Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Question of Motive: Why Reinstate Pete Rose Now?

Hank Aaron may have opened a can of worms with his comments about the potential reinstatement of Pete Rose over Hall of Fame weekend. In doing so, he may have given his friend Bud Selig something a bit more positive on which to pin his legacy as Commissioner of baseball.

The current speculation has Selig considering Rose's reinstatement to the game's good graces, allowing him to finally stand for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Several important baseball figures, from Aaron to Rose's former manager Sparky Anderson, seem to be ready to forgive Pete for his past gambling activities and move on after twenty years.

What does this possibility accomplish? If Rose is forced to stand in front of the Veterans' Committee, he's quite likely to get shot down. Many of the Hall of Famers on said committee still cannot abide players or managers betting on games, and perhaps justly so.

If Rose is allowed a few years to be voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association, he may stand a better chance of induction. However, Selig runs the risk of alienating several VC members who may no longer wish to participate in Cooperstown functions.

What would be a powerful enough motive for Selig to even consider a move like this, one which could fray the relationship between the game and some of its greatest living ambassadors? Is Bud trying to subtly undercut a few of the clauses on the Hall's ballot?

"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played."

Examine those bolded clauses for a moment. Then, let's try to think of any recent players who may have run afoul of those bolded clauses, even if just in the court of public opinion. Can you think of any?

I can.

If the Hall gets to let in a gambler, someone who may have unnaturally altered games for his own benefit, then what's next? Eventually, the PED posse, a group of people who may have also unnaturally altered games for their own benefit, may get their day.

Relaxing the standards of the Hall of Fame ballot may eventually help minimize the impact of the Steroid Era, turning it into just another statistical anomaly. Dead balls, lower mounds, shots in the ass, they'll all just be blips on the historical radar.

That will help Bud feel much better about his time in the big chair, and potentially minimize the hammering that Selig takes in the history books several decades from now.

But, broaching the subject himself may seem too transparent, like a president launching bomb strikes to distract from an ethical scandal. So who would be a good spokesman for the "Free Pete" movement? How about a man who is quite likely the game's most revered living figure (and just happens to be one of Bud's best friends)? Why, he'll do quite nicely.

First, Bud denies any possibility. Then he admits that discussions are ongoing. Then rumors of a "big announcement" begin to swirl. Finally, Selig becomes the magnanimous voice of forgiveness, welcoming a banished baseball icon back from the hinterlands.

In the short term, Pete will once again be facing intense scrutiny, as the debate will heat up over his chances of getting into Cooperstown once he's eligible.

In the long term, though, reinstating Pete serves to remind us all that there are apparently no capital offenses in baseball. No lifetime bans or anything of that sort. An attitude like that can only do positive things for the images of men like Mark McGwire.

And if the all-time hit king gets to stand on the podium on some future Sunday in July, the biggest smile of all will probably adorn the face of the all-time home run king. Because Barry Bonds and the rest of the PED posse know that, if the game's longest-suffering martyr can one day be forgiven, their days of absolution can't be too far away.

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