KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bret Saberhagen hasn’t changed his mind. It’s a travesty, the former Royals great believes, that baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
In 2006, when Saberhagen was entering his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, he felt so strongly about the issue that he told me that if somehow he would be voted into the Hall, he would decline it because Rose was not in.
"I’d have to decline," he said back then. "I wouldn’t accept it unless the Hall decides to put Pete Rose in, which is where he belongs. You’re talking about the all-time hits leader. It’s never been proven that he bet on baseball while he played."
True, Rose, who has a lifetime ban from baseball, denied for years that he ever bet on baseball. Finally, in 2007, Rose admitted that he bet on the Reds while he was a manager (never as a player) but said he never bet against the Reds while he was managing.
Bret Saberhagen pitched eight seasons for Kansas City before moving on to the Mets, Rockies and Red Sox. He won both of his Cy Young Awards as a Royal.
Still, Saberhagen, who was in Kansas City for a special "Legends Night" at Kauffman Stadium on Friday, said his view of Rose hasn’t changed.
Saberhagen still believes adamantly that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.
"Yes, I do, personally," Saberhagen told me. "… I just think that Pete Rose, if he had bet on baseball while he was playing, that would be a different story. Betting on it as a manager, it’s still not right, but I think he’s served his time, so to speak. He should be in."
Saberhagen said he knew in 2006 that his gesture of declining the Hall of Fame might ring hollow to some observers; he didn’t receive enough votes to get back on the ballot after his first year of eligibility.
"I never played this game to be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "And I didn’t think I had the numbers anyway. I had a World Series MVP and the two Cy Youngs, but the numbers have to really be up there.
"I had less than 200 wins. But I did play the game 18 years longer than I expected to, so that is a thrill."
Saberhagen said he hopes someday that Rose will be allowed into the Hall, perhaps after commissioner Bud Selig steps down this January.
"I don’t know if that will ever happen, if Pete will ever get in," Saberhagen said. "But it’s just how I feel. (Rose) is the greatest hits leader of all time — he should be in.
"Believe me, Bud has done a great job for baseball. I never expected he would have done this many great things for baseball, but he has. When he took over, baseball was in trouble, and he has made it pretty dang solid right now. I tip my hat to him. He has been a great commissioner.
"But when he goes out, maybe that changes things for Pete. I really hope so."