Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 19, 2014

ABACUS COLUMN: Is Pete Rose a dilemma?

By Larry Backus
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — In January, the Glade Sun published my column about Pete Rose and Alex Rodriquez entitled “For Pete’s sake, say it isn’t so!” The column was based on my interview with Pete Rose and motivated by reading a recent Sports Illustrated (SI) article. My column is available on the Glade Sun web site. I have been interviewing former major and minor league professional baseball players, as well as teammates, from state and national champion amateur teams for more than two years. My forthcoming book is nearing completion, at least in terms of the research and writing; photos, editing, and sundry issues remain.

The nearly unanimous opinion of the players and every baseball fan I have spoken with about Pete Rose is that his banishment from the Baseball Hall of Fame is a mistake; an overreach possibly, but certainly not justice. It is now approaching 25 years that Pete Rose has been banished from baseball. Those 25 years will be more than the 24 years Rose excelled as a player and player manager. However, I was more than surprised to see Pete on the cover of the Sports Illustrated (SI) March 10, 2014 issue. The cover reads, “the Dilemma-It’s Time To Rethink Pete Rose.”  

More intriguing is the fact that SI did not publish any letters from readers about the article in their next edition. Did SI receive a cease and desist phone call from major league baseball? Do baseball fans lack interest in Pete Rose as a subject of conjecture? The answers to those questions are, “could be” and “hardly.” 

Professional baseball is a quasi-monopoly, occasionally reined in by Congress and tax laws. In reality, it is controlled by wealthy owners who are the final arbitrators of the commissioner of baseball. The current commissioner is Allan Huber “Bud” Selig, a former majority owner of the Milwaukee baseball franchise, as well as other business enterprises. Previous to, and during Selig’s reign as commissioner, he has been accused of heavy-handed, if not illegal tactics. An example was his role as a team owner and defendant in the infamous collusion lawsuit against the owners in 1985-87 by major league players. The suit was settled in favor of the players for $280 million in damages.

By law, when Selig first became commissioner, he had to divest his majority stake in the Milwaukee franchise; a franchise dear to his heart. His did so to his daughter. It was an accepted opinion within and without baseball that he remained in charge of the Milwaukee franchise. Fay Vincent, the previous commissioner, accused Selig of underhanded and illegal tactics as a team owner and was subsequently undermined by Selig with the owners; who then replaced Vincent as commissioner after a no-confidence vote by the owners.

One of Selig’s best friends was Angelo Bartlett “Bart” Giamatti. Giamatti was an accomplished professional academic and former president of Yale. His avocation was baseball with a passion for the Boston Red Sox. Selig and Giamatti worked well together as team owner and baseball commissioner until Giamatti’s death, which came shortly after Giamatti’s banning of Pete Rose from baseball.

Selig now has Pete Rose as a dilemma, yet he will never change his friend’s heavy handed banning of Pete Rose. Baseball has a problem because baseball fans understand when an error is committed, both on the field and off. Hall of Fame baseball players such as Mike Schmidt and Barry Larkin have lobbied on behalf of Rose. Rose’s gambling problems at the time of his banishment were personal and sad, but never as severe as those of the players banned for the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919. In that case the players did put major league baseball in jeopardy; even though they had been driven to such depths by the intransigent greed of team owners. There is no correlation to Pete's banishment. “The Pete Problem” may not be solved until Selig retires as commissioner. That is the real dilemma, not Pete Rose.