Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Pete Rose, why does the Hall of Fame ignore Bart Giamatti?

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

Many of you know the saga of Pete Rose and his attempts to get back into baseball and/or into the Hall of Fame.  These, of course, should be totally separate issues.  But now a ruling by the Hall of Fame’s board of directors (curiously voted on in December 2016 and only announced this past week) has upheld the absurd rule (known by many as the “Pete Rose Rule”) to keep Rose out of the Hall of Fame.


Say what you want about Pete Rose, but nobody questions that his on-field abilities should have given him a first ballot vote for Hall of Fame induction.  All-time hit leader, Charlie Hustle, multiple World Series winner, etc., etc., etc.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame.  It was shown that Rose, as a manager, had bet on his team to win (not to lose, a big difference for right-minded people).  In any event, on August 24, 1989, came the announcement/press conference that Pete Rose had agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball.

Since Shoeless Joe Jackson of the 1919 Black Sox scandal had been on the Hall of Fame ballot and even received some votes over the years, there didn’t seem to be any question that, in 1991, after his five-year post-retirement waiting period, Rose would at least have a chance to be voted into the Hall of Fame.


Author Kostya Kennedy, in his fine book, “Pete Rose, An American Dilemma,” recounts what then-Commissioner Giamatti said on the day that Pete Rose was banned for life:

           “When asked at the 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.’ “

(p. 229, footnote 1) (emphasis supplied) 

How this statement of Bart Giamatti’s view on Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame has somehow escaped Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and many others is hard to imagine.


Unfortunately for Commissioner Giamatti (and, as it turned out, for Pete Rose as well – to a much lesser degree, of course), Bart Giamatti died of a massive heart attack in Martha’s Vineyard on September 1, 1989.  According to the Kennedy book, the 51-year-old Giamatti had been “overweight and a chain smoker and unhealthy in many ways.”  Indeed, according to Kennedy, Giamatti’s “doctors were not entirely shocked by his fate; an autopsy suggested that Giamatti had suffered a separate, minor heart attack as well.” (p. 214).

In addition, Kennedy points out that Giamatti’s death gave those in charge of Rose’s fate (Fay Vincent and, later, Bud Selig) “another reason that it has been so difficult to ever forgive Pete Rose.”


Pete Rose was still on track (no gambling pun intended) to become a Hall of Famer (or at least to be voted on by the writers, as Bart Giamatti had wanted) in 1991, five years after he had retired from playing in 1986.

But the powers-that-be decided in 1991, before there could be an actual Pete Rose Hall of Fame vote, that they would meet in what was described as a “sham” by one baseball writer involved and pass a rule that would ban Pete Rose and all others on the permanently ineligible list from even being considered for the Hall of Fame.

Kennedy goes into excellent detail about the meeting in New York City on January 10, 1991 and what a joke it was.  According to Kennedy, eight of the ten men present were there to specifically stop Pete Rose from getting into the Hall of Fame later that year.

It’s a compelling read (pp.227-231) with the highlights (lowlights?) being that there were two members of the Baseball Writers Association there, executive secretary Jack Lang and past president Phil Pepe. 

According to Lang, the committee process (on the new rule) “was a sham, from start to finish.”  Former American League President Lee McPhail brought up the motion to ban all players on the ineligible list because he was “very concerned” that Rose might be inducted into the Hall of Fame (again, either unaware of what Bart Giamatti wanted or, worse, unconcerned about it).

According to the Kennedy book, Lang and Pepe, the two baseball writers (and Hall of Fame voters), “protested strongly but to no avail.” The original vote was 7-2 (only the two baseball writers voted against the rule) with the Hall of Fame’s president, Ed Stack, eventually joining the minority to make it 7-3.  According to Pepe, that was for show: “If it had been 5-4 when it came to Ed there is no way he would have voted to even it up.  It was a calculated vote, for show.”

And, believe it or not, that’s how Pete Rose was banned from the Hall of Fame (less than a month later, the full Hall of Fame board of directors passed the rule).  Forget what Bart Giamatti had said; these guys just ignored his desire to have the baseball writers vote on Rose and steamrolled a rule through to shaft Pete Rose.

And, to this day, it has worked.


Pete Rose wrote to now-commissioner Rob Manfred who had a different take on the Rose Hall of Fame situation: he punted it to the Hall of Fame.  Manfred, in late 2015, denied Rose’s request to get back into baseball but avoided the Hall of Fame controversy: “It is not part of my authority or responsibility here to make any determination concerning Mr. Rose’s eligibility as a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Maybe Manfred read the Kennedy book.  Maybe he was/is aware of the obvious preference of Bart Giamatti, considered a great man by all of his successors as commissioner, to allow the writers to vote on whether Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But it would have been nice (and fair) if Manfred had simply stated (given Giamatti’s view), that the writers should decide Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame status because that’s what then-Commissioner Giamatti stated at the time and, therefore, Rose could now be voted on by the writers.

Ask Manfred and he would probably say now, as he did then, that it’s not part of his authority/responsibility to do that.  But who stands up for what Bart Giamatti wanted if not the commissioner of baseball?

Very sad.  And very wrong.


In September 2016, Pete Rose’s attorneys sent a letter to the Hall of Fame asking that the Hall of Fame voters (still the baseball writers) be allowed to consider Rose.

Apparently, in December (by conference call, no less), the Hall of Fame board of directors met and “deliberated” the “validity” of Rule 3(E) (the “Pete Rose Rule) that was rammed through in that New York City hotel room under a “sham” process in 1991.

Not surprisingly, according to the Hall’s statement, “[a]fter extensive discussion, a vote was taken in which the Board ratified” the Pete Rose Rule.  There was no disclosure as to the actual vote (it would be nice to know if anyone had the guts to vote against Rule 3(E)).

There was also no discussion about whether any member is even aware that it was Bart Giamatti’s wish that the baseball writers, not future commissioners, not future Hall of Fame board of director members, vote specifically on Pete Rose for the Hall of Fame.


Pete Rose is now 76-years-old.   He has been banned from baseball for almost 28 years.   Clearly, Bart Giamatti wanted him banned for life from being on a baseball field in any capacity until he, at least, “reconfigured his life.”  You can debate that all you want – but let’s say he hasn’t “reconfigured his life.”

Make no mistake: the “reconfigure your life” test had NOTHING TO DO with Pete Rose getting into the Hall of Fame.  In Giamatti’s own words, on the day Rose was banned for life, “you [the baseball writers] will decide whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

So Fay Vincent, Bud Selig, Rob Manfred, Jeff Idelson and all of the members of the Hall of Fame board of directors at the December 2016 meeting (by conference call) have ignored (or are unaware of) the specific statement of Bart Giamatti.

That should be corrected immediately and Rose should be put on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Of course, don’t hold your breath waiting for the right thing to happen.


No comments: