Pete Rose Didn’t Just Hurt Baseball, He Disgraced Sports Gambling
Major League Baseball made the correct decision. Keep Pete Rose out. Too bad gambling can’t do the same.
Yesterday, Commissioner Rob Manfred denied Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement to Major League Baseball.
Good. The correct judgment was made.
Whether we agree with the letter and intent or not, baseball has rules. Those rules are as strict as they are clear. Rose not only violated those rules. He obliterated them — both as a player and club manager. Then, he lied thousands of times over the course of the next two decades to anyone and everyone gullible enough to listen to fairy tales about his past and present activities. Finally, when cornered in a cesspool of lies and shown unmistakable physical evidence to the contrary, he lied again, and again.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, Rose’s martyred confessionals have been most reluctant and entirely self-serving, always on his own terms when he could somehow turn his humiliation into profit — such as his ludicrous “autobiography” which, turns out, tells only part of the real story. Since it was published, several passages in Rose’s so-called “tell all” confessional have proven to be false. He’s a liar and a disgrace. He’s a disgrace to baseball, to gambling, and to himself.
Many of us involved in sports gambling who are enthusiastic proponents of legalization recognize and call out baseball’s grotesque hypocrisy. Gambling significantly boosts fan interest. Gambling increases attendance and television viewership. Gambling is good, for not only baseball but all spectator sports. Even baseball recognizes this fact, having struck numerous deals with fantasy sports websites, including DraftKings and FanDuel.
But the buck stops when participants gamble on the games — be they players, coaches, or officials. Gamblers, far more than casual fans, want games that are played fairly. Betting scandals don’t necessarily drive away casual fans (little-known fact: baseball attendance actually increased while the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal was the biggest news of the day). Scandals drive away gamblers because no one can be sure when and where the fix is in. Uncertainty, not scandal, greases the mighty wheels of sports gambling, perpetually in motion — that is, whether the baseball purists like it or not.
Rose’s gambling didn’t necessarily do any harm to baseball. In the years since the mid- to late-1980’s when Rose was betting on regular season games daily, nothing related to his gambling has ever been shown to hurt the game’s popularity (steroids — yes; disparity — yes; free agency — yes; television rights — yes; mismanagement — yes; gambling — NO). For instance, no specific game was ever proven to be impacted by Rose’s wagering, either directly or indirectly. But Rose did disgrace sports gambling and malign all gamblers with his long legacy of actions and lies. For this, Pete Rose should not be forgiven.
Albeit unintentional, Rose became the ugly poster boy for keeping sports gambling illegal in the United States. He’s caused immeasurable harm to millions of sports gamblers in at least 47 states where no legal sports gambling currently exists, those who desperately need consumer protections by licensing and regulatory agencies which safeguard most other forms of popular entertainment. When the average American thinks of sports gambling-gone-wrong, they visualize a conniving, lying, scumbag who once managed the Cincinnati Reds who weaseled his way back into the hearts and minds of his defenders, somehow turning the tables as the victim. In fact, Rose has done nothing but perpetuate the loathsome imagery of the typical sports gambler as a dishonest degenerate. He’s twisted us and turned us upside down into the opposite of what all gambling demands above everything else, which is a sacred trust. There must be mutual trust the player will pay up, or the player will get paid once the deed is done. Instead, sports gamblers have been gnarled into an appalling and misleading contortion because he’s been such a constant reminder of the very worst of us. For this, Pete Rose should not be forgiven.
At one time, Rose’s illegal gambling probably might have been worthy of a pardon. Even his critics admit that had Rose handled the critical post-Dowd Report years with some measure of personal rectitude, he likely would have been reinstated back into the game by now. Who knows, he might even be working in a front office somewhere, instead of hawking his cocky signature to bug-eyed sycophants at autograph shows and shopping malls connected to casinos, gigs which according to some reports earn him well over $1 million per year. But Rose didn’t take that highway. He darted into a different direction, taking the off ramp rather than the high road. Instead of coming clean, Rose slung barbs and attacked the solid reputations of honest and decent people who had merely done their jobs, investigated and uncovered evidence of rules broken and federal crimes committed, and presented their findings to the public. For this, Pete Rose should not be forgiven.
The time for Rose’s contrition was long ago. The time to come clean was in 1989, or 1990, or 1991, or 1992. He could have been honest about his activities in 1993, or 1994, or 1995, or 1996, or 1997, or 1998, or 1999, or 2000, but he didn’t. He could have waited until the years 2001, or 2002, or 2003, or 2004, or 2005, or 2006, or 2007, or 2008, when his book finally came out and he could make a buck off his story. Instead, he kept on lying. He might have finally said enough of this and told the truth in 2009, or 2010, or 2011, or 2012, or 2013, or 2014, or even 2015. Incredibly, as recently as this past June (2015), Rose was again proven to be a bold-faced liar, when a bookie’s old notebook surfaced during an ESPN telecast which revealed Rose gambled on games even as a player, a charge he had previously denied for the past 26 years. So, he’s still lying. For this, Pete Rose should not be forgiven.
Hard to imagine, but Rose suffered an even worse blow to what dangling shreds of his reputation still existed when earlier this year he was alleged to have been involved with underage girls. Never mind that Rose was married at the time the incidents reportedly occurred at spring training during the 80’s while he was the Reds’ manager. While the allegations have yet to be proven (and might be false), this public embarrassment did force Rose to come clean about his involvement with numerous women over the years, who were not his wife. Of course, this is hardly scandalous nowadays with the extramarital affairs of celebrities so commonplace. However, when Rose was forced to stand up in front of reporters and confront charges that he’d engaged in sexual relations with girls as young as 14 and 15, could anyone really trust his denials? At this stage in Rose’s life, after so much appalling dishonesty, does his word many anything anymore to anyone? No, it doesn’t. For this, Pete Rose should not be forgiven.
I have no problem whatsoever with Rose-the-retiree gambling on baseball and other sports, activities which he admittedly engages into this day. After all, Rose resides in Las Vegas where betting on sports and horse racing isn’t only legal, but widely encouraged. Rose has served time for his crimes, and deserves no further legal punishment. He should be a free man able to engage in the life he so pleases.
But the serious harm he’s done to sports gambling and all gamblers is something never to be forgotten, nor forgiven. Rose not only deserved to be excluded from baseball for a lifetime for breaking one of its most hallowed commandments. He also merits exclusion from our unique culture for violating our sacred honor code. Sports gambling relies on trust and one’s word. Would you lend him $100? I wouldn’t.
Once and for all, Pete Rose has demonstrated his word can never be trusted. Not before. Not now. Not ever. He’s a pathetic illustration of the very worst public face of sports gambling and a despicable distortion of sports gamblers. He has done irreparable harm to the noble efforts of many to bring sports gambling into the mainstream as a fully licensed, regulated, and entirely respectable activity. For this, Rose deserves not only baseball’s punishment, but ours, as well.
Want to know Pete Rose’s real victims? It’s us. You and me. Sports gamblers — we’re the one’s paying the heavy price for his dirty deeds and disgraced pathology of dishonesty.
Coming Next in Part 2: Busting the Myth: How the 1919 “Black Sox” Gambling Scandal Actually Helped Baseball