With each passing day, it feels less and less likely that former Philadelphia Phillies World Series Champion Pete Rose will ever be elected – or even made eligible to be elected – to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The latest allegation potentially tainting Rose’s legacy comes from former Montreal Expos groundskeeper Joe Jammer, who told Danny Gallagher of The Montreal Gazette that Rose would cork his bats when he played for the now-defunct team for 95 games in 1984:
“Pete Rose would have his bats corked in the visitors’ clubhouse at Olympic Stadium,” Jammer said in a phone interview from London, England, where he is now a club-playing musician. “I found out he was corking bats.”
“Pete was too smart to deal with Expos equipment manager John Silverman (to cork his bats in the Expos’ clubhouse). So Bryan Greenberg, who worked in the visitors’ clubhouse, did it,” Jammer said. “He took me into a room, a door to the left, and underneath tarps there was this machine.”
Jammer recalled that he asked Greenberg: “What’s that machine for?”
Jammer said Greenberg replied: “That’s a machine for corking Pete Rose’s bats.”
In the story, Greenberg is reached for comment, and while he didn’t confirm the validity of the story, he also didn’t deny it. What’s more, a second source spoke to Gallagher and confirmed the validity of Jammer’s claims, but did add that “He only did it a few times a year.” (Of course, he only played for part of a season with the Expos.) For what it’s worth, Jammer says that Greenberg told him that Rose had been corking his bats for two decades.
Rose had spent the 1979-1983 seasons with the Phillies, helping them to win two National League pennants and the franchise’s first World Series title in 1980. The Phillies released Rose after the 1983 season, and he spent part of he 1984 season with the Expos. Though his time in Montreal was largely forgettable, Rose did record his 4,000th career hit while playing for the Expos, ironically doing so against the Phillies on April 13, 1984:
Rose spent the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, a team that became known as “The Big Red Machine” during his first stint with the team, which lasted from 1963-1978. The Expos traded Rose back to the Reds in August of 1984. Though his second stint in Cincinnati was far less fruitful, he did pass Hall of Famer Ty Cobb and become the league’s all-time hits leader in September of 1985:
In his illustrious career, Rose won the 1963 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1973 National League MVP, was a 17-time All-Star and won three World Series titles. If the Baseball Hall of Fame were simply based on career accomplishments, Rose would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Of course, whether this is how it should be or not, things haven’t proven to be that simple.
Rose was banned from baseball for life on Aug. 23, 1989 by commissioner Fay Vincent for betting on games he was managing. Though baseball has softened on allowing teams that Rose played for to honor him, current commissioner Rob Manfred has followed in his predecessor Bud Selig’s footsteps in terms of refusing to reinstate Rose to baseball.
It is seemingly true that Rose wouldn’t need to be reinstated to baseball – something that would likely just be symbolic at this point – to be made eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot. To this point, though, the Baseball Hall of Fame has refused to allow Rose to even appear on the ballot.
There’s been an argument made from some that Rose shouldn’t be reinstated, but should be elected to the Hall of Fame because he was banned for actions he committed as a manager, not as a player. However, William Weinbaum and T.J. Quinn of ESPN obtained evidence in 2015 that show Rose also bet on games he was playing in.
Additionally, the Phillies scrapped plans to induct Rose onto their Wall of Fame in August of 2017 after a woman alleged in court that Rose and her carried on a sexual relationship in the 1970s when she was “14 or 15 years old.” Rose turned 18 in 1959.
Rose seems unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt in the case of corking his bat now. Doing so is viewed as one of the cardinal sins of baseball. Sammy Sosa got caught corking his bat in 2003 and it has seemingly hurt his Hall of Fame case more than his connection to PEDs. While other players connected to PEDs – Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, among others – have gained some traction on the Hall of Fame ballot, Sosa received just 13.9 percent of the vote in 2020, his eighth year on the ballot. Statistically, Sosa should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He’s one of just nine players in MLB history with 600 or more home runs and the only player in the history of the league to hit 60 or more home runs in three separate seasons. The corked bat certainly has contributed to those inclined to forgive some PED users essentially trying to write Sosa out of the history of the game.
Now 79, Rose certainly continues to have a passionate group of fans that support his Hall of Fame case. The problem he faces, though, is that he needs a few people in very high places to become relentless advocates for him. And as we continue to learn more about his history – both in and out of baseball – it becomes harder and harder to die on his hill.
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