George Will

Rose's critics have said that repentance is a necessary -- not a sufficient -- prerequisite for restoring his eligibility to the Hall of Fame. Many, probably most, of Rose's critics are revolted by the moral obtuseness of his synthetic repentance.

His dwindling band of defenders responds that it is unfair to judge Rose not by what he does but by the way he does it. Yet regarding repentance, the way you do it is what you do.

Cooperstown primarily honors players for, in players' parlance, the ``numbers they put up.'' Hence it is widely believed that selection to the Hall is exclusively about the statistical residue of players' careers and should not involve a ``morals clause'' -- consideration of character.

But the rules for election by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America include: ``Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.'' The rules for voting by the veterans committee similarly mention ``integrity, sportsmanship, character.''

Some will say that if admittance to the Hall were limited by a strict calculus of character, the Hall would be much smaller. Yes, Babe Ruth might have hit even more home runs if he had gone to bed earlier, and more often with Mrs. Ruth. But not all character issues are equally pertinent to the proper criteria for honoring athletes' achievements. The crucial criteria concern the integrity of the competition.

Rose has said, ``I was raised, but I never did grow up.'' He is not the only ballplayer who will be forever a boy. But what distinguishes him is not mere boyish roguishness but a hard, calculating adult amorality. There is a constancy to it that goes beyond recidivism, which implies episodes of recovery between relapses.

On the evidence of his book, he should never be back in a major league uniform as a manager or coach. And he should not be admitted to the Hall of Fame unless its character criterion is declared irrelevant, which is not what the nation needs from the national pastime.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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