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Permanent Ejection: Pete Rose, PEDs, and the Integrity of Major League Baseball

By Brian Brownfield-

The year was 1989. Stamps cost a quarter. A gallon of regular gas cost $1.12. The average price of a new home was $148,800. The first George Bush was President of the United States. Guns N’ Roses had the most popular album with “Appetite for Destruction.” The author of this article was six years away from being born. The Bay Area was well represented with championship sports teams as both the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Athletics won titles. And Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on games while playing, and while coaching. As you read this article some twenty-seven years following the decision, Rose is still banned from baseball. But why is Rose prohibited from being affiliated with baseball while others who challenge the integrity of the game are still involved?

Younger Pete Rose pointing to the sky

Photo courtesy of Bill Waugh, AP

On Tuesday, December 14, 2015, the world was presented with news that did not come as a shock. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred upheld the decision to keep baseball’s all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, banned from baseball on the evidence that he bet on baseball games while playing and managing. However, it is important to note that Rose never bet against his own team. Gambling and betting on baseball games from players and coaches is a direct violation of Rule 21 of the rulebook, which everyone affiliated with the game is constantly reminded.

Rule 21 of Major League Baseball states that “any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.” In sub-section G, it also states that “a printed copy of this Rule shall be kept posted in each clubhouse.” Players and coaches alike are constantly reminded of this sacred rule, and they see it everyday as they walk down the hallways of the clubhouse. Major League Baseball is serious about keeping the sport clean and fair.

The rule’s standing in baseball has been in place since gambling and throwing contests marred the late 1910s, culminating in the 1919 World Series with the Chicago “Black Sox.” The team was given the nickname “Black Sox” in response to the massive scandal. Eight Chicago White Sox players played poorly in order to receive money for losing the series. This led to the creation of Rule 21. However, since its creation Rose has been the only violator.

The exact description of the rule is what makes the decision against Rose a bit controversial. Then commissioner Bart Giamatti stated in his decision that Rose could get reinstated to the game if he was able to “reconfigure” his life following the August 24, 1989 ban. Gambling can be an addictive habit and, according to his own admission, Rose still does bet on games and race horses. The problem is that Major League Baseball and current commissioner Manfred were seeking a total transformation of Rose’s life. To a certain extent, if Rose did not bet on sports at all, legally or illegally, he would most likely be involved with baseball once again.

In this sense, the upholding of the ban on Rose is correct and was handled properly. By definition of one of baseball’s longstanding rules, Rose should not be allowed to be affiliated with Major League Baseball in any way. The reason Rule 21 was created was to keep the integrity of baseball intact by enforcing, a lifetime ban for anyone who potentially influences a game in a negative fashion. But other issues within Major League Baseball make it a bit unclear as to how serious they are at maintaining the integrity of baseball.

The current issue plaguing Major League Baseball is the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED). They have always done random drug testing to ensure players were “clean,” but mandatory testing was never a standard procedure for Major League Baseball. As a result, steroid and other PED use began to take shape in the early 2000s. Former Major League players Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds (to name a few) have all admitted after retiring that they took steroids or other drugs in order to gain a competitive advantage. To put this in perspective, McGuire, Sosa, and Bonds are each in the top-10 in Major League history for career home runs, with Bonds holding the record at 762. Sosa is the only player in history to hit 60 or more home runs in a season three times. McGuire held the single-season record for home runs with 70 in 1998, until Bonds broke that record with 73 in 2001. Roger Clemens is regarded as one of the best pitchers of all-time, finishing with the ninth most wins and third most strikeouts in baseball history, not to mention his 7 Cy Young Awards (given out to the best pitcher in each league annually).

Barry Bonds up to bat

Photo courtesy of Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

The admission of steroid use from these players came either at their own will or through investigation, the first of which came from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) investigation in 2003. This scandal listed a trainer of Barry Bonds as a supplier of anabolic steroids to athletes, and Bonds was recorded in the report. Bonds claimed he did not use any sort of PED, but later testified that he did use an unknown substance and a cream from his trainer. Fast forward to 2007 when Bonds was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in relation to the BALCO scandal. His obstruction of justice resulted in a conviction with no jail time; however it was overturned in 2015.

Highlighted by the mess caused from Bonds, these four players and their steroid use forced Major League Baseball to require mandatory drug testing and suspensions for players who tested positive. These suspensions began in 2005, and 119 different PED suspensions have been given in the past eleven seasons. The initial suspension for a player who tested positive for an illegal substance was only 10 games! Until 2014, the revised suspension policy was 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second offense, and a full 162 game season for a third offense. Being deemed too soft, the policy changed in 2014 and now states an 82 game suspension for a first offense, a 162 game suspension for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third offense.

What is the significance of bringing up PED use when talking about the Pete Rose lifetime ban? Rose was banned from baseball for failing to maintain the integrity of baseball. Isn’t using a performance-enhancing drug also failing to maintain the integrity of baseball? Why is it that Major League Baseball allows those who take substances to enhance their own abilities to remain a part of major league rosters, while someone who always bet for his own team and never downplayed a game cannot be affiliated with baseball?

To this day, the four players highlighted in the first true steroid scandal are not banned from baseball. Mark McGuire is the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Barry Bonds is the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. All four players are eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame, but none of them have gained enough votes yet. However, Rose isn’t even eligible to voted into the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban. It is an injustice that baseball continues to allow others to violate the integrity of such a hallowed sport and still be a part of the game, while leaving one of the game’s greatest players to sit on his couch and wish that he and baseball “could just be friends.” This is where Major League Baseball needs to fix the current situation. Two actions can be done, and either of them would be sufficient.

One route is to let Pete Rose be affiliated with Major League Baseball because he never once intentionally lost a game to satisfy a bet. To his own admission, Rose always bet on his team to win, which in his mind was a way to get around Rule 21. Not being the case, Rose now endures the lifetime punishment while watching others get caught for actions that also taint the sport but only get a metaphorical slap on the wrist. One reason given for Rose still being out of baseball is that Rule 21 has been around for ages, where the rules on PEDs are relatively new and still not entirely clear. Here is an idea for Major League Baseball: get the rules clear!

Pete Rose waving

Photo courtesy of The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar

The other option that would create justice is to enforce an immediate lifetime ban for anyone who tests positive for an illegal substance. Players think they can find ways to get around the drug tests, and if they are successful their careers could be vaulted into stardom. A half-season suspension for a first offense isn’t much to someone who is trying to create a legacy for himself or to someone in the midst of a historic career. If Major League Baseball truly wanted to purify the game, they would impose a lifetime ban to all players who test positive for a foreign substance. It isn’t fair for those who play the game honestly to watch their teammates and rivals increase their own statistics and value (which increases the amount of money they get in their contracts) with relatively little punishment.

We currently live in an era where personal rights are at an all-time high. Strides are being made for equality and justice for every single human being, regardless of their history and background. Should it be attainable? Absolutely. That being said, equality and justice need to be handed down to gamblers and drug users in Major League Baseball. If both stain the integrity of baseball, both, not one, need to be handled with the same swift punishment. Until Major League Baseball gets this right, illegal-substance usage will be high. Dopers will continue to reap the benefits of a flawed suspension system and Pete Rose will not get the enshrinement he deserves. Parents used to tell their kids to “play like Pete Rose.” Rose deserves the right to get his strikes removed, and resume his role as being a leader and spokesperson for the game of baseball.

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