06 January 2004

It’s the End of the World, As We Know It

REM was right.

This weekend’s biggest story in sports wasn’t the College Football (Half-) Championship Game, it wasn’t the Colts bucking the Broncos in one of their worst playoff losses ever, it wasn’t Brett Favre and the Packers continuing to beat their opponents with adrenaline gleaned from the sudden loss of Favre’s father two weeks ago.

It was Pete Rose.

Pete Rose hasn’t played in the majors in almost twenty years, hasn’t managed a major league team in almost 15 years, and yet once again he has succeeded in making himself the center of attention when there are much more deserving stories out there.

In a story roughly as shocking as the revelation that all of those Christmas gifts children around the world recently received were not delivered by a fat, old man who can stop time and drives a sled pulled by flying reindeer, Pete Rose admitted in a recent interview with ABC and a soon-to-be-released book (what a coincidence!) that he actually did bet on baseball, including betting on the Reds while he was Cincinnati’s manager.

There is, of course, a myriad of jokes to be made in light of this admission. I sent an email to the Tony Kornheiser show with a few of my own, but since they probably won’t read it on the air, I’ll show you here:


I heard about Pete Rose. ABC broke the amazing story that Pete Rose actually did bet on baseball, but that's not the end of it. In an effort to compete with ABC, some of the other networks will have similarly revealing stories coming out later this week:

CBS will break the story that OJ Simpson in fact is admitting being guilty of murder, but only of one of them, because he "just couldn't help himself" and that he would like to be forgiven. And please buy his new book.

FOX will break the story that Rush Limbaugh is, is fact, a big, fat, idiot, but that he's losing weight to try to dispel that notion. And also, please buy his book.

UPN will break the story that Britney Spears actually has had breast implants, but only in one of them, and that she would like to be forgiven. And please buy her new CD, as she doesn't write books.

NBC will break the story that Michael Jackson actually has admitted to having had plastic surgery, but only once, for medical reasons, and that he would like to be forgiven. And please buy his/her new book.

HBO will break the story that Michael Corleone was, in fact, involved in running the Corleone crime family, but that he was "just a lackey", and that he only did it because he needed the money. No word on who's going to break the story to HBO that Michael Corleone doesn't really exist. But please buy his book anyway.


Besides the jokes, though, there is some significance to this story. Reportedly, Rose’s admission of guilt in these matters is a steppingstone to his reinstatement into the Game we all know and love. Astonishingly, though, his admission is not only that he bet on baseball, as he has persistently (if not believably) denied for the last 15 years, but also that he actually did bet on the Cincinnati Reds while he managed them.

Some will argue that the fact that he didn’t bet against the Reds is a reason to consider forgiving him. They’d argue that, of course, he was trying to win anyway, as their manager, and so it’s really no different, right?


The clause in the official baseball rules is very clear, and they make no distinction between betting for or against your team. The only distinction lies between betting on baseball in general and betting on games in which you have some direct responsibility.

Rule 21(d):

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 no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.

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.

So Rose is now admitting that he actually did the latter, the one action that a sign in every clubhouse in the majors and minors warns you will get you banned from the game for life, and somehow this admission of guilt is going to help get him reinstated? I don’t understand this at all. It’s like telling accused murderers that if they’ll just admit that they killed the guy, they can go free.

Since when is this a wise or effective policy? Do you think that if Senator Kennedy finally admitted that he was something more than an innocent bystander in the incident at Chappaquidick, the public would all just forgive him? Do you think that if former President Reagan, in an Alzheimer’s-induced stupor, admitted on record that he knew about the Iran-Contra affair all along, people would just let it slide? Don’t bet on it.

It’s like the movie Quiz Show, in which Ralph Fiennes’ character owns up to the gameshow-fixing scandal in a Congressional inquiry, and everyone wants to forgive him, because he seems like such a nice guy. Congressman after Congressman chimes in to offer their opinion of what a sincere, heartfelt apology and admission he’s given, as though it somehow wasn’t his fault and they should just let him walk. It seems like maybe Pete Rose just watched the movie, got to this part, and suddenly realized that he could admit his wrongs and the public would receive him with open arms, and instantly ran off to start writing his book. The trouble is that Rose must have turned off the movie before one congressman finally gets up and says:

I'm happy that you've made the statement. But I cannot agree with most of my colleagues. See, I don't think an adult of your intelligence should be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.

And there are plenty of people who feel like this about Pete, but Rose isn’t even as contrite as Charles Van Doren was, as evidenced by his own book excerpt:

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way. […] So let's leave it like this: I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

Let’s move on? You’re not sorry for what you’ve done, only that you got caught, and that it screwed things up for you, but let’s move on? You don’t admit to actually making the choices that have placed you in this position, preferring instead to present the situation as an “it” that just somehow “happened” to you, but let’s move on? I don’t think so.

There are a few reasons why it is important not to allow the rules to bend for anyone, even an icon like Pete Rose. First of all, the whole reason that the gambling clause exists in the playing rules is that a gambler whose debt to a bookie has gotten out of hand has a rather easy means of making up some of that debt: If he’s a manager, he can do something to fix a game, or he can provide inside information to his bookie, which helps the bookie to fix the odds in his favor. Perhaps even more importantly, he can do things that increase the physical risks to his players, and to the welfare of the organization, in an effort to win a game (and the money consummate with his bet on that game) he wouldn’t normally need to win, like leaving in a young, fragile-armed starter for too many pitches, or sending a runner barrel-assing into the catcher on the off-chance that he could score the winning run, but perhaps injuring one or the other of those players for life.

It can be argued that in today’s game of multimillionaires, no one would ever have the need to do this, as they should always have plenty of money to pay off bookies, if they become indebted. But gambling, as I understand it, is an addiction that feeds on itself, in which the piling up of losses only serves to whet the gambler’s appetite for more, until he’s beyond the scope of what he can handle on his own salary. If Pete Rose was making $500K to $1 million in salary and was placing hundreds of bets for thousands of dollars each, there’s no reason why a similar figure making ten or twenty million dollars in today’s game couldn’t get in similar trouble making bets for tens of thousands of dollars at a similar pace. So it's still a relevant issue, and until greed and selfishness are things of the past, it always will be.

This is not the first time I’ve written on this subject, and you can see from my columns from last year that my opinion on Rose hasn’t changed since last summer/fall. Lots of others have written about it as well:

Jayson Stark doesn't seem to think he's done enough to get back into baseball. For once, I agree with Stark's analysis.

David Pinto appropriately says that baesball Prospectus is not owed an apology for the denials of the story they ran last summer.

John Perricone, amazingly, still finds a way to blame Fay Vincent and John Dowd.

Mike Carminati finds the news earth-shattering, but figures that it's only a matter of time before baseball forgives and forgets.

Elephants in Oakland, who is finally back to writing consistently, think that Pete Rose vs. MLB seems to them rather like a Monty Python sketch.

And of course there's no shortage of other opinions out there. But now you know mine.

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