'Rose Rule' likely to pass, but without input by the baseball writers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

'TC The Hall of Fame Board of Directors will make it official tomorrow. Barring an unexpected attack of common sense, it will vote to rubber-stamp a rules committee recommendation that any player banned from baseball also should be kept off the Hall of Fame ballot.

This will henceforth be called the "Pete Rose Rule," since it was formulated to prevent Pete Rose's appearance on next year's ballot. The rules committee met in early January with the expressed purpose of making a general review the Hall of Fame's eligibility requirements, but neither the focus nor the outcome of that meeting ever was in doubt. There is no reason to think the mind-set of the full board will be any different.

That would be regrettable, since the pre-emptive removal of Rose's name from the ballot ends the debate over his eligibility and deservedness without any meaningful input from the 450 or so Baseball Writers Association of America members who are responsible for electing players to the Hall.

The debate began as soon as the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti banned Rose from baseball for his involvement in illegal sports betting. It ended, for all practical purposes, when the rules committee voted to keep banned players off the ballot. There is room to wonder whether Rose would have been elected under the old system, since players must be named on 75 percent of the ballots for admission, but the committee apparently didn't want to leave anything to chance.

The rules for election give the board of directors every right to adopt the committee's recommendation, though such a decision may force the BBWAA to rethink its participation in the selection process.

BBWAA president Kit Stier has begun to poll the membership to determine what would be an appropriate response to the rules change, but no action will be undertaken until after the association's annual meeting at the All-Star break.

"There have been suggestions from some people that we disassociate ourselves from the selection process," Stier said, "but the majority of the people I've talked to so far are not in favor of giving up the vote. It's hard to really say anything until the entire membership has been heard."

The Rose flap has caused some writers to question whether the BBWAA should have been involved in the balloting to begin with. By voting in the Hall of Fame election, the members are taking part in a news event that many of them also are called on to report. It is a minor conflict of interest, but one that becomes more unpalatable when the independence of the voting body comes into question.

Should Rose be admitted to the Hall of Fame? There are solid arguments both pro and con. Better, it seems, to have that decision made by the many instead of railroaded by a like-minded few.

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Is-it-baseball-season-yet dept.: When former Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow called television a vast wasteland, he didn't know the half of it. The proliferation of television trash sports has made the prospect of a year-round baseball season seem almost appealing.

Which would you rather watch, a Major League Baseball-affiliated winter baseball league or another rerun of the ESPN Team Lumberjack Championships? There's just something about a speed-sawing competition that makes me pine (no pun intended) for the temporarily defunct Senior Professional Baseball Association. No doubt, the lumbermen who traveled to Kissimmee, Fla., for the competition are able professionals, but the locals probably will be glad to see the Houston Astros arrive in a few weeks.

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The Astros passed up some interesting offers to send Glenn Davis to the Orioles for Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and Steve Finley. The California Angels were involved to the end with a package that included first baseman Wally Joyner, but it is less widely known that the Chicago Cubs came close to a deal last season that would have sent first baseman Mark Grace, 1989 NL Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton and pitcher Shawn Boskie to Houston for Davis and infielder Bill Doran.

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The acquisition of new-look free agent Chili Davis appears to have been a retaliatory gesture by the Minnesota Twins, who recently were outbid by the Angels for third baseman Gary Gaetti.

Agent Tom Reich seems to have orchestrated the situation in such a way that it benefits not only Davis -- who got $1.9 million for the 1991 season -- but also Brian Downing, another Reich client who appeared to be the odd man out in the Angels lineup until Davis departed. Reich admitted that he contacted the Twins as the new-look signing deadline approached.

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Free-agent right-hander Jack Morris turned down a recent attempt by the Detroit Tigers to sign him to a three-year, $9.3 million contract, prompting the Toronto Blue Jays to enter the picture. But Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick didn't hold out a lot of hope that Morris would agree to fill out the Toronto rotation.

"I'll make a phone call," Gillick said, "but I'm not sure how good our chances are. We'd offer a one-year contract, and he already has turned down a three-year contract."

Perhaps the Jays are hoping that a bitter Morris will jump at the opportunity to join another American League East contender.

If nothing else, the Tigers can thank Morris for casting them in a sympathetic light for a change. The club still is feeling the heat from the Ernie Harwell forced retirement flap and got another dose of bad publicity when general manager Bill Lajoie walked out of the front office a couple of weeks ago. Now Morris is threatening to leave, even though the club offered him three years at $3.1 million per after back-to-back losing seasons. This in an area where a mostly blue-collar work force is struggling to survive.

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For Evans' sake: It might have seemed like an act of desperation when the Baltimore Orioles signed Dwight Evans, 39, to a one-year contract in December, but it easily could turn out to be an act of genius.

For all the talk of Evans' back injury in 1990, he still was one of only four designated hitters to appear in more than 100 games. His run-production numbers were off, but they still were good enough to make him almost as productive in 122 games (63 RBI) as Orioles DHs were in 161 games (65 RBI). If he can play the outfield, all the better.

The Orioles had to do something about their designated-hitter situation. Baltimore DHs hit a combined .211 (worst in the AL last year) and struck out 169 times (most in the league).

Of course, there remains the problem of getting enough playing time for Randy Milligan, who was displaced by the newly acquired Davis. But manager Frank Robinson says he'll figure something out.

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Incidentally, the other three players to appear in 100 or more games as a DH last year were Dave Parker (153), Harold Baines (125) and Chris James (124).

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It's nice to see that little has changed in the New York Yankees front office since the defanging of owner George Steinbrenner. The club handed new-look free agent Mike Witt a three-year contract worth a ludicrous $8 million after the right-hander's third consecutive losing season.

"I think we might have overpaid a little bit for him," general manager Gene Michael understated.

The truth can now be told. Witt told a Yankees beat writer at the start of the new-look period that he would be happy to sign a contract like the one the Yankees gave Tim Leary. Leary got three years at $5.95 million. Witt ended up more than $2 million happier than even he expected.

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The Neon Deion update returns: When we last left the irrepressible Deion Sanders, he had dropped off the Yankees roster to concentrate on his promising professional football career. But less than a week after the Super Bowl officially brought the National Football League season to an end, Sanders is back in baseball, thanks to the $650,000 minor-league contract he signed with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday. No doubt, the Braves hope Sanders makes the major-league club and gets comfortable there before he faces another football decision day July 31. In the meantime, he has gotten financially comfortable without ever having to translate his baseball potential into actual production.

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