19 to 21... A Review of Baseball History

Volume 13, #6, March 20, 2015 
C'mon, Rob... Open the Door

  Mike Schmidt is on board. So is player's union head honcho Tony Clark (and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll always agree with someone who’s 6-7.) And there’s probably a high percentage of the 2.2 million population of metro Cincinnati who will also voice their approval… of lifting the lifetime ban from baseball of Pete Rose.

  And, the individual to whom he has appealed his lifetime sentence (generally a punishment only given to murderers), Commissioner Rob Manfred, does seem to be an individual who is willing to think outside the box – shortening the playing season indeed – something his predecessor, Bud.com, was not typically known for, unless it was trying to institute such nonsense as adding “meaning” to the All-Star Game.

  Of course, pundits as varied as those with The Huffington Post and Forbes have come out in favor of, if not stringing Pete up, at least burying him so deep that he won’t even be allowed in the state of New York, let along Cooperstown. Of course, the media just love to be pundits and preachers and to pontificate at great length over how terrible is the subject at hand. And, when they smell blood in the water, a Great White Shark has nothing on an aggrieved sportswriter.

  Pete, like the player to whom he is so often incorrectly compared – Ty Cobb – wasn’t perfect and isn’t perfect, and that’s without going into the issue of his betting on baseball, or his gambling in general, or any of his other manifest faults. If you’ve followed Rose’s various zigs and zags since his 1989 ban, he’s taken more positions and made more denials and confessions than half of the Mafioso in the Gambino family.

  In addition, those zigs and zags have illustrated that, while he may have a high sense of PR, Pete isn’t exactly a smooth operator. Indeed, during his heyday with the Reds, my college roommate, the late, great Mark Van Hoose, would refer to Pete as “the original jack.” For those of you unfamiliar with the patois of eastern Indiana and southwestern Ohio, a “jack,” also known as a hilljack, is generally not considered to be the most sophisticated operator in town, or even the sharpest tool in the shed. Think, “redneck,” if you’re in the south.

  Still, there’s no denying that Pete could play baseball, and that he channeled his “jack” into an all-out effort in every game he played. In point of fact, Rose wasn’t anywhere near the player Cobb was, nor did he have Cobb’s innate talent, but no one, including Cobb, who typically went all-out himself, ever got more out of his talent than Pete Rose.

  This aspect of Rose’s personality leads to a question… can you imagine anyone with that kind of drive either betting against his team, or tanking a game? I didn’t think so. And while baseball is now absolutely paranoid on the subject of betting on the game – come on, are the current millionaire players going to risk permanent expulsion from their gravy train for a lousy $100,000 or even a million dollars – the fact is that  tanking games (unlike pro basketball… hello Sam Hinkle) really hasn’t been an issue in the majors since the 1920s.

  That piece aside, let us look more at the player that was Pete Rose. The numbers and the metrics are astounding. Obviously, you know that he holds the all-time hit record with 4256 knocks… as well as the games played (3562), plate appearances (15,890), at bats (14,053), singles (3215 – a total that would, by itself, place him 15th in career hits) and times on base marks (5929). (And, he’s second in doubles with 746.) But, do you also realize just how unique a player Rose was in his 24-year career? This is an area where some of the newer metrics tell a remarkable story.

  For example, using Bill James’ Similarity Scores, wherein it is said that any two players with scores at 900 (out of 1000) or higher are pretty similar. And, the lower the Similarity Score, the less similar players are to each other. Well, the player most similar to Pete Rose isn’t Ty Cobb, it’s Paul Molitor, another pretty fair hitter. His Similarity Score, compared to Rose? 678 – they aren’t even vaguely similar. For a hitter to be that much different than anyone else who has ever played the game, that’s historic, if not famous. Look, let’s use the other truly unique player in baseball history, the best-ever, the Babe, by comparison. While no one is very similar to him either, he at least has four comps in the 700s; B*nds, Williams, Gehrig and Foxx.

  Then there’s another James metric, the Black Ink Test, that gives points for leading in a season in various offensive categories (the numbers that appear in bold in the record books). The average hitter in the Hall of Fame scores 27 on the Black Ink Test. Rose is a 64.

  This could go on ad infinitum, but the most telling look at Pete Rose’s career is this one…

G         AB       R          H         2          3          HR       RBI      SB        W         K
1781    7026    1082    2128    373      67         80         657      99        783      572
BA       OBP     SLG    
.303     .375     .409

  Plus eight All-Star appearances in 12 seasons, a Gold Glove, MVP votes in seven seasons, a batting title, four trips to the post-season with a .321/.388/.440 slash line, 32 on the Black Ink Test.

  A player with those career numbers would probably not be in the Hall of Fame, unless it was through the Veterans Committee, because he didn’t play enough for the BBWAA to consider him a strong candidate. However, as maybe you’ve guessed, there is no player with this career line. This is almost exactly one-half of Pete Rose’s career – without even mentioning his Rookie of the Year Award, his MVP Award, his other two batting titles, his three World Series rings, etc., etc. Talk about unique, the only other hitters who come to mind that you can try this trick with – that is, cut their careers in half and still have a remarkable set of numbers – might be Ruth, Rickey Henderson and B*nds.

  Pete was no angel – he only played for the Reds, Phillies and Expos. But, he sure as hell could hit, and he didn’t cheat to get those numbers, numbers that are overwhelming. Whether you like him or not, and whether you think B*nds and his PED cohorts belong in the Hall or not, is not the point. Pete may have done something(s) really dumb, and broken antiquated rules, but the Hall of Fame is not a Hall of Fame without him. C’mon, Rob… open the door.