Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?
The question will never lose its luster, just as the same question about Shoeless Joe Jackson, will never fade away, so long as he is excluded from the Hall.
My quick answer is, “No.” That’s my personal answer. My person answer is based on the belief that any player or manager who bets on baseball deserves a lifetime ban from all things MLB related. Betting on baseball while actively involved in the sport is the worst baseball sin. If baseball were a religion, which some would argue it is, betting on baseball is comparable to breaking all Ten Commandments simultaneously. It is the one thing a baseball man mustn’t do at all, ever. It isn’t a character issue, like using drugs, it is an integrity-of-the-game issue. And while corking a bat or spitting on a ball is properly called cheating (though I’d entertain the idea of making spit balls legal, as they once were), either of those transgressions only effect a small portion of the game and are subject to other unpredictable human variables. Betting, however, deals with final outcomes, and cuts too close to (if not outright) directly manipulating those outcomes. That is unacceptable. Ever. Forever. Period. End of debate.
It will be one more sign of the coming apocalypse and the end of time if Pete Rose is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
But when Rose and the hall are discussed, another debate has become fashionable of late — whether, based on Pete’s on-field performance, does Rose deserve to be in the Hall? The average fan would answer, “Of course. He’s the all-time hits leader.” Some statheads say, “Hey wait a minute. Sure, Pete got a lot of singles, but he really didn’t contribute much to helping his team win.”
Keith Woolner, writing for Baseball Prospectus, crunches some numbers and concludes that while Rose, while not putting together anything near a Ruthian or Bondsian career, did well enough to make the Hall. As much as I think stats, and the right stats, are important for evaluating baseball talent, I have never had much interest in comparing players from past eras with other dead legends for the propose of saying, “Frank Chance was overrated, and Wee Willie Keeler was under appreciated.” I don’t think those kinds of exercises do anything productive or useful. The purpose of studying past performance, to me, is to gain some insight into future expectations. GMs, like Billy Beane, should use sabremetrics to help them build better ball clubs. Fans should study the numbers to help them evaluate their favorite teams and to build fantasy rosters. The past is only important if it helps us understand the future.
Furthermore, I’ve never been a big fan of deciding whether a player should be in the Hall based solely on stats (traditional or otherwise). Don Sutton, for example, is in the Hall, because he won 300 games. Obviously, Sutton was one of the better pitchers in the game during his era, but he wasn’t a Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan. He wasn’t an impact player. He was, at best, non-descript. He wasn’t a player fans envied other teams for having. He just glided through his career well enough and long enough to amass 300 wins. And that’s about all he did.
This is an entirely subjective evaluation, of course. But to me, the question of who makes it into the Hall and who doesn’t should be, first and foremost, a subjective question. The Hall should be for players who were judged great by their contemporizes (fans, fellow players and sports writers). They should be the kind of players fathers will tell their kids about, and their kids will tell their kids about. Fifty years from now, nobody will be talking about Don Sutton the way I heard Sutton talking about Warren Spahn the other night. The writers who vote on players should ask themselves, will my grandchildren really care about Brett Butler? Players in the Hall should only be players who are exceptional and remarkable, not just good.
And by that standard, Pete Rose is Hall of Fame calibre. Not only is he the all-time hit leader (a remarkable accomplishment no matter how much you value sabremetrics), but he defined hustle, hard work and dedication for all future generations of ballplayers. That’s something no calculator can measure. Any fan who ever saw Charlie Hustle play can’t help but think of him every time they see a current ballplayer slide headfirst or bowl over a catcher. That, as much as the hits, define Pete Rose, and to transcend mere stats. It’s the kind of transformation of the game than earns a trip to Cooperstown — so long as you don’t bet on baseball.