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By Any Other Name

Be forewarned . . . what follows has nothing whatsoever to do with University of Georgia athletics.

While this posting is sports-related, it bears no connection at all to the Bulldogs.  The only way you could even tie the two together is by noting that the relevant team, the Cincinnati Reds, shares the same primary uniform color as the 'Dawgs.  (As a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves, I take a certain pride in the fact that the National League clubs in the Queen City and in the City Too Busy to Hate are the only two teams in major league baseball whose nicknames appear in our national anthem, in the form of "the rockets' red glare" and "the home of the brave.")  

I recently heard Pete Rose interviewed on E.S.P.N. Radio by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann.  Dan and Keith have disagreed about Pete Rose since Charley Hustle was banned from baseball in 1989.  Their difference of opinion was committed to paper in their book The Big Show, which will be remembered by historians as the high water mark of the Worldwide Leader in Sports before it began its slow decline.  

After their interview with Rose, Patrick and Olbermann discussed the former Cincinnati star's status and discovered that the gap between their views had narrowed.  Olbermann has now come around to Patrick's way of thinking . . . namely, that Rose deserves at least the opportunity to be elected to the Hall of Fame.  

All we are saying is give Pete a chance.

I should pause at this juncture to offer a few caveats.  I was raised a baseball fan.  Had you asked me when I was five, or even when I was 15, to name my favorite sport, I would have said baseball rather than football.  I was going to Braves games long before I was going to Bulldogs games.  

I am one of the many fans who never went back after the 1994 strike caused the cancellation of the World Series.  I was born the month after the 1968 baseball season ended.  Following "The Year of the Pitcher," major league baseball lowered the mound in a misguided effort to satisfy crude fans' love of offense at the expense of the elegance and nuance of defense.  

That was the first in a long line of changes in major league baseball to have occurred in my lifetime, not one of which was an improvement.  In 1969, divisional play began, denying the best team in the National League---the Atlanta Braves---the opportunity to play in the World Series and allowing the sport's first true fluke---the Miracle Mets---to capture a championship.  

Then came the abomination that is the designated hitter . . . and the juiced ball . . . and the splitting of the leagues into three divisions (despite the fact that the number of teams in each league was not evenly divisible by three) . . . and the wild card (which allowed the 1997 Florida Marlins to capture a league crown despite not finishing first in any of the National League's three divisions) . . . and the five-game divisional series . . . and interleague play . . . and the nonsense about letting a midseason exhibition game determine home field advantage in the final round of the playoffs (which is an idea so stupid one need only utter it aloud to see it collapse under the weight of its own sheer idiocy) . . . and, of course, the rise of steroids, the open secret that became a scourge and has given us a record book that ought to be blotted out with one gigantic asterisk.  

And to think Roger Maris had an albatross hung around his neck over a lousy eight extra games. . . .

During this dismal period for the national pastime, there has been expansion (read:  dilution of the talent pool), talk of radical realignment, the rise of an era of ball parks that more nearly resemble amusement parks (as though a major league baseball game were not alone sufficient to hold an American lad's attention any longer) and possess outfield fences better designed for home run derby than for an historic sport, and a series of what euphemistically are called "work stoppages" in which greedy billionaires and pampered millionaires pout like children who have made good on their threat to take their ball and go home.  

Throughout it all, though, I have always thought, and I still think, that Pete Rose belongs in Cooperstown.  

I am sure there are people reading this, in fact, who will smile with recognition and recollection, remembering some instance 10 or 15 years ago when I went on about how Rose deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.  However, his recent interview on E.S.P.N. Radio reminded me that he had been robbed.  

I make no excuse for Rose's gambling.  I personally am opposed to gambling, for the reasons set forth in Paragraph 163(G) of the Social Principles contained in the 2004 edition of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  In the referendum held in Georgia 15 years ago, I voted against establishing a state lottery and I have never bought a lottery ticket in the years since.  

Every Rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn.

With regard to baseball, the sport's response to the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal was to lay out clear rules that made gambling absolutely off limits.  Even the appearance of impropriety could get a player or manager in hot water with the league.  Rose knew the rules and he knowingly broke them.  

When Pete Rose bet on his own team, whether to win or to lose, he adversely affected the integrity of the game in each contest on which he placed a bet.  Arguably, he also did so for the games immediately before and after those Reds games on which he placed wagers, as his decisions regarding late-inning substitutions likely were impacted by the knowledge that a particular player's presence or absence could alter the outcome of a game on which he had money riding.  

For that blemish on the integrity of the game, Rose deserved to be banned from baseball and forbidden from managing again.  Even so, though, we need to realize the extent of the harm Rose caused and meet his transgression with a proportional response.  He has shown that he cannot be trusted and, for that reason, the lifetime ban was appropriate.  

Nevertheless, if we assume the worst about Rose, his betting on his own team only affected a handful of games.  What has happened since his expulsion from the sport has sullied baseball on a much grander scale.  

Barry Bonds.  Mark McGwire.  Sammy Sosa.  These are the men who brought baseball back from the grave after the 1994 strike drove fans away by the dozens.  Because their success was so integral to the game's survival, everyone simply looked the other way.  

As Olbermann noted after his recent interview with Rose, the commissioner reacted swiftly and decisively the moment the allegations about Pete arose . . . yet the discovery of a bottle of andro in Mark McGwire's locker during the Great Home Run Chase provoked no such response, the revelation that Sammy Sosa corked his bats generated an afternoon's worth of X-rays before being swept under the rug, and Barry Bonds's obvious physical transformation did not attract Bud Selig's attention until a couple of outsiders wrote a book about it.  Why was Game of Shadows a popular publication rather than a report prepared for the commissioner's office and why wasn't it written years earlier?  

Pete Rose has been barred from admission to the Hall of Fame---a Hall of Fame that hypocritically profits from the display of his memorabilia, by the way---because his wrongdoing may have altered the outcomes of a few games over a few seasons.  Steroid use fundamentally changed the game and many of its stars every day for many years.  Between the two misdeeds, there can be no comparison.  

Bud Selig hems and haws around about fine-tuning records, as though it were possible to determine what percentage of home runs hit by Barry Bonds was the result of chemical enhancement and what percentage he would have hit anyway.  The rules were changed to protect the game's big names, yet poor Pete Rose has had the rules changed to his detriment at every turn.  

First came the rule that a player could not be admitted to the Hall of Fame while under a ban.  The players who allegedly conspired to throw the World Series had been banned for life 70 years before, yet no such rule ever existed . . . until Rose was kicked out of baseball and Cooperstown had to be "protected" from him.  

Fay Vincent and others with similar intellectual deficiencies have argued that, if the rule designed to keep Rose out of the Hall were to be repealed, other banned players like Shoeless Joe Jackson would be eligible.  Vincent appears not to understand the concept of a lifetime ban.  

When a convicted felon is sentenced to life imprisonment and he dies in the penitentiary, the authorities don't keep his body locked up in the cell.  He was sentenced to life behind bars; he died in prison; he has served his sentence.  

Likewise, Shoeless Joe was banned for life.  His ban ended when he died.  Jackson has been eligible for over 50 years and I am left to wonder why the game has been entrusted to utter nincompoops like Fay Vincent, whose inability to distinguish between life and death raises serious questions about his ability to determine right from wrong . . . but I digress.  

Rose has a legitimate gripe when he complains that he was told for 15 years that, if he came clean, he would be allowed into the Hall of Fame.  Eventually, he came clean . . . yet they didn't let him into Cooperstown.  

In fact, baseball now is trying to argue that his 15 years of eligibility to be on the ballot have expired, despite the fact that, during those 15 years, his name never once appeared on the ballot.  If you think Pete Rose has gotten anything resembling due process in the 17 years since his ouster, you probably thought it was fair for the pigs to paint "But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others" on the side of the barn in Animal Farm.  

Baseball's decision to ban Pete Rose from the sport was just, because he knew the rules, he chose to break them, and he understood the consequences of his actions.  Baseball's decision to ban Pete Rose from admissibility to the Hall of Fame, by contrast, has shown the same disregard for the rule of law that Charley Hustle himself displayed when he chose to gamble on his own team.  

In at least three separate instances, major league baseball has changed the rules retroactively for the sole purpose of keeping Pete Rose out of Cooperstown.  Why Rose's deficiencies of character are so singularly awful as to taint a shrine that honors sorry excuses for human beings like the alcoholic Mickey Mantle, the violent Ty Cobb, and a whole host of other prima donnas and cretins of every stripe, no one can say.  

Per a reader's request, I present a gratuitous photo of Kristin Davis.

The very argument fairly used against Rose in 1989---that the rules are sacred and no one is entitled to exceptional treatment---is equally applicable to major league baseball in its approach to the sport's all-time hits leader in the years since.  What Casey Stengel said of baseball statistics ought also to be applicable to the rules that govern the game:  "You can look it up."  Every time Pete Rose goes to the rule book, though, Fay Vincent, Bud Selig, and their minions come up with a new excuse to deny him his due.  

The solution is simple.  Keep the ban in place, but lift the rule that renders him ineligible for the Hall of Fame.  Start the clock running on his eligibility for the ballot with next year's voting, but list the fact of his lifetime ban on the Hall of Fame plaque alongside his accomplishments on the field.  Let him stand at the podium at Cooperstown, but don't let him back in the dugout or back into uniform.  

Perhaps sports halls of fame should honor character and integrity rather than merely athletic excellence.  Were we to be creating such museums from scratch in the 21st century, I might well be swayed by such an argument . . . yet that ship long ago sailed and it is far too late in the day to begin holding misjudgments off the field against the players who achieved great things on the field.  If being a good guy is going to become a litmus test for admission to Cooperstown, there are a lot of great players who will have to be kicked out first.  

Pete Rose can't get his name on the ballot yet Barry Bonds is still in uniform.  That kind of rank hypocrisy does far more damage to the integrity of the game than anything Pete Rose ever did.  

Would you buy a used car from this man?

A very large part of me would like to say it doesn't matter to me, because I washed my hands of the game nearly a dozen years ago and have not looked back.  However, I am a father now and I am struggling to get past my anger and disappointment over the betrayal of 1994, so that I will be able to share the experiences with my son at Turner Field that my father shared with me at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.  

I grew up as a baseball fan.  I hope one day to be a baseball fan again.  If baseball wants fans like me back, it needs to drop the pretense of moral superiority and begin behaving with the sort of integrity the game has blackballed Pete Rose for lacking.  

If Bud Selig cares about the sport and about the fans---and I do not believe for one moment that he cares one whit about either---he will do the right thing for once in his sorry tenure as custodian of the soul of the national pastime.  

Mr. Commissioner, you should let Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame . . . and thereby let fans like me go back to the game of our youth with a clear conscience.  

Also, the Dodgers belong in Brooklyn and you need to get those lights out of Wrigley Field, but those are separate conversations. . . .