose” Rule was passed (1991).

Interestingly, not only was Fay Vincent the commissioner in 1991, he actually gave Perry his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.  According to the Kennedy book, “Asked now, Vincent says he does not think that Perry belongs in the Hall of Fame (because of the cheating); but at the induction he offered no objections, smiling and joking gently as he handed the plaque to Perry.”

Fabulous.  Again, you can’t make this stuff up.

Who did more to hurt baseball, the manager who bet on his team to win or the Hall of Fame pitcher who, by his own admission, had to throw a spitter to even stay in the major leagues and had the nerve to write about it and pitch 10 more years after that?

It’s not even a debate.


Yeah, Commissioner Landis, the former federal judge who saved baseball (well, Babe Ruth saved baseball, but that’s another story).  The tough-minded jurist who came in to clean up the game and did just that.  The man who banned the bad Black Sox for life for the good of the game.  Of course, Shoeless Joe Jackson (a column on him in a few days) and the other Black Sox were still eligible for the Hall of Fame.

But, somehow, people seem to have forgotten that it was Landis who kept African-Americans out of baseball from the early 1920s until his death in 1944.  It was common knowledge then that Landis was the leader in barring blacks from baseball.  Understanding the history, it’s no accident that Branch Rickey did not sign Jackie Robinson until AFTER Landis had died in late 1944.  Happy Chandler, who was more amenable to integration, became the commissioner for the 1945 season.  Robinson was signed for the 1946 season (and played in Montreal) and came to Brooklyn in 1947.

Judge Landis died on November 25, 1944.  Two weeks later, there was a special election to elect him to the Hall of Fame.  So, the man who, by many accounts, was the leader in the movement to keep baseball white had his own special election to get into the Hall of Fame and, decades later, a Hall of Fame committee held their own “special meeting” to pass a rule to keep Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame.

Who hurt baseball more: a manager who bet on his team to win or a commissioner who kept African-Americans out of “America’s game” for over two decades?

Again, not a debate.


Well, what about Fay Vincent?  He said an interesting thing about Pete Rose in a June 2008 interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York City.  Vincent, long viewed as the number one opponent to Rose getting into the Hall of Fame, was plugging a book when the conversation turned to Pete Rose. 

Vincent stated that he thought that, if Rose had come clean earlier and admitted that he bet on baseball, he would have eventually been reinstated to baseball.

To this writer, that’s a startling admission.  After talking for years about how Rose had to be banned forever because of the deterrent effect it would have against other ballplayers who thought about gambling, Vincent changed his tune.  Indeed, by saying if Rose had admitted his guilt earlier, he could have eventually been in the Hall of Fame, he changed the conversation.

When does one go from being commissioner to being God?  Who gets to judge when an apology is timely and when it’s too late?  Who makes up these rules as they go along?

A startling admission that got very little play or press coverage (see Kallas Remarks,6/3/08).


Kostya Kennedy makes a compelling case in his book against the writers who, because Rose so distastefully came out with his poorly-timed “admission” book to make money, say they would have then but wouldn’t now vote for Rose for the Hall.  As Kennedy states,  “It is a galling position, strange and misguided. … The argument against Pete Rose’s being in the Hall of Fame, in other words, had devolved, now turning not upon his violation of a sacred baseball tenet, but whether a voter LIKED a guy or not.” (emphasis the author’s).

The reality of all of this is that Rose should be allowed in the Hall of Fame for no other reason than the fact that Bart Giamatti, whose legacy these later commissioners think they are protecting, apparently would have disagreed with what they’ve done since the “sham” process that barred Rose from getting into the Hall of Fame.

If Bart Giamatti was OK with it (it’s up to you, the writers, whether he gets into the Hall), then it should be OK with Fay Vincent.

And Bud Selig. 

And, soon, Rob Manfred.

We’ll see what (if anything) happens in the near future.


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