Here we sit, the end of July, it’s Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., a handful of impact trades have opened the 2015 trading season, with many more to come before the July 31st non-waiver deadline. Prior to this weekend, much of the season has been focusing on the return of one of the game’s greatest pariahs, and more recently with the Midsummer Classic in the Queen City, the question of whether or not the game’s ultimate cheater, the game’s all-time hit king, should be given a second chance.
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Alex Rodriguez is back with the New York Yankees, and he’s brought back his big boy stick with him. As of this writing, at the age of 39 (he’ll be 40 on Monday), A-Rod smacked three bombs in a game to help propel the Bronx Bombers to a rare road victory. This offensive rejuvenation has been uncommon for players at this stage in their career, AND after sitting out the entire 2014 season while serving his season-long suspension for suspected PED use, and his continued denials and lying to MLB officials. While I was the editor of Yanks Go Yard of the Fansided Network, I often spoke with my staff of how I believed A-Rod would have an incredible bounce-back season…very few believed me. During the winter, I kept saying .270/20/70. At this very moment, Rodriguez, who started the season hitting seventh in the Yankees’ lineup, is now back to his customary middle-of-the-order slot, and has posted a line of .277/23/58. While he’s saying and doing all the right things, it absolutely has to be eating at him, that many still doubt he’s putting up these numbers clean. A-Rod has nobody to blame for the doubters accept that guy in the mirror he once puckered up for.
Should A-Rod have been the starting DH in the All-Star Game? Yes. He is one of the most important pieces to the Yankees’ season-long resurgence after being left for dead by both the organization and fans around the globe. Does he deserve recognition for his comeback? Depends on whom you ask. Some in the media will NEVER forgive A-Rod for deceiving them and the game multiple times. His former manager in New York, Joe Torre believes he’s paid his price:
He paid his debt. He was suspended. He did that. Hopefully he learned something from it. He’s been determined to come back and play the game that he’s loved. I know baseball’s been a huge part of his life. He just craves it…He’s been a force, no question. People in New York love it. That’s what’s important for us. Once people pay their penalty, you can’t root against them. It’s not the right thing to do.
So if you don’t like A-Rod for his exploits, one must certainly respect the opinion of Joe Torre. But when all is said and done, and assuming A-Rod finished his career in a couple of more seasons without incident, and he gets “close” to passing Barry Bonds as the all-time home run king, where does that leave Rodriguez in the pantheon of all-time great hitters? The 14-time All-Star, 3-time AL MVP, now ranks among the elite in almost every offensive category. Just a home run hitter? Nope. He entered the 3,000-hit club earlier this season, and with each base knock, along with each home run, Rodriguez’ career becomes more and more of a question mark for fans, writers and Hall of Fame members themselves to consider. One of this year’s inductees, the great Pedro Martinez was careful (for once) when speaking of Rodriguez and his fellow PED-implicated users:
There’s nothing I can do with the way voters handle who did what. Certainly the numbers are there. But as you know from previous cases: ‘Why not Roger Clemens? Why not Barry Bonds?’ It’s for the same reason. I hope they all make it, to be honest. (h/t) Jerry Crasnick ESPN.com
Perhaps if Alex Rodriguez continues down the righteous path, continues to make amends with those whom he formally betrayed, and once he retires, just fades away rather than making headlines with his mouth, his legal team, etc., then perhaps as with Yankees fans, and his current teammates, forgiveness can be found, and he too will someday, find a plaque in Cooperstown with his name on it.
Someone whose Cooperstown standing is not in doubt, because he’s on the ineligible list, is that of the all-time hit king, Peter Edward Rose. 4,256. It’s a big number. The man was simply a testament to hard work, perseverance, and his gritty attitude to never give up an at-bat, a pitch, an inning, or a game. A member of the Big Red Machine, and he also brought Philly back from the dead with a title. Rose played in more winning baseball games than any man who had walked on the planet prior to his arrival, or since his banishment.
A distinguished writer who has covered the game a lot longer than I have, whom I consider both a mentor and a friend, Howard Cole, thinks there is no room for discussion on the topic of Rose. His opinion is that Rose committed the ultimate Cardinal sin in the game, and for that, there is no return. Howard and I have discussed Rose at great length, and it’s simply one of those topics that we simply agree to disagree on. That’s fine. Baseball, like religion and politics, is sometimes a hot-button issue when you feel strongly in your beliefs. I don’t disrespect Howard any less for his feelings about Rose, and I hope he feels likewise.
Here’s the thing: many a dirtbag has been enshrined in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame isn’t about the morally righteous in the game’s long and celebrated history. Babe Ruth for example, was a known drunk during prohibition. He broke FEDERAL LAW on a nightly basis. Didn’t keep him from his rightful place among the game’s greats. Sure, Ruth didn’t bet on games like Rose has as both a player AND as a manager. But as I continue to point out, there is ZERO evidence Rose ever bet against any team he has been associated with. Personally, I think the whole gambling as a Cardinal sin of the game is way overrated.
As we now know, hundreds of players–some MVP types, others just trying to hang on a big league job, have used PEDs and steroids. Nobody knows for sure if a user has already been elected to Cooperstown, while many highly-suspected have been kept on the outside looking in. Players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, etc., will most likely find it difficult to ever see upstate New York for the honor, but never say never. With the older generation of baseball writers moving on, and a younger group assuming the reigns, opinions may change, but for right now, these guys will remain on the outside looking in.
Does Pete Rose deserve a chance to run a big league club as a manager or executive? Absolutely not. That ship has sailed, and if your players and organization can’t trust you, for fear of of your desire to make some cash betting, then what’s the point? I personally, don’t believe Rose ever bet against his teams, but I do think it’s weird that his teams finished second in the then-National League West four seasons in a row that he was the full-season skipper (sans 1989), and then the first season Lou Piniella took over, the Reds were wire-to-wire division leaders and eventual World Series champions.
No, Rose does not deserve a second chance as a member of any organized baseball team or league, whether it’s the big leagues, or my children’s t-ball team. I do believe, that Rose does deserve his chance for enshrinement for his accomplishments as a player. Seventeen All-Star appearances, the game’s all-time leader in base hits, plate appearances, games, at-bats, and wins as a player. Ten top ten MVP finishes, and the winner of the award in 1973. The longest hitting streak in National League history at 44 games. A member of three World Series title teams, winning the MVP of the 1975 Fall Classic. No, don’t forgive Rose for his indiscretions, but celebrate the player that he was. One doesn’t have to like or even respect Pete Rose as a man. Like him or not, you will respect what he did on the diamonds of Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Using his player page on baseball-reference.com, if you compare Rose to the top nine players who are statistically similar, each is in Cooperstown. Rose belongs there as well.