Another lesson Rose needs to learn: It's not all about him

Jeff Neal

The more Pete Rose talks, the more ridiculous he sounds.

Yes, Rose was one of baseball's greatest players ever. No doubt about it.

He banged out more hits than any player in history and his work ethic on the field was beyond reproach.

As a kid growing up in the Big Red Machine era, my idea of the perfect baseball player was a guy who played as hard as Pete and could drive in runs and play his position like Johnny Bench.

Had Rose not unraveled his career with an addiction to gambling, he would be in Cooperstown alongside Bench. And Joe Morgan. And Tony Perez.

Instead, he's on the outside looking in. And his latest revelation is, at best, puzzling and, at worst, downright preposterous.

"Johnny Bench is one guy who should thank God I was born," Rose said on a talk show while promoting a new book. "Because he never would have made the hall of fame if I wasn't born."

Let's think about that for a minute.

Bench is unquestionably one of the greatest catchers who ever lived -- I would say the VERY best of all time. He was 22 when he won his first National League Most Valuable Player Award, and 24 when he repeated as MVP. He led the NL in home runs twice and in RBI three times. He was a 14-time National League All-Star and for a 10-year period beginning in 1969, Bench averaged over 100 RBI a season. He was the MVP of the 1976 World Series -- a season in which he played hurt constantly, but came through for the Reds when it counted the most.

Why on earth does Rose think Bench needed him to be a hall of famer?

"Because I'm the guy he knocked in a thousand times," Rose explained.

Well, had Johnny Bench never been a Red, he would've been driving in people other than Rose, Ken Griffey, Bobby Tolan, Morgan and other members of the Big Red Machine he plated throughout the years. And he still would've been the greatest defensive catcher who ever lived.

Who knows ... maybe on another team, Johnny wouldn't have caught 140 games a season, as he did in Cincinnati for years. Maybe he would've prolonged his career playing some first base and wound up with 500 homers, instead of his 389.

What Rose said was a slap in the face of everyone who held the Reds dear during their greatest era. And it certainly was a dig at Bench, whose popularity rivaled, and perhaps surpassed, Rose's in the 70s.

Why would Rose say something like that?

Bench -- who clearly has had a love/hate relationship with Rose since their heyday-- has refused to make a case for his former teammate being enshrined into the hall of fame. Morgan and Perez have both said they want to see Rose in Cooperstown. Bench hasn't been so supportive.

"I wish Pete were eligible, but he isn't," Bench says bluntly.

In an interview last year with Dan Patrick, Bench explained that he met with MLB officials at the time Rose's world was falling apart around his ears in 1989. He said a plan was in place for Pete to redeem himself by admitting he gambled on baseball, by seeking treatment for his addiction and by serving as an ambassador for the game, warning young players against breaking baseball's cardinal sin.

At that point, it would've been feasible for Rose to be reinstated and eligible to be on the hall of fame ballot.

Rose refused. He didn't admit to gambling until 2004, when his omission from the hall of fame was already cemented.

So Bench is now adamant: Rose broke the rules, so he can't be in the hall of fame. Period.

"I can't help it the way (Bench) feels but I would think if he's a Cincinnati fan and he cares about the city of Cincinnati that he would probably want me to be in the Hall of Fame," Rose says of Bench.

But Pete didn't stop with Bench. He says "half of his buddies" are in the hall of fame "because of me."

"I think I helped Mike Schmidt get to the Hall of Fame. I think I helped Johnny Bench get there," Rose said. "I think I helped Joe Morgan get there. I know I helped Tony Perez get there. I think I helped Gary Carter get there, (Tim) Raines and (Andre) Dawson. They were all my teammates. Why are all the guys I played with in the Hall of Fame?"

They're in the hall of fame, Pete, because they were great baseball players in their own right. They were great with you as a teammate -- and they would've been great without you, too.

Schmidt was the best third baseman of all time and was well on his way to a hall of fame career long before you got to Philadelphia. Gary Carter, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson played with you for about a minute in Montreal -- their success had very little to do with you. Perez would've driven in runs whether it was you or someone else on base. Morgan still would've been a two-time NL MVP and one of the most productive second basemen in history.

Perhaps that's the moral of this story.

Not everything is about Pete Rose.

As for an eventual induction into the hall of fame, Pete says he's "over it."

I loved the guy as a player, but I'm over it, too.

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.