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If Pete Rose ends up in the Hall of Fame -- and he likely will -- he should send Barry Bonds a postcard. It would be the least Rose could do for Bonds, whose steroids binge and home run record assault helped Rose in one major way: it gave baseball someone new to hate.
It was just a decade ago that Rose was a baseball pariah, public enemy No. 1 to the sporting public. He bet on games. This used to be an unforgiveable crime. Now? Not so unforgiveable: As Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted into the Hall of Fame Sunday, Aaron himself told reporters he believed Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Now -- likely thanks to Aaron's esteemed counsel -- MLB commissioner Bud Selig is considering granting amnesty to Rose once and for all.
Rose in the Hall? It might only be a matter of time.
How did we get here? The 1990s and Aughts (assuming that's what we finally, just as the decade closes, decided to call the past 10 years of our lives) were especially friendly to Rose's case. Not only did the legendary hitter end his relative silence on the issue, he finally admitted to the world that he bet on baseball. This was a huge step. Had Rose admitted his crime long ago, he might already be in. Instead, Rose has chosen the grimier path, using his controversy to sell books and sign autographs for money, cashing in on the relative shame he brought to professional baseball.
But perhaps the biggest factor -- and the one few Hall of Fame members would consciously acknowledge -- is the way our perception of baseball villainy has changed in the past 20 years. Now we have Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and a host of other players to consider our villains. Self-righteous types everywhere have a new batch of people to hate, and while the crime may or may not be worse than what Rose did -- that's a question for The Ethicist, we guess -- these new public enemies aren't contrite. Pete who?
Rose will likely get his proverbial day in court, and Aaron's support will be one reason why. But so will Bonds's. So will Sosa's. And so will the rest of the steroid era's rogues gallery. Ironically enough for Rose, a hard-headed kid in a worn-down body, evolution seems to have been a good thing.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.