Pete Rose turned 80 years old last week.
He played his first game 28 years after Babe Ruth played his last one. It's been 35 years since Rose retired as a player; 32 since he was banned from baseball and deemed "permanently ineligible" for election to the sport's Hall of Fame.
The average time served for murder in the U.S. is about 15 years.
While Pete Rose didn't murder anyone, he didn't go to prison either. (He did spend five months in a medium security prison for cheating on his taxes. But that doesn't have anything to do with his exile from baseball. Getting caught cheating on your taxes won't get you banned from baseball.)
He was also denied an opportunity to work as a coach or manager or goodwill ambassador for any entity associated with Major League Baseball.
You could argue that this damaged Rose economically, because old baseball players who can write "HOF" after their name when they sign autographs at card shows generally are paid more for their signatures than non-Hall of Famers. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame matters for a baseball player in the same way winning an Academy Award does for an actor: It will raise your profile; it might elevate your going rate.
But Pete Rose is not an ordinary Hall of Fame-level baseball player. Pete Rose is Charlie Hustle.
If you need evidence of this, just go to his website peterose.com.
There you can buy baseballs autographed by Pete Rose. One that has his signature and the printed words "I didn't do steroids" will cost you $149.99. A signed ball that says "Sorry I bet on baseball" goes for $174.99, or $249.99 if you want the version also signed by current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. (I'm betting Manfred's signature was the first thing applied to those balls.)
There's a ball where Pete wishes he'd shot Bin Laden. There's a ball where he encourages "Mr. Trump" to make America great again. You can buy basic signed baseballs for $99.99. Rose will throw in a scrawled "hit king" for no extra charge, but if you want him to write out his full name, Peter Edward Rose, it will cost you $149.99.
Or, and this would seem the better deal, you can order a personalized video greeting from Rose for $150.The videos are between 30 and 60 seconds long. Pete could probably sign five or six balls in the time it takes for him to wish a couple a happy anniversary. (But you have to consider the cost of the blank baseball--a dozen official MLB baseballs costs about $240 at retail, though Rose and his guys likely get a good break buying in bulk. Still, figure cost at $10 a ball or so.)
That $150 is a bargain. To get a personalized message from John Daly via Cameo (cameo.com) costs $750. Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest running back in NFL history, charges $599. Stormy Daniels: $250. For $150 on Cameo, you can get Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, or the sea otters at the non-profit Aquarium of the Pacific.
You can arrange a personal appearance by Pete through his website; you can even have dinner with him at "at a first-class restaurant in Las Vegas like The Palm, Smith & Wollensky, Nine Steakhouse or a similar restaurant of your choice."
I haven't seen Pete Rose's tax returns but wonder if he had been elected to the Hall of Fame in the '90s, he'd have such a thriving online business. Rose is the all-time hit king, but since his retirement from playing he's defined himself as the guy baseball banned. He has used baseball as a foil all these years, positioning himself as a martyr done in by the mandarins of the game.
Had Rose showed genuine contrition and taken the steps MLB laid out for reinstatement, he would have been reinstated. Manfred, Rose's co-signer on the aforementioned baseballs, didn't think Rose exhibited "an honest acceptance" of his "wrongdoing" in 2015, so he didn't rescind the ban.
Manfred likely wanted to rescind the ban.
Rose nearly said as much when he talked about how Manfred's predecessor Bud Selig "probably wanted" to reinstate Rose, but couldn't figure out a way to do it.
While Rose has often talked about how he longs to reconcile with MLB, his actions have consistently derailed efforts to bring him back into the fold. Perhaps subconsciously, he has made a calculation that it's better for his business--and for his legacy--to remain estranged from the game's bureaucracy. After all, you can't tell the story of baseball without Pete Rose, any more than you can tell it without mentioning Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
And that's fair. It's questionable what the Hall of Fame means these days; there are plenty of reasons someone might not want to be associated with it. Though there's no reason to doubt that Rose broke a rule posted in every clubhouse, and that he was aware of the penalties attached to breaking that rule, there are worse things than betting on baseball.
Though what Rose did was pretty bad. It wasn't just betting on baseball, it was betting on his own team's games. If you read the John Dowd report that Bart Giamatti commissioned, the picture of Rose that emerges is of a sad, morally rudderless man who consorted with all sorts of unseemly gamblers, bookies and steroid dealers like his housemate Tommy Gioiosa, who eventually went to prison for cocaine trafficking and tax fraud.
Gioiosa was loyal to Rose for years, but in 2011, in a Vanity Fair story by Buzz Bissinger, he alleged Rose fronted money for a cocaine deal and used a corked bat. But Gioiosa never alleged Rose took steroids, though he said the hit king considered it late in his career.
I know there are a lot of people my age and older who idolize Pete Rose, but I never bought the shtick. There was a lot of "look-at-me" in his style, a lot of what we call virtue-signaling. He was a great player, and probably got the most out of his talent than anyone to ever play the game, but he was hardly the best ever. And he played four or five years past the point where he was genuinely good in order to chase Ty Cobb's hit record. He wasn't always a good teammate.
But he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether he really wants it or not.
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