Jewish World Review March 17, 2003 / 13 Adar II 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Pete vs. Joe | A San Francisco sports writer has joined the chorus of those who argue that Pete Rose should be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite being banned from baseball for violating one of its cardinal rules, against betting on ball games. The argument is: What have Pete's personal shortcomings got to do with the fact that he had a great career on the field?

If we are going to go that route, and accept that kind of reasoning, then the time is long overdue to induct Shoeless Joe Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame. After all, Shoeless Joe had a lifetime batting average more than 50 points higher than that of Pete Rose -- and 12 points higher than that of Ted Williams. Where Williams' highest batting average was .406, Shoeless Joe Jackson hit .408. And he is still not in Cooperstown.

Some will say that the two things are different. Obviously. Any two things are different, otherwise they wouldn't be two things. But where is the difference in principle?

Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from baseball for life because of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal, where the Chicago White Sox deliberately lost the World Series, so that a big-time gambler who was paying them off could make a killing betting against them.

Shoeless Joe Jackson himself could not be accused of throwing the games. He batted .375 in the Series -- the highest average of anyone on either team -- played errorless ball in the field, threw out a base runner from the outfield, and even hit a home run, which was much rarer in those days.

Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from baseball for life because he knew that the World Series was fixed but did not report his teammates to the authorities.

Jackson was the most tragic figure in the Black Sox scandal. Having grown up a barefoot and illiterate boy, he was able to achieve success because of his extraordinary ability to hit a baseball -- and suddenly it was all taken away from him because of what other people did.

For years, people pleaded his case. But the ban stood, cutting him down in the prime of his career, and the ban kept him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for the rest of his life and after his death in 1951.

It should have. And it should for Pete Rose.

First of all, baseball is bigger than any individual who plays it. Like so many things in life, the tangible things in major league baseball cannot exist without the intangibles -- of which the trust of the public is the most important. Once the public decides that it is all fake and crooked, this thriving sports empire collapses like a house of cards. Ballplayers who deal with professional gamblers jeopardize the whole game of baseball.

Would major league baseball vanish into thin air if Pete Rose were admitted to its Hall of Fame? Of course not. Nor would it have vanished if Shoeless Joe Jackson had been either reinstated as a player or allowed to become a member of the Hall of Fame later on.

Termites do not destroy a house overnight. But destroy it they will if you let them go on long enough.

Those who say that we should admit Pete Rose to the Hall of Fame and then "move on" and "forget about it" have profoundly misunderstood human beings. What we do today affects what other people will do or not do tomorrow. If you want rules to be forgotten, then just forget to enforce them.

What have we gained over the past several decades by weakening rules, accepting excuses, and looking for easy ways of avoiding the unpleasantness of enforcing norms?

Has permissive parenting produced better children? Or even happier children? This 1960s trend produced not only rising teenage crime rates but rising rates of teenage suicide as well.

It has been the same story with adults. Going easy on criminals in the 1960s led to skyrocketing crime rates that did not reverse until more criminals began to be locked up in the 1980s.

Forgetting the past endangers the future. After Shoeless Joe Jackson has been admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame will be time enough to talk about Pete Rose. But neither of them should be admitted, now or ever.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)


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