Posts Tagged ‘Bud Selig’

Nats Fall To Seligs

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Nats bench bat and right fielder Michael Morse slammed two home runs and drove in four, but the Washington Nationals fell to the Milwaukee Brewers 7-5 on Friday night. The game might well have come down to one play: with two outs in the fifth inning (and with Craig Stammen providing a solid outing), shortstop Ian Desmond failed to throw out a sprinting Alcides Escobar at first. Escobar then took second and scored on an up-the-middle single from pitcher Chris Narveson. The Escobar single shifted the game’s momentum, with Narveson eventually scoring on a Jim Edmonds’ single. The Desmond play, had it been made, would have ended the fifth with a Nats’s lead of 5-1 and left Stammen cruising into the sixth. “I think Desmond made a great play to get to the ball,” Jim Riggleman later said. “Escobar hit it sharp. Desmond may have had a little more time. Escobar runs well. That’s baseball. It’s still two outs, man on first and the pitcher is hitting. We have to put that inning away.”

But the Nats didn’t put the inning away — and the Brewers rallied for two runs against Tyler Clippard in the sixth before Edmonds lofted a home run against Sean Burnett in the seventh. The bullpen collapse is particularly worrisome, as it repeats a pattern that has seen Tyler Clippard struggling to find the form that made him one of the best middle relievers in the season’s first three months. “It’s about the third time we have gone through that with Clippard,” Riggleman said after the loss. “We give him a couple of games and boy, here he goes again. He is looking good. Today, he had great momentum striking out Fielder. I felt, ‘OK , that’s huge,’ but [then] he walked Casey McGehee. Again, that gives them the opportunity to think, ‘Hey, we are one swing away.'” Clippard’s ERA continues to slip: he is now at 3.45 for the season. At the end of June, Clippard’s ERA stood at 2.20.

The Team That Bud Built: While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is a much derided figure among large numbers of baseball fans, it’s hard to find anyone in Milwaukee who openly criticizes him. For good reason: there wouldn’t be baseball in Milwaukee if it weren’t for Selig, whose loyalty to the city assured that it would retain its big league tradition. Selig was a minority owner in the Milwaukee Braves and fought a lonely, but losing battle to keep them from moving to Atlanta, then virtually blackmailed baseball to keep a team in the city by inducing the Chicago White Sox to play twenty games in the abandoned Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968 and 1969. The threat was clear: if the White Sox didn’t start drawing on the south side, Selig would buy them and move them north. But Selig’s bid to buy the Pale Hose in 1969 was blocked by the American League, which was committed to keeping two teams in Chicago. Selig got the booby prize when the league allowed him to purchase the no-account (and bankrupt) Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million and move them east.

Selig’s conviction that baseball could thrive in Milwaukee was much like a second marriage: it was a triumph of hope over experience. The Braves never drew well after their late 1950s success and the city seemed only marginally interested in supporting a major league team in the 1970s. Milwaukee was hit hard by the successive rust belt recessions that stripped jobs from the city’s machine tool and heavy engine manufacturing industries. Thousands of jobs were lost at Milwaukee’s largest plants — Allis-Chalmers, Evinrude, Briggs and Stratton, and Harley-Davidson. The city’s breweries started disappearing in the late 1960s and into the 1970s as Schlitz (“the beer that made Milwaukee famous”), Blatz (“it’s draft brewed Blatz beer, wherever you go”) and Pabst (“it won the blue ribbon”) closed or merged with larger brewers. While Milwaukee’s beer brands have been revived, the old scions of the industry (named for Milwaukee’s most famous German-American families) are gone, gone, gone. By the late 1970s, the miles upon miles of Polish, German and African-American working class neighborhoods were either disappearing or being gentrified.

Selig ignored the evidence, gambling that the city would survive and support a team. It was a lousy gamble, but it has paid off. While the team limped along in the 1970s, Selig (the inheritor of his father’s successful car leasing business), not only inaugurated a marketing program that brought fans into the city from northern Wisconsin, he built a scouting and development team that identified young talent (Robin Yount and Paul Molitor) — mixing them with Milwaukee legends (the Brewers brought Hank Aaron back to Milwaukee for the 1975 and 1976 seasons), that boosted attendance and solidified the Brewers’ identity in the city. While the Brewers were busy winning MLB Organization of the Year awards (seven in all), Selig was becoming an increasingly important figure in the game itself — leading an owners’ revolt against baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and heading up the powerful MLB Executive Council. When Selig replaced Vincent he ceded ownership of the Brewers to his daughter Wendy and in 1994 the team was sold to Mark Attanasio, an out-of-state investment management mogul, for a measly $224 million.

You have to be impressed with “The Team That Bud Built.” While the franchise has never won a World Series, it has consistently outperformed baseball’s expectations, fielding small market boppers like Prince Fielder and filling the seats by building a team that focuses on a mix of Milwaukee’s working class history and Old Europe traditions — from the Archie Bunker-like downscale “wallbangers” to the puzzlingly popular sausage races. It has helped that the Brewers were able to plan and build Miller Park, with a fan shaped convertible roof. Not surprisingly, the Miller Park brand (which runs to 2020 and costs the brewing company $40 million) comes from one of the remaining great (and financially successful) brewing companies of Milwaukee, founded by German immigrant Frank Miller in 1855 and sold by his granddaughter (a temperance advocate) in 1966 — to an international conglomerate. The opening of Miller Park was the last piece of the puzzle for Selig’s plan to make baseball a permanent Milwaukee tradition: the Brewers brought over 3 million fans into the park in 2009 in an urban area that is half the size of Washington.

The Year of the Umpire?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The Washington Nationals bombarded the Houston Astros on Monday, wracking up 14 runs on 14 hits, and registering the biggest inning in Nats history. Nyjer Morgan, batting second, went 3-4 in breaking out of a May slump, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman each had four RBIs. But the Nats-Astros tilt was not only notable for the fireworks provided by Washington’s bats. In the third inning, Houston ace Roy Oswalt was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Bill Hohn, whom Oswalt clearly believed was not giving him an outside strike. Oswalt complained, confronted Hohn, and was tossed. The Nats were pleased with Oswalt’s departure (even though they seemed to be hitting him) and jumped on the Astros’ bullpen.

Oswalt argued his innocence after the Nats win. “I was upset I missed with a pitch a little bit off the plate and was actually talking to myself on the mound,” Oswalt said. “I wasn’t even looking his way, and when I turned around, he was pointing at me and saying something about, ‘Are you going to keep your mouth shut?’ I couldn’t really tell what he said. I told him I wasn’t talking to him and he kept on talking, so I told him again I wasn’t talking to him, and he threw me out.” Houston manager Brad Mills put himself between Oswalt and Hohn, but the signal for Oswalt’s ejection had already come. Hohn’s finger-in-the-air toss came after Adam Dunn had put an extra base knock into right-center field off a pitch that Oswalt seemed to groove after Hohn had called successive balls on his corner pitches. “That’s on you,” Oswalt mouthed to Hohn as Josh Willingham came to the plate.

Is This The Year of the Umpire? Oswalt’s ejection over called balls and strikes highlighted the increasing noise over the strike zone in major league baseball. Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday featured a strike zone that gave the Phillies’ ace an outside strike — not nearly as tight as Hohn’s zone with Oswalt in Houston on Monday. The Marlins refused to talk about “the Halladay strike zone” after the game (“I don’t want to talk about the strike zone, because that’s a discredit to what he did,” Fish regular Chris Coghlan said), but they were clearly upset about some of the calls — on 3-1 and 3-2 counts. Strangely the strike zone seemed incredibly small in April — perhaps an attempt to inject some offense into the game in the post-steroid era — before loosening up through all of May.

A family member (here he is, honest) theorizes that the endless use of slo-mo, super slo-mo and the strike zone box featured in nearly all MLB broadcasts (on Nats broadcasts it’s the “MASN HD Pitch Track”), has so irritated the umpires that they are in revolt. The result of the revolt is a wider strike zone, faster games and punch and judy hit-the-opposite-way games. The theory is more than just an idea. In March, a group of baseball experts convened by USA Today (that included players, umpires and managers), took on the strike zone box used by color commentators. Veteran ump Steve Palermo was the most outspoken; he called the graphic phony and inaccurate. “They put up the same box for Freddie Patek and Dave Winfield,” Palermo said. “You telling me those two strike zones are the same? I don’t think so. Not at 6-foot-6 and 5-foot-4. They should say at the bottom of the screen, ‘This is for entertainment purposes only.’ ” The graphic has led to endless second guessing by managers, fans and viewers of umpire calls. “I hate that damn box on TV. Why don’t they eliminate that?” super scout Gary Hughes queries.

If MLB’s umpires are in revolt, they’re likely led by Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association and the spiritual leader of the fed up and huddled umpire masses. West would be an odd choice for a revolutionary leader: he’s controversial, holds grudges and spends a lot of time off the field promoting his country western CD and hobnobbing with celebrities. Earlier in the season, West criticized the Red Sox and Yankees for their habit of playing interminable games, calling the two teams “pathetic and embarrassing.” The comment sparked a firestorm of comment. But West’s complaint was hardly new: it has been made often by baseball insiders (and outsiders), who point to the Red Sox and Yankees as arrogant flouters of Commissioner Bud Selig’s wish to speed up the game. “Everybody else gets screwed but those two teams,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter says. Steve Palermo went public with his own anger back in March, noting that when Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was disciplined for throwing extra pitches in the bullpen warm-up session after being summoned to the mound, he ripped up the disciplinary notice in front of a group of reporters. “You know what?” Palermo says. “If somebody acts up, whack them. I’m talking about $50,000. And then $100,000. And then $200,000. You usually get the attention after the $100,000 mark.”

If there’s an umpire revolt in major league baseball, it’s likely to reach a boiling point this week, when Bud Selig and crew may decide to reprimand Joe West — and either fine or suspend him — for allegedly recruiting reporters to his side in the length of games controversy. West is also under fire for calling two balks on White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and ejecting him, and then doing the same with Pale Hose manager Ozzie Guillen. Now, granted, West comes off as a jerk and his “Cowboy” Joe West pose flies in the face of one of the game’s most sacred unwritten rules — that umps should be invisible. But in spite of this, West seems to be making a point that has nothing to do with his comments on the length of game controversy or his dust-up with the South Siders. And it’s a point that every umpire in the MLB would support: that the strike zone is what the umps say it is (that’s what it says in the rules) and . . . and as soon as you step on the field, the umps are in charge. It can’t be any other way and it hasn’t been for more than one hundred years. Then too, let’s get serious: it’s not as if Roy Halladay is Danny Cabrera. You don’t like the strike zone? Well, get a clue: swing the bat. Like the Nats did yesterday in Houston.

The Last of the “Lame Ducks”

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Remember Bobby Bragan? The bent-backed big-bellied curse of Brooklyn and Birmingham and the fair-haired best buddy of Branch Rickey before that kid infielder Jackie Robinson came along, Bragan was his generation’s Bobby Cox. He could bait an umpire by just being there, but was at his best while shuffling to the mound, muttering under his breath. And the umps would yell at him: “What did you say Bragan? What was that?” It seems a required part of Braves’ baseball even now, a “given” on the single-sheet job description: “Must know the game. Must hate umpires.”

Bragan was that, and classically Birmingham fat, aging gracelessly as the players got younger around him. So Bragan would come out of the dugout, muttering about the unfairness of it all (carrying his Denny Lemaster hook — “oh thank God, he’s pulling Lemaster”) and you would swear he was going to lose his balance, tipping forward as he walked. I never thought he was that heavy, but back in 1965 Milwaukee Braves fan would razz him, ceaselessly, relentlessly, cruelly: “Go on a diet Bobby,” and “you’re a pig, Bragan.” He was of a “type” — a southern boy who was okay behind the plate, a player forever of the verge of being something more than just average. Neither a peripheral great nor even mediocre, Bragan was one of those guys you put in the line-up until someone better comes along. There is a whole community of guys like Bragan wandering through the underworld: Dennis Menke and . . .  well, Dennis Menke.

Bragan would have been a forgettable character, were it not for his memorable 1947 decision to circulate a petition from white players saying they wouldn’t play with Robinson, whom Rickey had brought in the break baseball’s color barrier (and transform the Trolleys from a very good to a great team). Bragan even asked Rickey to trade him: he would not play with a black man. You have to wonder what Bragan was thinking. Did he really believe Rickey would send Jackie packing because his second string catcher was a racist? Bragan quickly changed his mind. “After just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player,” Bragan later remembered. “I told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson.” Trumpets. Organ music. Fade.

Bragan never lived down that moment, but he tried. He pushed Maury Wills to the majors when he was a minor league manager in Spokane, praised Rickey as the person who had “made me a better man,” and became one of baseball’s smartest and most well-respected administrators — as head of the Texas League and then head of the governing body of minor league baseball. In the 1980 he started the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which raises money for scholarships to keep kids in school and was elected into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. But back in 1965, Bragan was viewed by the people of Milwaukee as anything but a hero. Bragan was the manager of the lame duck Milwaukee Braves, who had announced the previous year that they would be moving to Atlanta. Milwaukee partisans were shocked — and angered. 

When a group of local businessmen sued, the Braves were forced to stay an extra year in Milwaukee. Bragan, the on-field symbol of the Braves’ ownership bore the brunt of Milwaukee’s anger, but he was never known for being a stoic (or knowing what the word meant). You could see him seeth, and the more he seethed the more fans let him have it. As I remember it (and I was there — blessedly), the anger towards the Braves and Bragan culminated on a hot August day at Milwaukee County Stadium when Bragan walked to the mound to remove a pitcher (probably Lemaster, but I can’t remember for sure) and on the way back to the dugout he motioned in Rico Carty from left field. Carty had just misplayed a fly ball and Bragan was punishing him — in public, humiliating him front of the fans. On purpose. And the Braves fans just let him have it. And I mean they let him have it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought the fans in front of me, along the third base line, were going to come out of their seats. And Bragan looked up into the stands and just smiled and nodded his head: yes, yes, I took him out. So go do yourself. You know, whatever else you might think about Bragan, he knew when not to give a damn.

Bobby Bragan died last week in Fort Worth, Texas.  Major League Baseball paid homage to Bragan in a public notice that quoted Bud Selig. “He was a dear friend of mine for nearly 50 years,” Selig said. “He had a long and wonderful baseball career as a player, coach, manager and executive.” What the announcement failed to mention is that the group of Milwaukee businessmen who forced the Braves to spend ’65 in Milwaukee was organized and led by prominent local car dealer — named (oh yeah) Bud Selig. Selig was convinced that the Braves, and Bragan, owed their home town fans something more than a single press release and an empty stadium. 

Bobby Bragan was 92. Actually I kinda liked him.

McGwire “Comes Clean”

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

This is the way the ratings work: if you want people to listen to you, you had better do something interesting — and local. And so, to celebrate Mark McGwire’s coming out party on Monday, one local sports talk show asked its listeners to decide who had hurt their sport more: Mark “the needle” McGwire? Or Washington basketball semi-great Gilbert “Wyatt Earp” Arenas. The calls flooded in, though Sports Talk Radio afficianados are nothing if not predictable. If you don’t like baseball then Mark McGwire is “fatal to the game” (as one caller would have it) and if you don’t like basketball (“Let’s get ready to Gam-blllllllle“) then Arenas is a talisman of “a league of thugs.” There’s a better answer: if Mark McGwire had brought a gun into the Cardinals locker room he would have been immediately suspended for half-a-season — and right now he’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

McGwire’s sin, or so it seems to us (and here we are — after a long hiatus), is not so much that he used steroids (didn’t we already know that), but that he took so long in admitting it. Oh, and in admitting it . . . well, he didn’t really admit it: he didn’t avow that somehow it had increased his power (which is what steroids do) and he refused to acknowledge that without them he might not have hit the 70 home runs that made the ’98 season so memorable. That is to say, twenty-four hours after coming clean, McGwire is now being castigated for not really “coming clean.”

The most outspoken McGwire critics appeared on the MLB Network in the backwash of McGwire’s interview with Bob Costas. “The fact is, it is a form of cheating. And the question in my mind is can you award a guy with the highest award in baseball [election to the Hall of Fame] if he cheated? And my answer is no,” Peter Gammons said. Gammons took a surprising view: he said he had voted for McGwire’s entry before admitting to taking steroids, but that he would not do so now — and he predicted that it would be “a couple of tough years” for McGwire. That is to say: there’s no reward for coming clean, at least in Gammons’ mind, and it might have been better for him if he kept his mouth shut. “He wanted to be in uniform [as the new St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach] more than he wanted to be in the Hall,” Gammons reflected. There’s something to that: our guess here at CFG is that Cardinals’ owner Bill DeWitt probably insisted that McGwire clean up the past — if for no other reason than to keep the press from hounding him through all of Spring Training and beyond. But that meant a public admission and an apology. McGwire agreed.

MLB Networker commenter Joe Magrane added his own voice, wondering whether McGwire’s admission was really an admission — McGwire admitted to taking steroids to “heal faster,” Magrane noted, but without explicitly admitting that he used them. “I just don’t buy it,” Magrane said. MLB Cardinals’ reporter Matthew Leach had it the other way: “If there was anything that surprised me about the whole deal, it’s that he was a little more explicit than I thought he would be.” Leach then added a classic zinger: McGwire apologized, but without really saying what he was apologizing for.

Yeah, I buy that — but let’s get serious. McGwire could come absolutely clean (“I put the needle right here, Bob , because I knew it would help me break the Maris record) but such an admission, while fueling America’s twisted obsession with public and tearful repentence, wouldn’t make any of us actually feel any better. We still wouldn’t know what to do with all those records and (for those of us who watched every minute of the ’98 season) we still wouldn’t know how to think about that day when Mark and Sammy made baseball history. (All I can say is, thank God Sammy didn’t take ’em!) And that kind of admission (an I-did-it-just-to-hit-home-runs admission) might actually make us feel worse. Then too — lest we forget —  Bud and a gaggle of owners and senior baseball executives were all arrayed in the box seats at Busch watching when Mark and Sammy put on their show. And while Bud “Claude Rains” Selig has appointed every kind of commission possible to investigate the problem, he stood and cheered just like the rest of us when Big Mac put one over the McDonald’s sign to break the record: “Steroids? Steroids? I’m shocked to learn there were steroids in baseball.”

McGwire apologized and wants to coach St. Louis hitters. Let’s leave him alone. And let’s hope, for the sake of the Nats, that he does a lousy job.

Is “The Fix” Really In?

Friday, December 18th, 2009

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Tom Boswell reported that Bud Selig has put together a group of the game’s best and brightest to, in Boswell’s words, “fix” the game.  Boswell seems to think the game is broken: I don’t.  He seems to think surgery is required; I think the patient just needs a trip to the chiropractor for an adjustment. But Boswell’s was a good piece and very well received by this baseball fan who hit his “Skins fatigue threshold” two months ago — and has ceased to be fascinated by Tiger’s woes.  It was a good not-yet-winter article to take my mind off the cold.

Despite my belief that the game isn’t as bad off as some believe, I love the managers who comprise the on-field contingent of the 14-man committee: La Russa, Leyland, Torre and Scioscia. Future Hall of Famers every one. The Wise Men of Baseball.  Who doesn’t like those guys? 

La Russa is a vegetarian lawyer — who just so happens to have also won a World Series and Manager of the Year award in both leagues. But he should also be admired for how he responded to his 2007 DUI arrest. He said he was embarrassed, then pleaded guilty and said “I accept full responsibility for my conduct, and assure everyone that I have learned a very valuable lesson and that this will never occur again.” In other words, unlike so many sport folk these days, he didn’t hire a crisis management team to carefully craft a statement. He manned-up and did the right thing. Leyland (on the other hand) is the crusty old baseball guy who takes crap from no one, smokes Marlboros in the clubhouse ramp between innings and does more with his teams than one would expect.  Did the Florida Marlins really win the ’97 Series?  Really?!  And, you gotta love a guy who gets thrown out before the first pitch.

Torre is Torre. It’s hard to say much that would add anything to his record in New York. He’s a class act who wins.  And his dugout persona makes La Russa look excitable.  Buddha in a ball cap. Scioscia (like Leyland) is a fiery type who knows the game. He won a World Series in his third year with the Angels and has won the division in five of the last six years. If he were an every day player he’d be considered “a gamer.”

But, to the point of Boswell’s article: he recommends that the committee take a look at the pace of the game, at the issue of awarding the World Series home field advantage to the winner of the All Star game, is opposed to playing the World Series in November and thinks the way to do this is to cut back on the 162 game season.

I’m in full agreement with no November baseball. It should never happen; end of story. Cutting back on 162 games?  No. Sorry. One of the great things about baseball are the stats and being able to make comparisons between the greatest players of all time. We had to get over the switch from 154 games, no reason to go through that again. Plus, its a non-starter from a revenue point of view. Ain’t gonna happen. Then too, I actually like the All Star game counting for something. Boswell seems to think these things go in streaks and one league dominates the All Star game for years at a time giving an unfair advantage for years in a row to one league at Series time.  Maybe, but my reaction would be for the “weaker” league to get better.  But I’d also be happy with awarding home field to the team with the most regular season wins as Boswell suggests.

And the pace of the game? It can be speeded up, but it was my perception that it had gotten much better in the last couple of years — especially in the American League. One of my idiosyncrasies is to look at game times at the bottom of the box score. I don’t know why but I just do. And I thought that the problem had been fixed. But let’s go with Boswell’s contention that the game still has much to do in this area and address his five ideas for speeding it up:

1) Ban mound visits: I assume Boswell is joking so I’ll just say that if Jim Leyland thinks it’s okay to use a Blackberry to calm a kid pitcher down with runners on second and third (with one out in a one-run game in the seventh) then it’s okay with me.

2) Limit the time to make a pitching change. Yup. Shouldn’t a reliever be be loose by the time he gets to the mound? 

3) End the singing of “God Bless America” during the Stretch. Yes again. Enough already.

4) Wave the hitter to first when an intentional walk is indicated. Nope. You never know when that kid pitcher will hit the backstop.

5) Requiring relief pitchers to face at least two batters to eliminate pitching changes. I go back and forth on this one; so I’ll waffle and say “perhaps.”

Agree with Boswell or not, it was a great exercise to think this through in mid December. The only thing better was to realize that pitchers and catchers report in 60 days.

Defending “Charlie Hustle”

Monday, August 17th, 2009
Andy Warhol's rendition of Pete Rose was shown at the Cincinnati Art Museum in July of 2008

Andy Warhol's rendition of Pete RoseÂ

Pete Rose has never done himself any favors. Arguably one of baseball’s greatest players — and inarguably the greatest player to ever put on the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds – the inimitable “Charlie Hustle” bet on baseball games. And he lied about it for fifteen years. Coming clean in his autobiography My Prison Without Bars (intended as an apology to baseball for his actions), didn’t seem to help: Bud Selig refused to remove Rose’s name from the ineligible list. Of course, for some this is old business. The punishment is set, the man is banned — let it go. He bet on games and that’s all we need to know. But the continued punishment of Pete Rose is of moment now, particularly after recent reports that Bud Selig was considering reinstating Rose — and letting bygones be bygones.

There’s been some piling on: Rose agreed to be put on the ineligible list in 1989, with the apparent understanding that he could apply for reinstatement the following year. There was a wink-and-nod appearance, it was said, that Rose would be punished, but that the punishment wouldn’t be permanent. Rose apparently believed that (having served his time on the list), he might be soon forgiven. It didn’t happen. In 1999, Rose was named to the MLB All Century Team, and his name is there still — on the MLB website — just above Babe Ruth’s. But after appearing at a ceremony marking the naming of the team, Major League Baseball refused to allow him to participate in 25th anniversary ceremonies celebrating Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine,” he was barred from a ceremony marking the closing of Cinergy Field and then from a ceremony marking the opening of the Great American Ballpark. Rose is also barred from entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that decision came after Rose was declared ineligible, as if to emphasize the stain that marked him. The punishments never seemed to cease.

Did Rose have it coming? There are those who argue that Pete Rose’s sin is equal to that of the “eight men out” of Black Sox fame. They gambled and they were barred. But those who make that claim nearly always fail to add that there’s no evidence that Rose actually attempted to throw games. That’s not true of Joe Jackson and Company, despite the recent romance surrounding “Shoeless Joe.” Joe Jackson, his defenders say, didn’t set out to enrich himself. He did not know that what he was doing might destroy the game. And that’s right. Joe Jackson didn’t set out to enrich himself and harm to the game, but his buddies did and he was a part of it. And they damn near succeeded.

That’s not true of Pete Rose.

The Black Sox of 1919

There’s a case to be made for reinstating Rose, but it comes with some caveats. The first is that the vast majority of baseball fans (according to any number of polls) want him reinstated. Critics might respond that the argument carries no weight because baseball isn’t a popularity contest. They’d be wrong. Of course it’s a popularity contest. That’s what makes it America’s game. And that’s what makes Rose is a fan favorite. He always has been. The second reason Commissioner Selig might reinstate Rose is that he’s done his penance to baseball — as demanded. Penance does not require rehabilitation, but forgiveness seems well within the American tradition. “This is America, you’re supposed to be given a second chance,” Rose said in January of 2006. “But a lot of people don’t want me to have that.” He’s right. It’s hard to forgive. But we might remember, while Pete Rose bet on baseball, he didn’t kill dogs.

Finally, while the argument that Pete Rose should be reinstated simply because he was a great ballplayer remains  suspect — even intellectually dishonest — there’s something to it. Especially for diehard fans. There has been only one other player like Pete Rose in baseball history, and that’s Ty Cobb. For decades Cobb’s record of most hits by a major league baseball player was never in peril. It stood, like a great marble column, over all of baseball. It was the record that could never be broken. Cobb’s record of 4,190 hits, it was said, could never be matched. Rose shattered it, in Cincinnati, on September 11, 1985. 

What is most poignant about Cobb’s record is that it was broken by a player most like him. Cobb was fast, tough, was a choke-it-up and bang-it-out singles hitter who played the game hard and was deeply disliked by his fellow players. That true for Rose: he was a roll-in-the-dirt ballplayer who made few friends and a lot of enemies. “He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s one of the greatest two-strike hitters I’ve ever seen,” pitcher Bill Lee once said. And there’s this, also. Like Rose, Ty Cobb bet on baseball games. He did so in 1919 with his boon buddy and fellow Hall of Famer (and one of my very favorites) Tris Speaker. The allegation was made by pitcher Dutch Leonard who said that he and Cobb and Speaker and “Smokey” Joe Wood bet on a baseball game in 1919 that they knew was fixed. Kennesaw Mountain Landis investigated the charges and exonerated Cobb and Speaker.

And there it stands — though not exactly. It’s still hard for baseball historians to believe that Leonard, in implicating Cobb, would also implicate himself. Then too, Landis knew that in 1925, when the allegations were first aired, baseball could not stand another gambling scandal. And finally, any number of baseball scholars have been through the evidence, and weighed in with their own views: Cobb and Speaker were exonerated, but probably guilty. So it is: Cobb and Speaker (and Leonard and Smokey Joe) are dead, their records are in the books. And Ty and Tris, two of the greatest players of all time, are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Which is where they belong. So too does Pete Rose. Swallow hard and listen to Hank Aaron: “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.”