Bob Smizik: Free Pete Rose!

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A Constitutional scholar might suggest the punishment levied against Pete Rose by Major League Baseball is "cruel and unusual." The case could easily be made that what MLB has done and is doing to Rose is grotesquely unfair and, as sports punishment goes, fits the criteria the Eighth Amendment prohibits.

Rose had passionate love affairs both with the game of baseball and the addiction of gambling and as a result of the latter was banished from the sport in 1989 by commissioner Bart Giamatti amid a barrage of evidence that he bet on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. The two succeeding commissioners, Faye Vincent and Bud Selig, have upheld the ban. It’s time for MLB to reconsider its stance on Rose, who will be 73 next month.

There will be no attempt here to portray Rose as some solid citizen of the world, then or now. He is, at least, a scoundrel/con artist and we saw all of that when he tried to lie his way out of the fact he bet on games while managing the Reds. Nor will there be any attempt to downplay Rose’s crime. Gambling on baseball strikes at the heart of the integrity of the game. It deserves suspension. To worsen his crime, it took Rose almost a decade before he fully admitted his wrongdoing. A lot of people, probably Rose, felt that his admission would, at last, open the doors of MLB to his return.

But MLB was unmoved and remains so. Presumably, 25-year banishment is not enough for the men who welcome back drug cheaters after 50-game suspensions and then lavish million-dollar contracts on them.

There is some precedent on this matter, although none of it binding. The closest is in the NFL, where, in 1963, Pete Rozelle, widely regarded as the greatest of the sports commissioners, suspended Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for not just gambling but gambling on their own teams. The suspensions were lifted after one year. One year!

The only similar situation in baseball was the same lifetime suspension levied against "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. His alleged crime: Being an integral party to fixing the 1919 World Series. Not quite the same thing as what Rose did.

In an interview with John Phillips on The Fan last August, Rose pleaded his case.

“I made mistakes. I can’t whine about it. I’m the one that messed up and I’m paying the consequences. However, if I am given a second chance, I won’t need a third chance. And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance. They haven’t given too many gamblers a second chances in the world of baseball.”

Rose deserves a second chance. He deserves to be officially embraced by the fans of Cincinnati and the Reds organization. Most of all, he belongs on the Hall of Fame ballot. The same men who fiercely balk at voting for drug cheats will stampede to enshrine the Hit King.

Rose was one of those guys you hated if he were on the other team but you absolutely loved if he were on your team. While he is despised in Pittsburgh, he is revered in Cincinnati, where he played most of his career and which is his hometown, and appreciated in Philadelphia, where he played five years and helped the Phillies win a World Series.

As is well-known, he is the all-time hit leader with an absolutely staggering 4,256. It’s one of those records that never will be broken. Rose didn’t accomplish this by swinging wildly at everything near the plate. He drew 1,556 walks, 14th all-time.

He came up a second baseman, although not an especially gifted one. When Rookie of the Year Tommy Helms came along, Rose moved, without a murmur, to the outfield. When a spot in left field was needed for slugger George Foster, Rose took over third base. He finished his career as a first baseman. He was an All-Star at five different positions.

He defied injury. He would not sit down. He played in 160 or more games 10 times. He played in 163 games twice. He played in 162 games when he was 41. He had over 700 at-bats 15 times. Although he almost always batted first, he had 1,314 RBIs. Nor was he strictly a singles hitter. Only Tris Speaker had more doubles.

He didn’t so much play the game hard as he played it relentlessly.

Rose’s former teammate Joe Morgan, a great Hall of Famer, recently said this: "Pete did a bad thing. … He broke baseball's cardinal rule. And he shouldn't have taken 10 years to come clean. But he never cheated the game. Yet he's out 24 years as opposed to [Ryan] Braun getting 65 games? That just doesn't seem right to me."

Nor me. Free Pete Rose!

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