In my various meanderings through the internet, I’ve been known to sign up for a newsletter or two. I’ve got several e-mail accounts, and I learned years ago never to use my primary address for any orders, subscriptions or other sites requiring an e-mail address for membership or entry, much in the same way that I’ve never entered the digits to my debit card anywhere online.
So in one of those newsletters, a daily one that features a “This Date In History” section, an erroneous listing for today included:
1940 Bugs Bunny makes his official debut in the Warner Bros. animated cartoon “A Wild Hare.”
1942 Peggy Lee records her first hit record Why Don’t You Do Right.
1984 Pete Rose passes Ty Cobb’s record with his 4,192nd hit.
It’s that last one I found interesting. I didn’t seem to remember hearing much about it lately, so I was surprised that it would creep up so quickly. There was no sign of it on MLB.com, but then I got to thinking about how ol’ Pete is banned from baseball and the Reds wouldn’t be allowed to have him present for any 20th anniversary celebrations they might hold, so maybe Bud and baseball were just ignoring this feat.
Though I was only 8 in July 1984, I’ve taught myself so much about the history of baseball. The year 1984 didn’t seem right to me. Sure enough, a few clicks later, I found the right date: Sept. 11, 1985. So we’ve still got nearly 14 months until the 20th anniversary of Pete’s 4,192nd hit, but I’ve already started writing this essay in my head, so why wait until then. I’ll just link back to it when the time comes.
Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball is sad. It’s sad he brought it upon himself, that’s for sure, and sad that he fell victim to a disease that affects thousands of anonymous Americans, let alone the famous ones. However, he’s had his opportunities to improve his standing in the eyes of Baseball — the suits on Park Avenue and downtown Milwaukee — and he’s blown many of those. With another Hall of Fame weekend behind us, we’re reminded of Pete Rose’s ticking clock of eligibility. He retired as a player in 1986 and would have become eligible for the Hall in 1991. Players only have 15 years on the ballot, then they’re turned over to the Veterans Committee, which now includes more players — and Hall of Famers — than it once did. So ol’ Pete has less than two years to try to get on the writers’ ballot and get the votes of those scribes and broadcasters who grew up watching him, who covered him, who will look more at his play on the field and less at his disrespect for the game off it.
Taking away his gambling indiscretions for a moment — as hard as that is to do — it will be a shame if, on Sept. 11, 2005, the Reds celebrate the 20th anniversary of the new Hit King without Pete Rose making an appearance at Great American Ballpark. He probably will, though. If Bud could relent enough to allow him on the field in Atlanta 1999 for the introduction of the All-Century Team, he’ll probably jump at another chance to embrace baseball’s history and another milestone moment and allow him onto the field in Cincinnati next September. It would be a shame if they didn’t. It was certainly a great moment in Reds history, and I wouldn’t want to see the anniversary pass as quietly as it seemed to today.
Scrolling through the lists of baseball’s all-time leaders, the players at the top of each column are either in Cooperstown or have their ticket issued — though guys like Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson still have their arrival dates left blank. But when those living legends meet again each July in Cooperstown, there’s no photo ops with the Strikeout King and the Hit King, no pairings of the man with the most home runs and the man with the most hits.
The part of me that loves baseball’s history wants Pete Rose to be there. As I near my 30s and the players inducted into the Hall of Fame each July become more and more familiar — guys like Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor, who played recently enough to overlap my first experiments with fantasy baseball — I can’t imagine the likes of Chili Davis, Fred McGriff or Rafael Palmeiro embossed in brass on a plaque.
But Pete Rose I can see there. I don’t know if he should be, though. He was a rat for gambling on baseball, but he had a chance to come clean about it and he chose to lie, and to hide. He exiled himself and now he’s trying to apologize his way back into the party.
It’s probably too late.