Hillary’s back for a second run at the presidency. Several Republican presidential wannabes are begging the voters for a second — or, in some cases, third — chance. Barack Obama already asked for his and, unfortunately for the country, was granted a second term as President. History is replete with examples of politicians seeking and being given second chances. Indeed, America is a nation founded on the notion that if you work hard and earn your way back, you deserve a Mulligan.
Except, that is, if your name happens to be Pete Rose.
Rose, one of major league baseball’s all-time leading hitters, made a serious error in judgment a generation ago by betting on outcomes of ball games while he was still actively involved in the League. He was caught; he owned up to it; he was punished severely; he paid and continues to pay the price; he has not repeated the error; and he is seeking redemption from Major League Baseball. What has been the response to Rose’s pleas – in essence, “Pete Rose will never, ever, be forgiven or granted redemption; no matter what he does, and for all of time, he will never be given a second chance.”
If Pete Rose were a candidate for high political office rather than a contender for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the story would be quite different. In politics, second chances are awarded routinely. For MLB, the bar of redemption has been set far higher; for Rose, seemingly impossibly higher.
Characteristically, Rose has continued fighting to get back into the arena. Earlier this month, he asked the new baseball Commissioner to reinstate him to the game; a request denied by every previous commissioner since Rose was banned in 1989. For Rose, this is his bottom-of-the-ninth, full-count moment. It is his last shot at redemption. His odds – not good.
Despite the many, proven examples of professional ball players boosting their performances, their statistics and their pay with illicit drugs in the years since Rose was banished, it is Rose who continues to be hermetically shut out from the sport; not the Alex Rodriguezes.
Why the double standard? Perhaps it has to do with baseball’s deeply imbued sense of history and tradition. The gambling and game-fixing scandal of the 1920s Chicago “Black Sox” is one of the most ignominious black marks in the history of any sport; and Rose’s gambling clearly conjured the ghosts of the past. Rose’s hyper-competitive, defiant nature – not filtered through a phalanx of PR handlers – probably has not made his task any easier.
However, baseball is not just about history and personalities; it is, at its core, a game of redemption and second chances; in a sense, nearly every element of the game is built on this foundation. Batters are given three strikes; not one. Pitchers are granted four balls. Teams are afforded three outs, and nine innings; often in a three-game series. Championship series are decided not in a single game, but by a series of seven games.
The theme of second chances, woven into the fabric of the sport like the red stitching on a baseball, is the genesis of its heroic lore. It is the essence of stories like the injured Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homerun in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series; or the Boston Red Sox’s miracle comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship. And, it is the story of Pete Rose; who in the twilight of his storied career, managed to break a seemingly unbreakable, 57-year old record for most career hits held by Ty Cobb.
It is for this reason why reinstating Rose in baseball should not be viewed as a measure of how we feel about Rose the man, but about how we value Rose the player, and even America itself.
Look at politics today, and see how many of those in power were once facing scrutiny for conduct that should have been career-ending. Instead, some, like Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have risen from scandal and defeat to become thought leaders for our country; others, like Hillary Clinton, will face a trial of fire in gaining the public’s trust while trying to make the most of hers. No matter whether such people actually deserve a second chance, the virtue of this being the country that it is, at the very least grants them an opportunity to demonstrate why they have earned one.
It is hard to argue that “Charlie Hustle” has not earned at least the same opportunity. Reinstatement is not about whitewashing the sins of the past; but rather about giving one of the sport’s most legendary icons a shot at the recognition he spent 23 years playing to achieve. “Everyday is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again,” baseball legend Bob Feller once quipped. “That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”
It is time Commissioner Rob Manfred starts a new game with Pete Rose, and allows him the opportunity to finish it in the Hall of Fame.