Before you ignore this post because you’ve heard it all about Pete Rose and you’re sick of it, give it a chance. I think this is a different argument than you’re expecting.
The recent steroid scandals in Major League Baseball have undermined the legitimacy of the sport and many of its players’ accomplishments. The hallowed season and career homerun records, held by Barry Bonds, are considered by many to be the product of cheating, and many other big names have been linked to steroid use including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. These players allegedly took drugs that, to put it simply, made them stronger so that they could hit the ball farther, throw the ball harder, hit more homeruns, and strike more batters out.
To me, this makes betting on baseball seem almost inconsequential, like who cares? I am, of course, alluding to the infamous Pete Rose controversy. Rose was kicked out of baseball years ago as a manager for making bets on major league teams, possibly even betting on his own Cincinnati Reds team. While I understand the rule against betting on your own sport while simultaneously managing, it doesn’t seem to me that he went as far as cheating. He didn’t do anything illegal to help his team hit more homeruns or strike more batters out, yet he is banned from baseball all together, while steroid users are not.
There are many arguments for and against Pete Rose being allowed into Cooperstown, baseball’s Hall of Fame, and just about all of them – like mine above – have to do with whether or not his life-long ban from the game is fair. No argument that I’ve ever seen questions his actual ability and value to his respective teams. It’s always taken for granted that he was good enough. Here’s what I’m wondering: was Pete Rose actually good enough to make the Hall of Fame?
Players are often stacked up against others of their same position in order to make fair comparisons. Pete Rose played seemingly every position. 673 games in left, 590 in right, 73 in center, 939 at first, 634 at third and 628 at second. While versatility is a trait managers enjoy, it also tends to lead to mediocrity, and in Rose’s case, submediocrity. Throughout the course of his career, baseball-reference estimates that Rose cost his teams over 50 runs on the defensive side.
As for hitting, sure Rose holds the career record for hits. But the value of that record exists only in the fantasies of people who like records, not on the actual diamond. While he hit safely often, he lacked power and only finished one of his 24 seasons with an On-base plus Slugging (OPS) over 0.900. Though “Charlie Hustle” was his nickname, his aggression on the base paths hurt his ballclubs. Rose succeeded on just 57% of his steal attempts, making his base running counterproductive to scoring runs.
Rose’s primary competition in his Hall-of-Fame class would have been Carl Yastrzemski, who also played the majority* of his career in either left field or at first base. Yastrzemski finished his career with a higher OPS than Rose, even after adjusting his numbers for the fact that he played every other game in Fenway (a hitter’s park). Baseball-reference estimates that Yastrzemski saved the Red Sox about 180 runs with his glove, as opposed to costing his team as Rose did.
In the end, I plugged all their stats into my Runs Above Average (RAA) formula to determine the value of each player in the currency of runs (taking into account ballpark biases). The results are listed below in terms of RAA per 162 games (RAA/162).
For those of you who like career totals, Yastrzemski saved the Red Sox nearly 755 runs over an average player, dwarfing Pete Rose’s figure of 411. Though there aren’t really rules about who gets in and who gets left out, the Hall of Fame generally admits the best player at each position every decade or so, unless there is more than one obvious choice. However, Yastrzemski pretty much blows Rose out of the water. In my humble opinion, while Rose should be re-admitted into baseball, he does not deserve a spot in Cooperstown, gambling or no gambling.
*If we’re getting technical, Rose only played a plurality of his games in either left or at first. Look it up.