There is no doubt, based strictly on their playing ability, that both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame. Among non-pitchers, Jackson was one of the greatest players of the Deadball Era, surpassed only by Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and, perhaps, Tris Speaker. His lifetime batting average of .356 is the third highest ever (behind only Cobb and Rogers Hornsby), he is the only player in baseball history to hit .400 in his first full season in the major leagues, and he was a terrific outfielder and baserunner.
Pete Rose, while not as talented as Jackson, got the most out of his ability and parlayed a 24-year career in the majors into becoming the all-time leader in base hits, games played, and atbats. He is also second in doubles, fifth in runs scored, and sixth in total bases. He was an All-Star at five different positions, and he won a Most Valuable Player Award.
The thing that is keeping both men out of the Hall of Fame is the issue of morality, since both were found guilty of breaking the rules of baseball by being involved with gambling on the sport, albeit on totally different levels. Rose was banned from baseball, for life, on August 23, 1989, at the conclusion of a six-month investigation into allegations that he bet on baseball. Jackson and eight other players were banned, for life, by then- Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in June of 1921 for doing the unthinkable—throwing the 1919 World Series.
those who say that Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose should not be allowed to enter the Hall of Fame because they were banished for life for “breaking the rules” of the game should take a long look back into baseball history. Doing so might cause them to reevaluate their position. Jackson and Rose should be no more excluded than men such as Cobb, Speaker, Waddell, Comiskey, and Landis. Their names should be included on the eligible list, and the current members of the Hall of Fame should be the ones to determine their fate. Some of them have already gone on record as saying that they do not wish to have the names of Jackson and Rose intermingled with theirs. They certainly have a right to feel that way, but that should be their decision to make. It should not be made for them by other individuals who, over the years, have contributed to the hypocrisy that has come to symbolize major league baseball. Jackson, who was banished from the game “for life,” has been dead for almost 50 years. Rose should never be permitted to either manage or coach again, but his name should appear on the eligible list as well.
As far as an assessment of the relative evils committed by both men, there are two possible interpretations. The first views Jackson’s act as the more heinous of the two. After all, he took a bribe to throw the World Series and actually performed at less than 100 percent of his full capabilities, something Rose never did. Jackson’s actions directly affected the outcomes of his team’s games and were, in essence, the same as betting against his own team. Rose was never found guilty of betting against his own team. What he did seems almost harmless, by comparison.
However, things could also be viewed from a different perspective. Shoeless Joe Jackson was a poor South Carolina farm boy who could neither read nor write. He was naïve about the ways of the world, easily influenced by others, and probably didn’t even fully comprehend the overall impact his actions would have on the game. He was also grossly underpaid by his team’s tight-fisted owner. More importantly, he was contrite—something Rose never was. He offered to provide details of his wrongdoing to his team’s owner, but was ignored. Rose, on the other hand, was fully aware of what he was doing, and what the possible consequences might be. His actions were not prompted so much by greed, but, rather, by an insatiable desire to compete, as well as a serious addiction to gambling. He also remained defiant and lied openly for 14 years, denying that he ever bet on baseball. Finally, desperate for reinstatement, Rose admitted his guilt in 2004. However, even his confession was an insincere one since it conveniently coincided with the publication of his book, in which he finally accepted culpability for his actions. So, take your pick. Which one was worse?