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Manfred May Let Rose Into Cooperstown

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Major League BaseballThis has really gone on long enough. Two of the most prominent guys in professional baseball airing out a personal feud in front of the whole world for the past 25 years. Enough already, we have heard enough.

Rob Manfred was recently tagged as the man to replace outgoing commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig at a meeting of MLB team owners. Manfred has been Selig’s right hand man almost since joining the league front office staff in 1998. But, Rob Manfred is not Bud Selig and there will be some changes made in big league baseball.

Not big changes because the league doesn’t need them. Under Bud Selig’s guidance Major League Baseball has become one of the best run and most financially successful sports franchises on the planet. Prices paid for MLB franchises these days have gone through the roof thanks in no small part to Mr. Selig.

However, Bud Selig can be as hard headed as the rest of us when he gets his dander up and that’s where the situation with Pete Rose comes into play. Selig would probably let Rose back into MLB long ago if Rose had not thrown down the gauntlet in the way that he did.

Setting up autograph stands outside the Hall of Fame ceremonies did little to endear Pete Rose with the powers that be in MLB. It was a bit off color, and while at times the lines were long to shake hands with the former Cincinnati Reds legend. It’s time for baseball to forgive Pete Rose.

Simple as that, but this isn’t a tweet and I have a lot more than 140 characters to work with, so I can keep going. Don’t see why it’s necessary, because the first sentence says it all. It’s time for baseball to forgive Pete Rose. The only reason for the game to hang onto its grudge — and make no mistake, this has moved beyond justice and into grudge territory — is cruelty.

Baseball doesn’t like Pete Rose. Baseball wants Pete Rose to suffer. And so baseball won’t forgive Pete Rose.

Look at that last paragraph, and change the word “baseball” to the words “Bud Selig.” Now try it again.

Bud Selig doesn’t like Pete Rose. Bud Selig wants Pete Rose to suffer. And so Bud Selig won’t forgive Pete Rose.

That’s what was happening in recent years. Selig didn’t like the way Rose hijacked the Hall of Fame induction ceremony every year in Cooperstown by setting up an autograph table not far from away. He didn’t like the way Rose turned his admission of guilt — “I’m sorry I bet on baseball” — into the phrase he signed on the baseballs he was selling at Cooperstown. Pete Rose confused contrition with capitalism, and it looked horrible, and as the person overseeing the integrity of baseball Bud Selig didn’t like it. Hell, I didn’t like it either. Who would? After becoming the most notorious cheater in baseball history, Pete Rose became a buffoon.

Selig didn’t like it, didn’t forgive it, and that was his right, his call.

But he’s leaving, and in January when baseball has a new commissioner, it will be Rob Manfred’s call.

On the surface, there’s nothing here for a Rose guy — and I am one, at least as far as wishing away his lifetime ban — to be optimistic about. Manfred was Selig’s right-hand man for years. He is Selig’s hand-picked successor. On the surface that would suggest Manfred and Selig see eye-to-eye on most issues.

And they probably do. But on all issues? Is it logical to assume Rob Manfred, a labor lawyer out of the Ivy League, is in intellectual lockstep with Bud Selig — a car-lot owner from the University of Wisconsin — on every single issue? Of course not. That’s not logical. That’s delusional. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was Paul Tagliabue’s right-hand man; does anyone think Goodell is another Tagliabue? Same goes for David Stern when he replaced Larry O’Brien as NBA commissioner. Right-hand men become their own man when they get to sit in the big chair.

And so it will be for Rob Manfred, who scratched and clawed his way from Cornell University to Harvard Law to clerking for a U.S. District Court judge. He became a partner in a global law firm based in Philadelphia, where his work in labor law attracted the attention of baseball. He became the owners’ outside lawyer, then joined Selig’s staff in 1998.

Nearly a decade after Rose was banned from the game.

My point? Selig had something Manfred does not: a personal history with Rose. In 1989 when commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose, Selig owned the Milwaukee Brewers. He was part of the machine. In 1992 when Rose applied for reinstatement to Giamatti’s replacement, Fay Vincent didn’t act on it; Selig was still part of the machine. And in 1999 when Rose applied for reinstatement to Vincent’s replacement, Bud Selig ignored it too.

Selig was there from the beginning with Rose, is my point. He was entrenched. Rose wants reinstatement? Selig shrugs.

Some day soon Rose will ask Manfred to consider the same. Just a matter of time, because time is running out on Pete Rose. He’s 73 years old, and how much time do any of us have, much less any of us in our 70s who have lived with the stress and disappointment that Rose has dealt with for the past 25 years?

Enough’s enough, know what I mean? Baseball wouldn’t be sending a message of weakness to anyone considering betting on the game, the cardinal sin Rose broke — and it is a huge sin, and he did break it. I minimize neither of those. Betting on baseball is horrible, something all players are reminded of with a sign in every clubhouse spelling out the punishment: a lifetime ban.

But enough’s enough. Letting Rose back into the game after 25 years — letting him back when he’s alive — wouldn’t let players know it’s OK to bet on baseball. If anything, it would get this topic back into the forefront of conversation around the game, and the conversation would start like this:

They banned the all-time hit king for 25 years. Embarrassed him. Humiliated him. If they can do that to Pete Rose, what would they do to me?

Twenty-five years isn’t life, but a life sentence doesn’t always have to be a life sentence. It’s not in our court system, where a life system often leads to parole. How come? Because our court system feels like there are times when the prisoner has done his time, and whatever he did to earn that lifetime sentence, he’s paid his price. Forgiveness is OK. Second chances are allowed.

Where’s the forgiveness for Pete Rose? Where’s his second chance?

Oh, right. It’s in the hands of Rob Manfred. And I like it there. Because Rob Manfred is no Bud Selig.

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