The Rose solution? Let's just vote on it

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

By Kevin Blackistone ~ Dallas MorningNews

Among the more precious rights afforded in this country is the right to vote. There is little wonder why citizens have protested for it, even died for it. It is the heartbeat of democracy.

It is so critical that there are at least a couple of states that allow prison inmates to vote. At least a dozen other states return the right to vote to prisoners upon their release. Most other states provide some manner for former convicts to have their voting rights restored.

In fact, only a dozen or so states disenfranchise some felons forever more, even if following their release they've not committed another crime and are leading exemplary lives. And these states are among a lot that is shrinking and under increasing challenge in courts of law.

But there are folks bent out of shape about the trial balloon Bud Selig sent up last week that raised the specter of Pete Rose being reinstated to baseball.

Good grief.

It's just baseball. It's merely another one of our games.

If convicts, of which Rose was at one point, can reclaim their right to vote, Rose should be able to regain entry to baseball, whatever little that means.

Who, after all, would want to hire a 61-year-old former player like Rose, who has been out of the game for over a decade and carries with him such a stain? Who would want to hire a guy who has admitted to having a sports gambling problem, even when he was managing the team he long played for, the Reds? This latest discussion should not concern Rose being admitted to the Hall of Fame, unless Cooperstown weighs something more than a player's statistics. The public has already spoken, and loudly, about that matter. So, too, have a number of HOF voters.

This is about whether baseball lets Rose do baseball things again, like helping open the Reds' new park. What skin is that off anyone's nose? It is also about PR, for Selig and for Rose. Funny how bedfellows develop.

Selig would like to leave the game having done something, anything, the majority of fans would like him for, such as removing whatever obstacle remains between Rose and a Hall of Fame plaque with his likeness. Rose would like to be able to reap a little more for his autograph, which he could if it had "HOF" behind it.

Some have suggested that Rose should meet some prerequisites before baseball commutes the sentence it handed him years ago. The primary precondition would be that, once and for all, he admit he bet on baseball and answer whatever follow-up questions might come, like whether he bet against the Reds as manager.

I suspect, however, that there are a number of convicts who never confessed their crimes, but have cast a vote again for a public official or public policy. They did their time. That was enough.

Rose has done his time, too, unless you believe in baseball's lifetime ban for anyone connected with it who dared wager on the game.

We know why the sentence was made so severe. Betting almost ruined the game early in the last century. Players succumbed to gamblers and fixed games. That was despicable. It threatened the integrity of the game, which is the foundation of all sports that are supposed to be legitimately competitive.

But the game long since recovered. Despite what Rose may have done according to the game's investigation, we don't watch baseball these days with an eyebrow raised or a saltshaker at the ready.

We don't watch pro football so suspiciously, either, even though it was dragged through the gambling tar pits much more recently than baseball. We haven't worried more about pro football even though the NFL reinstated the players that threatened its credibility, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. Hornung is even in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How about that? Until now, baseball just hasn't been able to forgive what it considers its worst offenders: gamblers in its midst. Others it has so convicted have been banished and never allowed to return.

I don't feel sorry for any of them, except maybe Shoeless Joe Jackson. Most of them have reaped only what they've sowed.

By most accounts, though, the majority of us are ready to grant some forgiveness in Rose's case, if only because we're tired of the whole affair.

Let the guy back into baseball, whatever that means, and let us move on. This is not a constitutional question.

Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

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