MLB mistakenly tries viewing past through non Pete Rose-colored glasses


Baseball card of Pete Rose collision with Ray Fosse.
Pete Rose’s infamous slide at the 1970 All-Star Game. (Topps Baseball)

Andy Warhol once famously predicted that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Having experienced something like that earlier this year, I would humbly suggest that a 24-hour news cycle is a more appropriate length for this fame to last.

What happened to me was I wrote a story about baseball cards and Pete Rose. And Pete Rose is clearly a fault line for many people when it comes to baseball and the Hall of Fame. I never took a position on the Hall of Fame one way or the other, but clearly any mention of Pete Rose leads most people directly to that argument. And it’s a valid point, because the PED-era cheats are starting to come up for Hall of Fame consideration, in a way that Rose never did.

Rose agreed to accept a lifetime ban from baseball back in the 1980s, and that means no Hall of Fame for him. So be it. But when Bud Selig and the powers that be try to apply Pete Rose’s lifetime ban retroactively — to the years that he played the game in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s — they have gone too far. And that’s when an average fan like me feels the need to call him out on it.

I’m going to write this on my own behalf, but I’ll also be channeling the feelings of everyone who was a 10-year-old boy in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Because that’s an age when baseball matters in a way it never will again. Life then comes along and, for some, baseball still remains an interest — and even a passion — but you’re never more connected to the game than you are when you’re 10.

When I was 10 back in 1978, Pete Rose was the most well-known baseball player there was. Maybe Reggie Jackson was, instead, but Rose was certainly among the very top baseball players of that era. We all knew Rose’s hitting stance (that crouch he always used to get into) and the way that he always — always — hustled down to first base after drawing a walk. Nobody else did that, then or now. Charlie Hustle played the game the way we all wanted to play it ourselves, if only we had the talent he did.

The collision at home plate between Rose and Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game was the stuff of legend for us. There wasn’t an Internet in those days, so we couldn’t watch it anytime we wanted. Nor could we go through it frame-by-frame, or replay it as often as we wanted. We could see it when the networks saw fit to show it to us, and we felt fortunate when we happened to be watching as they did. It sucked to be Ray Fosse, for sure, but when you get in Pete Rose’s way, those things were going to happen. That’s how he played the game, even a theoretically meaningless game like the All-Star Game. A game wasn’t meaningless if he was playing in it.

So, now the word has come out — via Tim McCarver — that MLB has expressed its displeasure with that clip being shown. It certainly fits with the pattern of Topps being prevented from mentioning that Pete Rose is the one who currently holds the all-time hits record. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes, and keeping Rose’s exploits on the field out of sight does a tremendous disservice to the game going forward.

Baseball’s link to its past is what has sustained the game for well over a century, longer than any other professional sports league on earth. We see movies about Jackie Robinson in the theaters and witness modern players in throwback uniforms on a regular basis. The game relies on its past in order to sustain its present and ensure its future. Whether MLB wants to admit this or not, Pete Rose and what he did on the field is an enormous part of that past. The attempt to blot it away angers me, to be completely honest about it.

I know what Pete Rose did — before he ever placed a bet on a ballgame — and millions of others my age do, too. As long as we remember, and bear witness to the ongoing neglect of these accomplishments, the game itself is not whole. Nothing against Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera, or any other stars in the game today, but Rose in his prime outshone them all. And until MLB stops trying to diminish Pete Rose by pretending he never played the game, it continues to damage its own legacy.

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