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Friday, February 23, 2024

If there is no room for steroid users in Hall of Fame, there should not be any for Rose

With all of the decade retrospectives that went on last month, I started wondering about what the biggest sports controversies were of the past ten years.

For any baseball fan, the obvious answer is steroids—there was no bigger black eye in a decade filled with them than the still-endless string of past and present heroes brought before grand juries and Congress, forced to admit that the moments that captivated so many fans were acts of fraud.

Think of baseball's most memorable moments from 2000-2009 and what comes to mind? Luiz Gonzalez's World Series-winning bloop hit against Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series? The Boston Red Sox claiming their first world championship since 1918? How about Rafael Palmeiro wagging his finger at Congress or Mark McGwire stubbornly refusing to ""talk about the past"" at the same hearing?

With the memories of the steroid controversy still fresh and many baseball fans looking for a distraction, it might make some nostalgic for another of baseball's most enduring debates: that over Pete Rose, and whether he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.

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Now the debate over one issue could be crossing over into the decades-old fight about the other, and it could be bad news for baseball's all-time hits king.

Because of the record he holds, Pete Rose's defenders have long argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame despite the lifetime ban he received from Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989. When he admitted to betting on games a few years ago many analysts argued that by coming clean, Rose now deserved a spot in Cooperstown, although the chances of this ever happening are now nearly nonexistent.

But McGwire's recent steroid admission does not seem to make him any more likely to be voted into the Hall of Fame and has forced Rose's proponents – myself included – to reevaluate their stance on his induction. After all, if Rose can come clean and deserve to enter the Hall of Fame, surely McGwire has earned the same right with his admission.

I should explain that, until McGwire confirmed what everyone else already knew and admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs last week, I believed that Rose should be allowed into the Hall of Fame but that steroid users like McGwire should not.

I'm what some people call a ""baseball purist"" because I abhor the past and continued use of steroids in baseball. (That is a moniker I have since dropped as it is unfortunately associated with 70-year-old men who wax poetic about Fenway Park and decry the use of video scoreboards and night games). Regardless of the term for my opinion, what McGwire admitted to doing and countless other baseball heroes are accused of doing is unacceptable and no one who cheated their way there should be enshrined at the Hall of Fame.

But while my belief that steroid users should never be voted into Cooperstown was not changed by McGwire's admission, I was forced to reconsider whether Rose is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

After all, both men violated some of the fundamental pieces of baseball law—Rose by betting on games and McGwire by taking performance-enhancing drugs—and now both have admitted to it. Clearly, then, if you judge them by the same standard there is no way to argue that Rose deserves the Hall over McGwire or vice versa.

Obviously Pete Rose wasn't propelled to 4,256 hits because he bet on baseball, but the fact that he gambled on games he was involved in runs afoul of the MLB's most strict and clear rule. If the gatekeepers of the Hall of Fame, the Baseball Writers Association of America, will not let admitted or alleged steroid users in, there is no way for any of them to argue that Rose deserves induction as well. 

To say Rose should be voted in because he owned up to his crimes and apologized, but that players like McGwire should be left out is unfair. Rose and McGwire's apologies can never undo the embarrassment that their controversies cost the league, and neither one of them—nor anyone else who bet on baseball or used steroids deserves a place in Cooperstown.

So as you reminisce over baseball's biggest stories of the 2000s, spare a thought for Pete Rose and one of the game's classic controversies. What he did in the 1980s was just as appalling then as steroid use is to us now, and as fans we must realize that it is wrong to enforce a law that is more cruel to some than others for essentially the same crime.

Pete Rose will probably never be enshrined in baseball's most sacred monument and, as hard as it once was to admit, that is just the way it should be.

Should Pete Rose be allowed into the Hall of Fame? What about steroid users? Share your thoughts with Nico at savidgewilki@dailycardinal.com.

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