A tale of two baseball cheaters
Why is it the best of times for Mark McGwire but the worst of times for Pete Rose?
Mark McGwire is back in. But Pete Rose is still out?
Major League Baseball continues its hit streak of hypocrisy.
How is it that McGwire receives a standing O from St. Louis Cardinals fans, but Rose still has his 68-year-old face pressed against MLB's window? McGwire not only goes directly from his self-imposed isolation tank to a big league coaching job, but he has Cards manager Tony La Russa running interference against anyone who thinks this is a bogus idea.
Meanwhile, Rose, who has forgotten more about hitting than McGwire will ever know, remains an outcast. Huh?
They both compromised the game and they both suffered irreparable harm to their reputations. But somehow Rose's baseball sins are mortal and McGwire's are venial. Doesn't make any sense.
Just so there's no confusion, Rose was a creep. He gambled on baseball games, got caught and then lied through every one of his Charlie Hustle teeth for nearly 15 years. He violated the game's most sacred rule and was thrown out of the profession like a scuffed ball gets tossed aside by a plate umpire.
Then-MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti is the one who banished Rose from baseball in August 1989. Eight days after Rose signed the agreement, Giamatti died of a heart attack. His successor, Fay Vincent, didn't budge on the ban. Nor has Vincent's successor, Bud Selig, who considered Giamatti one of his closest friends.
Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball in 2004. Doesn't matter. The MLB-issued lifetime restraining order prohibits him from coming within a foul pole of the game.
What Rose should have done is this: Take illegal steroids and performance enhancers, deceive baseball fans, make millions of tainted dollars, cheat the record book and the Roger Maris family, press the truth mute button, go into hiding and then reappear five years later with tears in his eyes and a confession with more holes than a catcher's mask. (PEDs didn't you help you hit home runs, Mark? Really?)
To McGwire's credit, at least he admitted the obvious and apologized. Still, how come Rose's gambling admission in 2004 makes no difference to MLB, but McGwire's recent admission of steroid use (nearly six years after his embarrassing congressional appearance) results in a welcome-back hug from the league office?
Not everyone is thrilled with Big Mac's return. Since McGwire's Confession Lite, Hall of Famers such as Carlton Fisk and Ferguson Jenkins have ripped him. Adolphus A. Busch IV, whose family once owned the Cardinals, also put McGwire on a hitting tee and swung for the fences. And HOF 2010 inductee Whitey Herzog questioned the blind loyalty of some Cards fans.
McGwire deserves it all.
Soon, McGwire will report to spring training as the team's new hitting instructor. He gets to wear a major league uniform again. He gets to do what he loves.
Not Rose. The all-time hits leader (his career .303 batting average is 40 points higher than McGwire's) is in a permanent holding pattern. Selig sits in MLB's control tower and refuses to let Rose land.
This isn't about the Hall of Fame. The moment Rose made a bet on baseball is the moment he forever forfeited his bronze plaque. McGwire should be held to an identical standard. The moment he began defrauding the game, the fans and the record book with his PED-aided dingers is the moment he became persona non Cooperstown.
Rose gambled. McGwire juiced. Both cheated.
If Selig is going to embrace McGwire's explanation and apology, then he has to do the same for Rose. It's time to end the double standard endorsed by the commissioner's office and MLB.
Not to go all Reagan-ish on you, but Mr. Selig, tear that Rose wall down.
I don't know if it's the right thing to do, but it's the fair thing to do. You can't give McGwire a second chance, but ignore Rose's plea for reinstatement. You can't hug one cheater, but stiff-arm the other.
Rose has apologized for his mistakes for six years.
McGwire has apologized for his for two weeks.
Rose has groveled, begged and pleaded for forgiveness. He even sells T-shirts on his Web site that read, "I'm sorry I bet on baseball."
McGwire issued a statement to The Associated Press and agreed to a handful of sit-down interviews, but has yet to do a full news conference (the recent six-minute fiasco in St. Louis doesn't count). Put it this way: McGwire hasn't gone through the full truth car wash.
Yes, Rose betrayed the game by gambling on baseball. There's no way around that elephant in the middle of the dugout. But McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte -- admitted PED users -- betrayed a similar trust.
Selig is a compassionate guy. It is his strength and his weakness. He adored Giamatti, so perhaps he worries about compromising his friend's legacy by reversing the Rose ban.
But who knows if Giamatti wouldn't have softened his own stance over 20-plus years? Anyway, Giamatti made a decision on his own. Selig is secure enough to do the same when it comes to Rose.
Rose made his major league debut in 1963, the same year McGwire was born. McGwire made his major league debut in 1986, the same year Rose played his final game. So they are linked by years, by scandals and by confessions.
If Selig does the right thing, Rose and McGwire will be linked by 2010, too: the season they both returned from exile.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
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