- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 1999

Bill Clinton has a new pet cause: Pete Rose. In an interview with People magazine, the president said he would like to see the former baseball great admitted to the baseball’s Hall of Fame someday, preferably during Mr. Rose’s lifetime. There’s just one sticking point. In 1989, Mr. Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from major league baseball making him ineligible for the Hall of Fame after league officials conducted a gambling investigation and accused him of betting on baseball.

Not a problem, according to Mr. Clinton. “I think just about everybody ought to get a second chance,” he said. “I’d like to see it worked out because he brought a lot of joy to the game, and he gave a lot of joy to people, and he’s paid a price. God knows, he’s paid a price.”

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud, or even Karnac the Magnificent, to figure out what’s going on here: The impeached president sees a soul mate in the banned ballplayer. Mr. Clinton’s expressions of magnanimity toward Mr. Rose his calls to overlook the allegations against him so that he might take his rightful pedestal in the Hall of Fame mirror Mr. Clinton’s hopes for his own precious legacy. That is, if Major League Baseball can forgive and forget, maybe posterity will do a little compartmentalizing of its own when it comes to evaluating the Clinton years.

Indeed, if Rose is allowed to end up in the Hall of Fame, perhaps Bill Clinton will one day find a nook for himself in Statuary Hall. Rose, whose 1997 request for reinstatement has not yet been formally addressed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, has lately renewed his fight for his place in sports history by protesting his innocence. The 1989 settlement he worked out with Major League Baseball prevented the public from seeing all the evidence in the case. Both sides may yet have a chance to present their cases. To judge from the remarkably warm greeting he received from baseball fans when he made the all-century team, however, they may be willing to take him back anyway.

All of which highlights a key difference between the Rose and Clinton cases. Whatever Rose may have done with respect to gambling, he has paid a heavy price for it by being forced from the game, its financial rewards, its highest honors and a way of life in which he took great joy for a decade. Lots of fans seem to think that price has been high enough, he’s paid it, let him back in.

Mr. Clinton, on the other hand, has remained not only a full-time player in the political game but its most powerful player, despite having violated laws he vowed to uphold; he lied under oath. When will he pay the price for what he did? If and when he answers that question, he would have a better idea of how soon he, like Rose, could get a second chance.

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