When power-crazed dictators feel like they are losing popular support, they do seemingly benevolent things like let prisoners out of jail, drastically cut taxes or make unnecessary war against weaker neighbors.

Apparently, when illegitimate baseball commissioners feel the same way, they do the exact same thing.

And it’s now officially open season on clemency in baseball. Generalissimo Selig is hell-bent on preserving his power, and he’s starting by commuting the sentence of the number one political prisoner in his regime: Peter Edward Rose, enemy of the state.

I am referring, of course, to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig meeting with Rose about the possibility of his reinstatement into Major League Baseball, little more than a decade into his lifetime suspension. As Rose himself put it on his personal Web site (www.peterose.com), Selig has provided Rose with “a forum to discuss all of the issues with Major League Baseball.”

“All of the issues” are all of the reasons why Rose was banned from baseball in 1989, most prominently the fact that he bet on baseball and speculation that he bet on his own teams. Rose still refuses to acknowledge these gambling allegations, despite the fact that baseball’s investigation discovered exactly 412 wagers placed on baseball by Rose, including 52 on the Reds, the team Rose was managing, to win. Even worse, investigators have recently revealed that they were close to proving that he bet against the Reds.

Letting Pete Rose back into the game of baseball is unthinkable. Letting him into the Hall of Fame is even worse. I don’t care if he apologizes until he is blue in the face. Rose cannot be allowed back.

For starters, baseball has been unequivocal throughout its history about the fact that gambling is a supreme no-no. Rule 21(d) states that anyone “who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has any duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.” There’s no footnote that says, “unless the guy was a really good player, or he apologizes, or both.” No ifs, ands or buts – gambling on your team is expressly and inexhaustibly prohibited.

The Baseball Hall of Fame puts an even higher premium on the off-the-field behavior of its players; it has a “morality clause” that keeps the black sheep of the baseball world out of its hallowed halls. Incarceration usually counts; betting on your own team definitely does.

There is no doubt that Rose was a great player, one of the greatest of all time. He eclipsed Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record with 4,256 for his career, and his 44-game hit streak was the closest to Joe DiMaggio’s monumental 56. He would be remembered as baseball royalty, if only his nickname hadn’t changed from Charlie Hustle to Gary Gamble.

There can be no room at all for any semblance of gambling within ajor League Baseball. The bedrock assumption of competitive sports is that the only determinant of the game is the play on the field, and that each team is committed to winning. Gambling by any of the competitors destroys that dynamic at its core. It ruins the game. The notion in the public’s mind that the competition isn’t genuine would turn baseball into professional wrestling. That would be bad.

Letting Rose back into baseball because he apologizes would send the indisputable message that the prohibition of gambling is negotiable. The consequences for the game would be unthinkable.

But does that matter to Selig, the guy who has come closer than anyone thought possible to ruining baseball? Of course not! You may remember Bud Selig from such awful decisions as “The Tied All-Star Game” and “Let’s Contract a Division-Winning Team.” The stupidity of those decisions has, predictably, left Selig as one of the most unpopular people in America. So what does he do? He frees Barrabas because the people want him to, message and consequences be damned.

So will Rose get reinstated? Despite the insanity of the move, the safe money is on yes. We love to forgive public figures if they apologize, particularly the really talented ones. In the coming months, look for a weepy confession from Rose followed by a media frenzy about the “changed Pete Rose.”

Forget that. The only thing that will have changed if Rose gets to come back is the legitimacy of baseball. Rose will be the same creep who bet against his own team.

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