Truly reasonable people have never been able to definitively argue that Pete Rose deserved reinstatement by Major League Baseball, and truly reasonable people have never been able to definitively argue that he didn’t deserve it. For the simple reason that very few people, reasonable or otherwise, have had enough information.
Reasonable people — and yes, of course I consider myself reasonable – could only hope that someone would reopen Rose’s case, looking at all the evidence that was available 25 years ago and all the evidence that wasn’t but is now. Along with a fair take on the Pete Rose of today, who is (it’s worth saying) now 74 years old.
As I wrote last spring when Rose applied for reinstatement, there are essentially three rationales or considerations when punishing someone: incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution. But I dismissed retribution, because it’s not something we should countenance; it doesn’t have a place in a civil society, or shouldn’t anyway.
Which leaves incapacitation and deterrence. About the latter, it seemed (and seems) to me that you would have to search far and wide to find a baseball player who would happily bet on a baseball game upon learning that a potential suspension would be lifted once he turned 76 or thereabouts. Or even 66! People just don’t make decisions with that sort of foresight. Tell a player he’s going to be suspended for a year, and that will bring him pause. Tell him he’ll never play again, and now you’ve really got him scared. But 76? Nobody thinks that far ahead.
So what we’re really talking about here, or should be talking about, is incapacitation. And in denying Rose’s reinstatement, it’s incapacitation that Commissioner Rob Manfred has implicitly cited:
According to Manfred, there’s evidence that Rose not only bet on baseball games while still playing, in 1985 and ’86, but he did not — as he has claimed — bet on the Reds to win every game; sometimes he didn’t bet at all.
Under the Major League Constitution, my only concern has to be the protection of the integrity of play on the field through appropriate enforcement of the Major League Rules… Indeed, in considering Mr. Rose’s application for reinstatement, I, as Commissioner of Baseball, must determine the risk that Mr. Rose will impact the integrity of the game. –snip– In order to be satisfied that the policy underlying Rule 21 is not undermined by the granting of an application for reinstatement, I believe that, at a minimum, there must be objective evidence which demonstrates that the applicant has fundamentally changed his life and that, based on such changes, the applicant does not pose a risk for violating Rule 21 in the future. Here, what has been presented to me for consideration falls well short of these requirements.
Perhaps worse, despite Rose’s claim that he has "reconfigured" his life, "he has continued to bet on horseracing and on professional sports, including Baseball."*
Money quote from Manfred’s decision:
What would have qualified as "credible evidence of a reconfigured life"? That’s impossible to know. It’s possible that nothing was going to get Rose reinstated, by this or any other Commissioner. But I can’t help admiring Manfred for actually reviewing the evidence in (apparently) great detail, and explaining his decision in great detail. Further, elsewhere in his decision, Manfred explicitly decouples Rose’s suspension from his Hall of Fame eligibility. Is this cover for the Hall of Fame making Rose eligible? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just good public relations: "Hey, we’re not the ones keeping Pete out of Cooperstown. Go yell at Jane Forbes Clark!"
In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989. Absent such credible evidence, allowing him to work in the game presents an unacceptable risk of a future violation by him of Rule 21, and thus to the integrity of our sport. I, therefore, must reject Mr. Rose’s application for reinstatement.
This seems utterly appropriate to me, although of course it’s got little or no effective weight. After all, Major League Baseball has never taken any official position regarding Rose’s Hall of Fame eligibility. It’s been said that the Hall of Fame passed the Pete Rose Rule, barring anyone on Baseball’s ineligible list from being elected, largely to please Baseball. And maybe that’s true; after all, Baseball is a significant, arguably indispensable supporter of the National Baseball Museum & Hall of Fame. But Manfred’s decision places the onus squarely on the Hall itself.
Jane Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame, isn’t likely to rescind the rule, if only because the Hall abhors controversy, and Rose becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame would suck a huge percentage of the air out of the room for as long as he remained eligible but unelected. And it’s difficult to figure if he would actually be elected.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for arguing with the product here. I was hoping Commissioner Manfred’s decision would be different, because I don’t believe that barring Rose from Baseball still serves any great purpose. Manfred’s decision hasn’t changed my mind about that. But it’s a lot harder to argue with the process today, since it seems that Manfred, in great contradistinction to his predecessor, made some real effort to deliver a decision that, at least on its face, is both deliberate and fair.
Reasonable people couldn’t have asked for much more.
* — You gotta love the capital B that Baseball uses in these documents. So quaint.