The Pete-Rose-for-the-Hall-of-Fame Debate

Well, perhaps that title’s a little strong: being banned for life suggests that Pete won’t be enshrined anytime soon. Pete Rose was a baseball player in the major leagues. Then Pete Rose was a manager in the major leagues. Then Pete Rose was caught betting on games in the major leagues while he was managing. Then Pete Rose was banned for life. Then the drama and lying and whining and cajoling kicked into high gear. Despite all the histrionics, however, Pete Rose remains banned for life. I don’t think Pete Rose should be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ever.

Every year when the voting for potential recipients of Major League Baseball’s most enduring honour occurs, Pete Rose enters the discussion. Being the all-time hits leader in Major League Baseball history will have that effect. The conundrum created by the all-time hits leader NOT being in the Hall of Fame is just too much for some people to accept. Now, with such players as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens being considered and other holdovers from the PED Era still on the ballot (McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, etc.), the issue of who deserves to be enshrined is being asked again. Expect this to be the case on a yearly basis.

Pete Rose by the Numbers

4,256. That’s the main number. That’s the number of hits Pete Rose accumulated in his long major league career. It’s the top number in ML history and, if things continue at the present rate, no one will challenge him any time soon. However, hits are but one statistic on the spectrum of numbers available to us. What does he look like in other facets of the game? Is he really a no-brainer when it comes to Cooperstown consideration?

Defense

Pete Rose was generally a poor defender. The statistics available to evaluate defensive performance hate him. But the thing is that he played multiple positions for hundreds of games each.

Rose remains the only player in major league history to play 500+ games at five different positions (1B, 2B, 3B, RF, LF). Total zone rates him at: -44 in 939 G at 1B; -21 in 628 G at 2B; -35 in 634 G at 3B; +51 in 673 G in LF; and +1 in 590 G in RF. Clearly he didn’t add value to his teams when he played the infield, but he was an above-average corner outfielder. For the record, his total zone rating in 73 G in CF was -8.

Unfortunately for his teams, Pete played far more ‘games’ (taking into account full and partial games, double switches, etc.) in the infield, where he was anchored both early (2B) and late (1B) in his career. Also unfortunate is that Pete Rose was bad at a number of defensive positions, and he played hundreds of games at positions for which he was ill-suited.

Base Running

Pete Rose was a poor base runner, too. He consistently ranked below league average in base running skills. While his 198 SB are a modest accomplishment for a player who was a middle infielder who played 3,562 games, his 149 CS belie the fact that he was a sub-par base stealer. He earned his -13.7 wSB/BsR figure. But SB aren’t the only factor in base running. For his part, Pete possessed average speed: his career 4.7 SPD (speed) score is right about middle of the pack.

Offense

Pete’s relatively poor performance in the field and on the basepaths puts an inordinate amount of pressure on his offensive skills in order to consider him a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. It’s one thing to consider someone like Rogers Hornsby a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on one super dimension. His offensive performance in the 1920s was other-worldly. Can we consider Pete on the same basis as ‘The Rajah’?

Putting on our SABR hats for a minute or two, Rose is 25th all-time in base out runs added (RE24), meaning he’s surrounded by Hall of Famers and legit Hall of Fame candidates. Okay, what else is there to commend him? Pete typically walked a lot more than he struck out, and he walked a good amount (9.9%, career; 14th all-time in BB). This, combined with his legendary hits total, means we should expect to find him on base regularly. Indeed, that’s what we find (.375 OBP, career; 211th all-time). He had very little home run power (career high 16 on two occasions; 160 HR, career), but led his league in 2B five times (746 2B, career; 2nd all-time), leading to an unexpected .409 SLG. An undistinguished number of triples (135, which is one behind Babe Ruth and good for 75th all-time), means that 3,215 of Rose’s 4,256 hits were singles.

His offense was excellent but, outside of his hitting prowess, it’s not exactly eye-popping. This is reflected in his fWAR performance. While his career peak lasted for a long time (1965-1976), he achieved MVP-level performance (if we use 8.0 fWAR as a baseline) only once: in 1976, at the peak of the Big Red Machine’s dominance. This is hardly what I’d expect from a ‘shoe-in’ type of candidate. His 91.6 fWAR is 29th all-time, immediately after Joe DiMaggio and tied with Albert Pujols. But he played 1,821 more games than Joltin’ Joe and 1,699 more games than Phat Albert.

I understand this to mean that, aside from the hits record, Pete Rose isn’t in the discussion about the ‘greatest player ever’ (Wagner, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Mantle, Williams, etc.).

Intangibles

He had a cool, memorable nickname (‘Charlie Hustle’) and, like all good nicknames, it said something meaningful about him. It said that he played the game like most people think it should be played: with abandon. Therefore, he was a fan favourite. He ran over a catcher in an all star game, virtually ending Ray Fosse’s career but, hey, who cares about Ray Fosse? Maybe Ray should ‘man up’: real baseball is played by football wannabes, regardless of whether the game is important or not.

He was a key part of back-to-back World Series champions that had a cool, memorable nickname of their own (‘the Big Red Machine’). He was also a key part of a World Series runner-up that had its own cool, memorable nickname with Philadelphia in ’83 (the ‘Wheeze Kids’). He played the game (semi-) effectively until he was 45 years old.

As you can see, when it comes to intangibles and anecdotal evidence, the man’s a freakin’ icon on a par with Babe Ruth.

In Summary…

Okay, he’s the all-time hits leader and, related to that, he is second all-time in doubles. He walked a lot (14th all-time) and, related to that, he was on base a lot (but he isn’t top 200 all-time) and had a high RE24. But he performed poorly on defense (except left field, where he put together three gold glove calibre seasons), and wasn’t much more than an average base runner. Perhaps we need to think about Pete Rose in a different way: maybe he’s the greatest utility player to ever play in MLB.

It’s a stretch to consider him a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, though on the face of it his accomplishments and statistics speak clearly in his favour. That said I’m pretty sure Pete Rose’s career isn’t impressive enough to outweigh a lifetime ban for doing something that was outlawed by organized, professional baseball in 1875. And this doesn’t even take into account his lying, his books lobbying for his own inclusion, and his impact on A. Bartlett Giamatti.

I’m okay with Peter Edward Rose sweating it out while he waits for his sentence to be commuted. What seems to be lost in the kafuffle about him is that the ongoing debate about his lifetime ban is keeping his memory alive. We would have forgotten him long ago if he hadn’t been stupid enough to gamble on baseball.

Wes Kepstro

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5 Responses to “The Pete-Rose-for-the-Hall-of-Fame Debate”


  1. 1 baseball hat rack on the wall July 12, 2014 at 9:26 am

    This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped
    me. Thanks a lot!

  2. 2 AL Eastbound (@ALEastbound) January 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Definitely a great piece… I can see both sides of this argument. If he were eligible he would definitely be voted in, whether merited or not is of course the harder decision.

    • 3 Wes Kepstro January 9, 2013 at 8:36 pm

      The trick is to treat the different elements (eligibility/merit) separately to come up with a more complete picture of what’s happening. Space prohibited me from dealing with the history behind the ban on gambling/gamblers.

      Basically people have simplified the argument to something like, ‘He has 4,256 hits, therefore he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame’ as a response to any comment about his ban. When pressed, the answer becomes, ‘He’s served his time and times have changed anyways. There isn’t the same stigma about gambling now that there was then [i.e. in 1920].’

      Baseball is undeserving of such a gross over-simplification, and it just makes the people who argue along those lines seem, well, argumentative.

  3. 4 Idiot Fan January 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Great piece. One of the oldest and most heated arguments going. I love seeing Rogers Hornsby’s name here

    • 5 Wes Kepstro January 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks.

      Where do you stand vis-a-vis Pete Rose?

      I enjoy the Eddie Collins/Rogers Hornsby/Frankie Frisch rivalry. Collins and Frisch were terrific players and champs multiple times each, but there’s no doubting Rajah’s individual talent. It makes me think of the Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell debates in basketball.


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