Rules are important.  Without rules civil society would disintegrate into anarchy. In sports, rules keep games consistent and free of unsavory elements. We need rules as lane markers on life’s highway.  But consistency, fairness and flexibility are as important as rules. Brittle and unbending rules are what cause 9-year-olds to be suspended from school for bringing a spork in their lunch or a frantic father speeding his kid to the hospital for a medical emergency to receive a speeding ticket. Case-by-case common sense is what injects rules with reason.

Rules.  It’s a topic that brings us to one of the most bizarre injustices ever:  Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball.

As many of you know, I am a passionate baseball fan. In many ways, baseball brought me out of my shell of shyness as a kid.  In junior high my social life wasn’t the best, but I could always listen to my beloved baseball, remanants of the legendary Big Red Machine: Dave Concepcion, Buddy Bell, Dave Parker, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose. They accepted me even if some of my classmates didn’t.   I could study statistics, standings, and scan the box-scores and feel part of something much larger. For an awkward 13-year-old that is powerful stuff.  And Pete Rose with his head-first slides and hustle, proved that greatness depended  just as much on grit and guts than athletic ability.  Sixteen years before September 11 became a dark day it was a celebratory one in Cincinnati when Pete Rose finally caught the ghost of Ty Cobb.  A slap single to left-center field brought Pete Rose hit number 4192, more than anyone ever in the game had ever amassed (or probably ever will) and the world watched rapt.   A year later I would sit in the stands watching Pete Rose’s final at-bat, a strike-out against San Diego’s legendary Goose Gossage.  All was okay, Pete Rose would end his career with 4,256 hits and a certain ticket to Cooperstown.  But it was not to be.

Three years later I sat outside at work listening grimly to my radio on a raw, rainy May day as Major League commissioner A. Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from baseball for life.   Not five miles from where I played backyard baseball, Pete Rose had spent the past few years visiting a shady web of bookies in the town of Franklin, Ohio placing bets  in smoky backroom parlors.

Right after that dark day, I sent my Dad to a crowded courthouse in Cincinnati to pick up an original copy of the “Dowd Report”, Major League Baseball’s 225-page collection of evidence against him.  I read the whole thing and I’m not an idiot. I knew from reading it that Pete bet on baseball 20 years before Pete publicly admitted it.   And Pete is no public relations genius. In many ways he is an arrogant idiot.  Everyone knows  how a public person rights a wrong in the United States.  They quickly admit their guilt, visit the tearful confessionals of Oprah and Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric, and then they rebuild their lives.  Pete never did that.  He lied ceaselessly about his gambling  before finally admitting he did it in a clumsy confession, not on Oprah but in a book, My Prison Without Bars.

Yes, Pete Rose bet on baseball and that was against the rules.  But those rules were enacted in 1919 after the infamous “Black Sox” scandal when Shoeless Joe Jackson and his gang threw the World Series.   Times and rules change.     Today, most states operate lotteries, there are church bingo parlors, riverboat gambling, and horse tracks.  Make no mistake, I am no fan of gambling.  But in 2010, St. Louis slugger Mark McGuire admitted to steroid use, which throws into doubt all of his accomplishments.  Yet, baseball welcomes him with open arms and he is currently employed as a hitting coach with the Cardinals. He has not been voted into the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be, but at least he is on the ballot.  Pete Rose is forever barred from the ballot.

There’s nothing tainted about Pete Rose’s hits.  Baseball’s weighty Dowd Report never alleged he bet against the teams he played for.  Those are hits are his, pure and simple and they belong in the Hall of Fame, pure and simple.  What is being gained by keeping him out?  Yes, there are far more important issues in this world right now, but sometimes it just feels good to right a wrong. We can do it.  Let’s send a message to Major League baseball. We’re pushed around by their $5 hot dog prices and $7 sodas, we can at least enshrine the greats.  Click here to sign a petition to support Pete’s induction into the Hall of Fame.