'Fessing up ... for a price

Money is as much a motivating factor in Pete Rose's admission as his desire to be a Hall of Famer.

Originally Published: January 5, 2004
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

The Hall of Fame announcement is reserved for the great players who did not bet on baseball and then lie about it for 14 years. Today, however, we must once again discuss the subject that, like tuberculosis, will not go away. Pete Rose.

Rose
Rose

After steadfastly maintaining his innocence for 14 years, the Hustler finally admits that he bet on baseball. What a revelation! That lifetime ban he voluntarily agreed to in 1989? Turns out it was justified all along! And to think, it only took the publication of Rose's book with an advanced print run of 500,000 copies to get him to spill the beans.

Jim Gray had it all wrong. Instead of asking Rose whether he would ever apologize for betting on baseball, maybe he just should have offered him a souvenir helmet filled with money.

Not that the Hustler would have necessarily apologized even then. Based on the excerpts from his upcoming ABC interview, contrition is not a priority for Rose. He expressed regret that he lied to officials for 14 years and that his admission took this long because "I never had the opportunity to tell anyone (who) was going to help me.''

In other words, apologies are reserved for fans who buy his book and then pay him an additional $50 at an autograph signing (flat items only). Sincerity not included.

I always thought that an admission would help Rose's cause but given the circumstances, I'm not so sure. The public backed him before this but he could be in for a severe backlash. Those who believed in him will feel betrayed and upset that he lied for 14 years. Those that always knew he bet on baseball but still thought he deserved a second chance are going to be upset that his admission does not contain an adequate apology and was tied to promoting his book.

Fans are infinitely capable of forgiveness but it helps when the person actually asks to be forgiven.

Clearly, money is a motivation for Rose in this, just as it always is for the Hustler. So is his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. According to Cooperstown's rules, players who meet the eligibility requirements can be voted into the Hall of Fame during a timeframe that begins five years after their last game and ends 20 years after their last game. The Hustler's last game was 1986, which means he has just two more years he could appear on the writers ballot.

And because some writers would be justifiably tempted to not vote for him the first year as a protest for his years of deceit, that leaves Rose a very narrow window of eligibility before getting thrown before the Veteran's Committee. I don't know whether those veterans would welcome him or spit on him, but based on Bob Feller's usual opinions of the modern ballplayer, I wouldn't want to chance it myself.

While the Hall's eligibility rules are not the U.S. Constitution and while they have changed over the years, there's no guarantee they would be changed for the Hustler, either. So Rose must get the process rolling and get himself off the banned list as quickly as possible. This "admission'' is step one.

But while the Hustler should be eligible for the Hall of Fame (as long as the plaque mentions his gambling), the ban should continue for his active participation in baseball. It's one thing for a museum to honor Rose for his playing career but a compulsive liar and gambler with more career debts than hits should never be allowed back in baseball in a capacity that could influence the outcome of a game or a season.

It took nearly 15 years for the Hustler to admit what we already knew. And in the meantime, we realized that while he was a Hall of Fame-caliber player, there isn't much else worth admiring.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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