Obviously, there are more important topics than baseball to write about (How do you say “Whitewater” in Arabic? “Benghazi.”), but with opening day just around the corner, and with the irrepressible Pete Rose having formally petitioned commissioner Bob Manfred to lift his lifetime ban from the game, it seems appropriate to comment on what should be done with this accomplished and wildly popular former player.
The question: Should Pete Rose—the man who broke Ty Cobb’s hallowed record for most hits in a career, and who earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle,” because, as anyone will tell you, he played the game the way “it’s supposed to be played”—finally and deservedly be inducted into the Hall of Fame? We have two answers: No, and Hell No.
On August 24,1989, Rose voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball. That was big news then, and it’s big news now, largely because of the word “voluntarily.” We baseball fans were stunned by the announcement. Pete was nothing if not a fighter, a scrapper, the last guy to “voluntarily” accept any bad news, much less banishment from the game he loved. Why on earth would he agree to such a thing?
The short answer is that Rose, a self-admitted compulsive gambler, did not want the full story revealed. Ever. He’d rather take a lifetime ban than have it be known that when he managed the Reds (1984-89), he regularly bet on his team to lose. And as team manager, he clearly was in the position to make decisions that would help his team lose. Pete, say it ain’t so.
As great a player as he was, Rose is an outrageous liar. He initially lied about betting on sports, and was forced to recant when they found proof. He said it was only football, then was forced to recant when they proved it was baseball too, as much as $10,000 a game. Then he said he never bet on his own team, but was forced to recant. In addition to breaking Stan Musial’s NL record for most career doubles, he broke Richard Nixon’s record for “most lies in a season.”
People also forget that, in 1990, after emphatically denying it, Rose pleaded guilty to income tax evasion, acknowledging that he had lied to the IRS and intentionally concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of autographs and sports memorabilia. He wound up serving several months in a federal prison. People forget that.
Although the “Dowd report” didn’t specifically accuse Rose of betting against his own team (such a charge would have blown the lid off the game, taking us back to the infamous “Black Sox” scandal of 1919), John Dowd has stated publicly that Rose very likely did so. After all, what would prevent him?
Also, to be banned for life didn’t require betting against your team. “Rule 21 Misconduct, (d) Betting on Ball Games, Any player, umpire, or club, or league official, or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Again, what would stop an admittedly “helpless” gambling addict from betting on his own team to lose, especially when he was in position to affect the outcome of the game? What would prevent a compulsive gambler from betting against his team? Ethics?? Please.
So let Rose continue to earn his reported one million dollars a year from appearance money and the sale of memorabilia. If people want to shake his hand and fork out money for his autograph, so be it. But two pieces of advice for Pete: Don’t expect to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame….and don’t forget to pay your taxes.
David Macaray, a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org