Since everybody is all mad at each other about statues right now anyway, let us discuss Pete Rose.

Those of you who have read me for a while know that I used to work at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, a position I speak of with much respect and affection, because I was paid to meet fantastic people and talk about baseball all day.  So you might wonder why I left.

The reason is a person who, no matter what Major League Baseball and Cooperstown decide, will never get exactly where he wants to go.

First, in order to ward off running the same arguments through the wash cycle one more time, let us stipulate the following.  Let us also re-link this article in the future as a form of Internet shorthand to save us all a bunch of typing and spittle-covered keyboards.

1) No one disputes that based on his play alone, Pete Rose is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His rampant and constant gambling, however, also took place while he was on the field. That is the problem.

2) People who use steroids shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame either.

3) If we waited for perfect people to enter the Hall of Fame, we would have empty Halls of Fame. We all have flaws. Even Johnny Bench inflicted the world with an appearance on Hee Haw. However, when a sport has a big, giant rule, and that big, giant rule is emblazoned on the door of the clubhouse, it’s not too much to ask for players and managers to follow said big, giant rule—let alone break it on a near-daily basis for years.

4) Pete Rose’s jail time, sins of hair, and incredibly bad personal judgment in commercials and personal life aren’t what is under discussion here. His actual betting on baseball is, in fact, actual.

5) Pete is sorry. I’m glad Pete’s sorry. I accept his apology. But if I mash my car into my neighbor’s stupid metallic garden gnome, and he accepts my apology, I’m still paying for another stupid metallic garden gnome, and I’ll understand if he doesn’t invite me to dinner for a few decades.

6) Pete Rose has done a lot of nice, generous things for a lot of people and his on-field feats have generated wonderful memories for generations. Thank you, Pete.

And yet, the enormous Wall of Balls honoring Pete Rose at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum functioned, until recently, as our Western Wall:  People went there to pay homage, and complain.

They’d crane their necks back to the 50-foot high wall of 4256 baseballs, one for each Rose hit in his career, then glance around at the gallery of Reds enshrined in the Hall of Fame. They’d wander the plaque timeline of the 1970’s, as though hopelessly lost in a 3 square foot area. And then came the eternal question:

“Where’s Pete?”

My method of triage for this customer service crisis, which unfolded several times daily, was to point out that the Reds Hall of Fame followed the rules of Cooperstown, which state that banned players are not eligible for the ballot. But! Should all of  Cincinnati become buried right that second in a massive volcanic eruption, future archeologists would certainly know of the existence and exploits of Peter Edward Rose, because the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, in a controlled Pete explosion, has bits and pieces of him scattered in all possible corners. And also the entire facade of a supporting wall of this entire freaking building, the suggestion being that if Pete Rose doesn’t stand, we all come tumbling down without him.

This seemed to comfort the angry, but not extinguish the issue entirely, and they’d drift off to the next portion of the museum:  A gift shop christened “Charlie’s Corner.” And I was left to, again, to reflect on the fact that of all the bats, balls, plates, plaques, jerseys, books, entire flower gardens, and photos related to Rose in the museum, not a single, solitary one of them even mentioned the fact that he had been permanently banned for breaking Rule 21. And when it comes to healing the mess, where, indeed, is Pete.

The day Pete Rose was ushered into the front door of the Hall of Fame was the day I exited out the back, because I knew that his mounted bronze visage wouldn’t mention the banning, and sure enough, it was as though Rose had ascended directly to a rocking chair in Sedamsville, where small children came to gather at his feet and hear tales of Tony Perez. It isn’t honest, and it isn’t right. I do not appreciate the idea that I must explain to my godson, whose moral well-being has been placed in my fumbling hands, that as long as your on-base percentage is high enough and you’re a great interview, rules don’t apply.

It’s taken two years of writing for Redleg Nation for me to even gather the courage to start a post voicing such an apostate opinion. Why can’t I just shrug and fling my arms around the huge head-first statue at the ball park? It would certainly make life less agonizing. Is it because I was born too late to witness his on-the-field mighty deeds? It’s impossible not to appreciate them. I was a little girl when Pete Rose hit 4192; I was also a little girl when images of a peeling, dirtied baseball appeared in the national media with the news that manager Rose had bet on baseball, bet on the Reds, and done so repeatedly. 

Cincinnati’s slavish adoration of  Pete Rose is the most enabling, unhealthy nightmare of a dysfunctional relationship I have ever witnessed, and people, I used to watch Jerry Springer. It’s safe to say that according to Rose himself, Reds fans’ treatment of him fed into his daily decisions to bet on baseball:  He did it because he thought he could get away with it. 

I’ve heard many say that Rose is to be excused all this simply because he’s from Cincinnati—and not only Cincinnati, but the hardscrabble, parish-festival patronizing West Side, and that his wild embrace of baseball and hard work exemplifies us. But if he represents Cincinnati, why, then, the continual excusing of this inexcusable behavior? If we’re the ones who raised him, shouldn’t we be the first to scream at him to act like he has a conscience?

If it sounds as if I regard Rose’s choices as a personal affront, it’s because I do. He represents much more than himself. He always knew this. Doesn’t it wound you that he repeatedly lied to us?  That by doing so, he then made us complicit in his deceit? Why did he do this– why did he do it to us? What was he trying to gain, with all his wealth and fame and assured ascendancy to every baseball honor ever conceived?

The best answer is one I heard my former co-worker give a second-grader who raised a hand and wanted to know why Pete Rose would gamble on baseball (They know. Even if there’s no mention of it anywhere in the museum– oh, they know.)

“I think,” this wise man said, “it was something he just couldn’t not do.”

And for that, I feel sorry for Pete Rose. But I feel sorrier for Cincinnati.

So how do we handle this?  We can’t ignore Pete Rose, nor should we. He’s there. There’s no eradicating an essential cog of the Big Red Machine. But that doesn’t mean we should idolize him.

In the building housing the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, a glass door separates the final exhibit space from the room housing the Hall of Fame. When I took school groups from one to the other, I always paused at that door, reminding them that record breakers, championship teams, and great players were present in the Musuem, but the Hall of  Fame was something separate, special, and reserved for very few. Until recently, that door served as a barrier for Pete Rose–that for all his towering presence and rightful presence in the Museum, he had barred the door to the Hall of Fame through his own actions. It was a barrier he could see through, but never cross.

There’s a reason why the Catholic Church can take centuries to canonize a person as a saint. The process is slow, deliberate, and full of committees and counter-committees. It’s designed that way on purpose. The idea is to avoid honoring a person from a rush of contemporary emotion, and to allow plenty of time for investigation of unreconciled misdeeds. The only thing more painful than losing a hero to death is losing one to disgrace. Ask the good people of Happy Valley about this sometime. 

You would think Cincinnatians would have a zero-tolerance attitude on gambling, as our team’s first World Championship was forever tainted by members of the White Sox taking payouts from gamblers to throw the series. Gambling in sports is an Extremely Big Deal. Historical perspective is vital here: We very nearly lost baseball entirely because of gambling, and it almost took horse racing down along with it. It’s not a coincidence that one of the first things the first commissioner of baseball did was administer a career death penalty to the Black Sox.

We have now reached the stage in the exhausting Rose saga in which he has power-pivoted from apologizing to great moral indignation. He claims a gambling addiction, but then takes a job in, of all places on the planet, Las Vegas. He has also railed against ads for fan betting organizations in GAPB, as if he does not possess the critical thinking skills to realize those these enticements are meant for the fans, not those in the dugout—that he as a player-manager was permitted to bet on football, basketball, horse racing, tennis, golf, when the first leaf will drop in the fall—anything but baseball. There’s the rest of the world, and then there is him.

I haven’t even gotten into the bat corking.  I won’t, but it’s there, split open for the world to see and ignore, if it chooses.

I also have to wonder how sorry Rose actually is about how his career ended since he’s now treating it as one giant LOL:  He appears in shoe commercials whining about hallways and voices radio ads which end with “You can bet on it.” Yes, this is all very hilarious, Pete. “Go sign a petition for me to be in the Hall of Fame!” No.

The Phillies, meanwhile, in the wake of statutory rape accusations against Rose, have noped out of the entire drama. I have no idea if his accuser’s story is true, but Pete Rose, to his credit, said he understood the decision and then shut up.

When I heard this, it occurred to me that perhaps Pete Rose was maybe coming around and truly understanding the impact of what he’s done—and then his voice came on the radio once again, telling me I can bet on it.

And I just don’t believe him.

Meanwhile, bronze Pete remains with his face near the dirt outside the gates of the baseball stadium, arms outstretched, never quite grasping what he’s reaching for.

44 Responses

  1. wizeman

    Another nice piece Mary Beth. Until about 30 days ago I was huge proponent of Pete getting into the Hall. No more. Let’s face it… the narrative has changed. His defense…”I thought she was 16″ is a non starter.
    If that would have become public knowledge a year ago… the statue would still be in an artists warehouse.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for the kind words. I think it’s interesting that recent news is the tipping point for some people.

      • wizeman

        Mary Beth. The gambling certainly bothered me and the general way he conducted his life was troubling. I was acquainted with him because of a family relationship with his lawyer throughout the 70’s and the 80’s. He was always personable and a fascinating conversationalist about baseball.
        Those times resulted in him being accused of a variety of transgressions. They were mostly victimless… the results of him being a “rascal” as some might say.
        Now, even though I don’t have daughters of my own.. I am in a position where I interact with a number of young women daily. Although they are a bit older… late teens to early 20’s… what he is accused of and has not denied except by a sheepish excuse is different.
        He is a predator.

  2. Tom Mitsoff

    Very well written! I am old enough to have watched much of Rose’s career with the Reds. I loved watching him play, saw his 3,000th hit live and then joined about 50,000 others in booing him lustily in his first game back at Riverfront as a member of the Phillies. (Traitor!)

    It was clear to even a young guy that Rose wasn’t the brightest bulb in the Riverfront Stadium light standards. Like you, I heard him say to Jim Day during an interview this season, something to the effect of, wanna bet Votto gets a hit here? You would think a person who has had his professional life and achievements shattered by prohibited gambling would never utter the word “bet” in front of a microphone.

    Off the field, he has left in his wake a trail of shattered lives, including his own. With all due respect to Joey Votto, he’ll always be the best hitter in Reds history, if not the game’s history. But his off-the-field hustles have defined him, and it’s nobody’s fault but his own.

    I’m sure you went back and forth in your mind many times over whether or not to write this piece. It’s a point of view that has value and legitimacy.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thoughtful reply–and many thanks for your generous words. I forgot about that Day interview.

  3. sdkistler4

    Thank you for saying it. I am tired of it and don’t understand the excuse it attitude in Cincinnati.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I appreciate you letting me know I’m not alone! The statue unveiling was a tough weekend.

      • sdkistler4

        My son (19yrs old) and I were at the game when it was unveiled. I had no idea ahead of time. My son bought the tickets as a father’s day gift.

        We had some really good conversations about skill vs character, about repentance, forgiveness & reconciliation, and about the legacy each of us creates.

        I would not have chosen to be there (if I would have been paying enough attention to notice.) but in the end it prompted some really meaningful conversation with my son and for that I am glad.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Those are important conversations to be had. Good job, Dad!

  4. cfd3000

    Mary Beth this was I’m guessing an easy piece to write and a hard one to share. You know that many will disagree vehemently with some of these thoughts, many will agree with you, and maybe even a few will change their minds a little. So thank you for sharing them. And thank you to RLN for creating a forum where we can discuss all this with respect. I have a view that is a bit naive perhaps, but it’s always seemed clear to me. Why is it so hard to acknowledge he was both a great player and was and is a deeply flawed man? Pete Rose was amazing on the field. One of the all time greats. And he seems to have been really bad at a lot of the other stuff of life. Through his own actions he is not eligible for the Hall. He is not eligible to work for a Major League Baseball team. And that punishment is, in my eyes at least, quite reasonable. It is disappointing that when the story of Pete Rose is told in Cincinnati, the off the field stuff is passed over. I wish it weren’t. But we all know. His bad choices off the field don’t diminish his exploits on the field, but neither does his play between the lines excuse his choices outside them. I love that Pete Rose played for my beloved Reds. And I hate that he embarrassed himself and by association the team I love. He’s wonderful and awful that way. It’s complex. Like life. Thank you for sharing your views Mary Beth.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said, and I am grateful for your kindness. You’re right– this piece has been lying around on my desktop for six months while I tinkered with it. It was scary to finally bring it to light, but the kind people here at RN have been wonderfully un-murdery about it all. I’m grateful to have a place to publish where the dialogue is respectful and thoughtful.

      • Eric

        Because we all know there’s not a single word you’ve written in this piece that can be refuted. Not one.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        So nice of you to say– thank you.

  5. sandman

    I’m getting tired of this argument. So, instead of going into a long winded argument I’ll just say my usual stuff on this subject: was Pete a nice or moral person back in his playing days…the evidence is mounting (or has been mounted) that…no he wasn’t. I don’t know how moral he is nowadays but I do believe that he regrets the things he’s done. Maybe I’m stupid for believing this I don’t know. I’m not excusing his actions. All I’m trying to do is focus on what he accomplished ON THE FIELD and whether that was HOF worthy…and it is. I’m trying to separate his personal life from what he accomplished on the field. I do admit that when it came to gambling on the game of baseball itself that the line between a player’s personal life and his baseball “persona” possibly maybe get blurred a little. But then I have to remember that gambling addiction is a disease. So if you believe this is a disease (which I do… and it is) then maybe isn’t it possible to understand him a little better and even have at least a little compassion? If your answer to this is yes then it’s not such a forgone conclusion to do the unthinkable (apparently) and (warning: I’m about to use the big ol “F” word here)…Forgive him? Everybody gasp in horror at my foul (another f word) mouth!!! Run screaming to the courts and judges! Forgiveness does exist people! Some of y’all act like you’ve never heard of this concept. It is not possible to say you forgive Pete and still want to keep him out of the HOF! Because forgiveness is about being able to put the past behind us so we can move forward with our lives. Without forgiveness there’s always gonna be this thing (or things) that are holding you back from truly moving forward with your life. Does it make you a better person than Pete or whoever may be the object of your indignation and wrath if you refuse to forgive? Here’s something to think about…Nobody’s Perfect! Not even baseball players. Just bcuz they play a GAME doesn’t automatically make them the most moral and upstanding of all people. They are human after all. If you think a human being is capable of achieving perfection and maintaining said perfection for their entire allotted time they have on this earth then you are seriously deluded. EVERYBODY has done something that they want to be forgiven for. Would you want somebody to hold whatever your offense may be against you for the rest of your life? When I say offense, I’m not just talking about those things that can get us locked up in jail/ prison. I’m talking about those morally reprehensible things that everybody has done that just bcuz they may not necessarily be punishable by imprisonment are still wrong nonetheless. Point is that you would want to be forgiven for it. To say otherwise would make one a liar. Look, all we flawed humans can do is do the best we can during our lifetimes. That’s all anyone can ask, really. Nobody’s gonna get it exactly right. As long as a person is trying to better themselves I think that makes them ok in my book. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to like a person and be their buddy. It’s about not letting it hold you back from moving on. From being a mentally healthy person. It’s hard work living this life as flawed beings. Don’t judge someone just bcuz they’ve messed up especially when you know you’ve messed up in your life in some area. I’m not saying that Pete didn’t deserve to pay for what he did…I just happen to think that he has already. I think it’s been long enough. Let’s not focus on the words, lifetime ban, those mean nothing to me bcuz it all comes back to forgiveness. Those words mean nothing to me especially if that person honestly feels bad for his/her actions and is making or has made efforts to become a better person. Like I said, none of us will reach perfection in this life. All we can ask is that a person do better. I’ve got to believe that Pete’s doing just that bcuz, in spite of the crap that’s happened to me in my life, I’ve got to believe that people can change and be better than they were. It is possible bcuz I’ve seen it. And a person shouldn’t have their actions held against them for the rest of their life. Again, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be held accountable but if they have and are making efforts to change for the better then what would be the harm in forgiveness and compassion. Don’t let what someone did in their life turn you into a cold unfeeling robot. If you can separate the person from the player and “judge” Pete based on his numbers only and if you believe those numbers belong in the HOF then change is possible. Well…I didn’t intend to make this long winded but I guess when you feel strongly about something it’s near impossible to contain. Sorry, hope you can forgive me.

  6. Scott Carter

    I certainly wish we could judge Pete sole on his on the field play. He gave me lots of thrills, growing up, I was in the stadium the day he hit number 3000, (incidentally the day I graduated from from Cincinnati Christian Seminary), he was my grandfather’s favorite player. But alas you cannot. We have to think about what we are teaching our kids, “Is it okay to break the rules as long as you excel at something we admire? Do rules only apply to certain people? As much as I would like to see Pete in the HoF, I think you are right Mary Beth, I commend you for your courage to come out and say it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Compassionate words, and I thank you. I don’t have kids, but I imagine this is difficult to navigate for those who do.

    • sandman

      Scott, you teach your kids that people can change and that we can strive to be better and how that is commendable. You teach your kids about forgiveness but that, of course, there are consequences to be paid. I just happen to think that Rose has paid for his actions and should be let into the HOF.

  7. IndyRedMan

    In Indiana, we have a lot of the same feelings about Bobby Knight. A sports legend and as knowledgeable about his sport as anyone that’s ever lived. The guy is just a miserable human being though. Many (most?) older IU fans are always ready to give him a pass though?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I hadn’t known Knight could be a source of conflict within the IU community. Something about these Ohio-breds…

  8. Mary Beth Ellis

    I’m glad you read it! Thank you 🙂

  9. Bill

    I agree rules are rules. But isn’t the HoF being hypocritical by having items from the record braking hit in there?

    • gaffer

      Actually that is consistent, as the HOF is a place. Being enshrined in it is different. All of those are THINGS and RECORDS which happened. The writers they vote on who the HOF enshrines. They have Shoeless Joe stuff too.

  10. Mary Beth Ellis

    That’s an interesting way to look at it. He always declared such a passionate love of the game– I never thought about the inverse.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You win the profile picture battle, Matt. Many thanks 🙂

  11. Rick Ring

    Another well- written compelling piece. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Appreciate you wading all the way through 1500+ words! I almost made it even longer!

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Thoughtful replies have made me a lot calmer–many thanks.

  12. brunsfam

    Very well written Mary Beth.

    When we go to a ballgame, we expect that our team is trying to win. They will play the game hard, without compromise. They will play within the rules set out beforehand. If a person does not believe this, then I question why that person watches sports. If the game is rigged, in any way, the game immediately loses credibility. A sport cannot accept this and survive. Rule 21 is in place to protect the integrity of the game. Without that rule, there is no game. Without that integrity, we’re watching a pre-scripted, athletic drama where the outcome is insured.

    If Pete is allowed into the HOF, then the message is “gambling can be overlooked.”

    In ways I admire Pete Rose. He made the most of his God-given ability. But that doesn’t matter.
    In ways I cringe at Pete Rose. His personal life is a train wreck. But that doesn’t matter.

    All that matters is protecting the integrity of the game. For that reason, Pete Rose can not go into the MLB HOF.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      “In ways I admire Pete Rose. He made the most of his God-given ability. But that doesn’t matter.
      In ways I cringe at Pete Rose. His personal life is a train wreck. But that doesn’t matter.

      All that matters is protecting the integrity of the game.”

      Well said. That’s a much shorter form of this article–wish I’d put it that way 🙂

  13. TR

    As another Red’s fan who is exhausted with the saga of Pete Rose, your article brought out points I have not read before, and I enjoyed your writing very much. I saw Pete Rose in many games, and we know the incredible effort he expended on the field. But it’s time to let it go, and the statue in front of GABP should be put in storage. Cincinnati and baseball’s oldest franchise deserve better.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much for reading, TR. It speaks so well of Reds fans, and Redleg Nation fans in particular, that we can talk about this rationally.

  14. nicolecushing

    “Cincinnati’s slavish adoration of Pete Rose is the most enabling, unhealthy nightmares of a dysfunctional relationship I have ever witnessed…”

    Finally someone has said out loud what I’ve long-thought about this matter!

    I moved to Reds country from the East Coast 14 years ago and subsequently hitched my fan interest to the team, I’ll never understand the adoration of Rose. It comes across as bizarre, especially given how many other heroes from the franchise’s past there are to celebrate. (Heroes relatively free of scandal.)

    Instead of distancing itself from Rose’s mistakes, everyone tries to rationalize them away. So weird.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Welcome to Redsdom! I’m glad you’re here.
      Isn’t the Rose situation strange? I’ve heard he has some pockets of support in, for instance, Chicago, but for the most part people nationally are bewildered by a lot of people’s willingness to take another kick from him. Even having grown up here, I don’t understand it.

  15. Eric

    Thank you for this, Mary Beth.

    I have a long soliloquy that I save for any time that this debate returns. In it, I stake my claim and proceed to refute a lot of the old, tired arguments that are usually offered in favor of just “letting him in already.” I pasted it in here…and then pared it down, and down, and down…because it’s all been said here – most of it said *better* by you.

    My points all come down to this, though: It’s possible to be a Reds fan…it’s possible to be a Pete Rose fan…*and* accept the fact that what he did prevents him from *ever* being enshrined in the Hall of Fame. It’s not an either-or proposition.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I agree completely with that last paragraph, Eric. It’s a complex situation, and not entirely a black-and-white issue.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You are an excellent compliment-giver! Thanks– I needed that.

  16. sandman

    I am absolutely sickened by the lack of forgiveness. IT AIN’T LIKE HE MURDERED SOMEBODY! GEEZ, COME DOWN OFF OF YOUR HIGH HORSES PEOPLE!! FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD! I’m gonna stop here before I really go off!

    • Eric

      If you are convicted of murder in the United States, the minimum penalty is that you are sent to jail for a very long time. If you violate Rule 21d in Major League Baseball, the penalty is that you are permanently banned.

      • brunsfam

        Forgiveness – absolutely.
        Entrance into the baseball Hall of Fame – absolutely not.

  17. sandman

    How about protecting our own personal integrity by developing compassion and forgiveness. I’ll say forgiveness 1,000,001 times if that’s what it takes to get it sunk into your heads.

    • Eric

      “Protecting our own personal integrity” usually means upholding the rules, not setting aside a different set of rules for one guy, based solely on his relentless pursuit of Ty Cobb.

      “But Eric! It’s not just *solely*…” Right…you can Big-Red-Machine that statement all you want, but the plain truth is, if it were Dave Concepcion or Cesar Geronimo who had done all that betting, we’d be having a different conversation. I venture to say we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

      • sandman

        Eric, I don’t know if you’ll get this or not but the justice system used to have (I don’t know if some prisons still have this or not) a provision (I guess is what it would be called) where they would let some inmates out early for “good behavior”. Now, granted this provision was generally for way less serious crimes than murder, I get that. But this is baseball people and it is just a game. Rose did not indeed murder anyone. If prisons can let some criminals out early why can’t baseball forgive rose and let him into the HOF? Besides, even some murderers eventually get out of prison as well. Not a whole lot mind you but it does happen from time to time. Protecting our personal integrity also includes developing our own compassion and forgiveness and even developing these qualities in your children. Some people are worried about the message it would send to their kids or even other people if Rose were to be let into the HOF. What about the message Compassion & Forgiveness would send? Don’t you think that is a good lesson to teach your kids or even show other people. People need to know that if they put in the work that they can and will be forgiven.