Schmidt on Rose ban, 20 years later
On Aug. 23, 1989, Pete Rose signed an agreement banning him from baseball. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and Rose led the Phillies to the 1980 World Series title. In 2002, Schmidt accompanied Rose to a meeting with commissioner Bud Selig.
By Mike Schmidt
It's been 20 years since Pete Rose was banned for life from baseball by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti. Recently the subject came back to life, recycling the same old issues, without attention to some interesting elements that should be mentioned on the 20th anniversary.
An interesting question was posed to me in a recent interview: Do you think things would have been different if Mr. Giamatti was still alive?
Bart Giamatti, the commissioner on duty in 1989, was in possession of strong evidence that Pete had indeed placed bets on his team. Pete insisted he was being set up and that it could not be factually proven. Armed with secret information from an in-depth investigation, Giamatti diplomatically offered Pete a deal -- if Pete would agree to a lifetime ban, baseball would not expose its evidence and Pete could go away quietly.
First, from Pete's perspective as one of baseball's superstars, almost to the point of believing he could beat anything from a traffic ticket to armed robbery, he saw that the agreement offered him an out, the right to apply for reinstatement every year. Why else would he have signed it, why else would he agree to a lifetime ban under any circumstances?
Yes, you, I, and he know he was living a lie at the time. But assuming that burden would eventually get too heavy for him, and then he could appeal to Giamatti. From my perspective looking back, Giamatti was a compassionate man who would have eventually met with him, laid out a lifestyle plan that Pete would follow, and today he'd be a forgiven member of baseball's family. Sounds simple, and it could have been with the right people driving it, led by Giamatti.
From baseball's perspective, putting this to bed was paramount. No telling what would ensue if it was to dig deeper. Arguably its biggest star compromised the integrity of the game. The guy that made the sprint to first on a walk, the headfirst slide, the leader of the Big Red Machine, the '80 Phillies, he played in more winning games than any player in history, he was the all-time hits leader, one of the biggest faces in baseball, and he was now considered a baseball outcast. How dare anyone test the poster hanging on the clubhouse wall, the one warning against gambling? This needed to go away, and it seemed like Mr. Giamatti had a good plan.
No one, however, anticipated the untimely passing of commissioner Giamatti, especially Pete. Before Pete could ever meet with him, appeal to him, come clean and apply for reinstatement, Mr. Giamatti passed away from a heart attack. Baseball lost a great ambassador for sure, and as unimportant as it was at the time, Pete's fate now was in the hands of his successor, Fay Vincent.
Vincent was close to Giamatti and felt Pete's case helped apply immense stress and was a factor in his friend's death. Vincent subsequently upheld the ban with even more fervor. Enter Bud Selig, another passionate baseball man, who inherited the Rose case, and for years refused to take calls on the subject. It was always "under advisement."
OK, we all know the story from here on. Pete admitted to Selig he lied and asked for forgiveness, baseball was slow to act, Pete's book came out early and stepped on the Hall of Fame unveiling of Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley in early 2004, and the private admission to Selig went public via the book, not from the commissioner's office. To Bud Selig, it reeked of sleaze and money, and that image has never left his brain.
Pete's attempt to appeal and apply after 14 years initially seemed to be a success. However, as time went on, it was bungled from all sides. Pete remains in baseball purgatory.
Now you're current, so here's my first question: Did Pete Rose, in fact, knowingly compromise the integrity of baseball? And second, did/do the players who used steroids knowingly compromise the integrity of baseball?
Pete bet on the Reds to win, never to lose. He never managed with the intention of not winning. Do you believe for one second the gambling underworld was tuned into Pete's betting habits? Pete never bet big or long enough to sway the gambling line. This has all been dressing to make it clear where gambling can lead. I'm not trying to say it's not serious -- it is -- but I'm asking you to compare its impact on the game to steroid use.
Steroid players knowingly ingested chemicals that gave them an unfair advantage over clean players. Not only were they compromising the game's integrity, they were jeopardizing the long term for short-term financial gain, confusing baseball history. And, oh yes, some might've broken the law.
Pete bet on his team to win and has been banished from baseball for life. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez et al, bet that they would get bigger, stronger and have a distinct advantage over everyone and that they wouldn't get caught. Which is worse? Does the penalty fit the crime?
Pete's banned for life, he sells his autograph to pay bills. Ramirez and his cronies apologize, are forgiven and get $20 million a year. They giggle all the way to the bank and could end up in the Hall of Fame. Is this the way Bart Giamatti would have wanted it 20 years later?
Recently, Pete's case was given a new life by the great Hank Aaron, who said Pete had served a sufficient penalty time, deserved to be reinstated and considered for the Hall. All of us thought this was a new life for Pete, as Aaron is close to commissioner Selig and could sway fellow members.
Not so, as Mr. Selig went back to his favorite "under advisement" stance. He has his reasons, which I may disagree with but respect.
Even if Pete were to get by the commissioner, I feel it would take serious massaging of the members by Aaron, Joe Morgan and myself to get him the needed 75 percent quorum on a vote of Hall of Famers for election, and that may not be enough.
Pete is Pete and always will be. To know him is to love him. He has a wonderful heart, but has never adjusted his lifestyle to the degree needed to impress the current administration. No one would disagree with that, but everyone must consider baseball's inconsistency in dealing with those players who have compromised the game.
Twenty years have passed, isn't that enough?
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index