I remember last fall when I was sitting in the private study of Fay Vincent, listening to Major League Baseball’s eighth commissioner tell me how Pete Rose was and remains one of the dumbest people to play baseball. For years, Rose continually denied he bet on the Cincinnati Reds while he was a player or a manager. The Dowd Report proved that was all a lie, showed that Rose bet on baseball as a manager and most likely as a player and gave MLB the leverage it needed in 1989 to persuade Rose to agree to a lifetime ban.
“The sad fact is,” Vincent told me, “Pete Rose is not very smart.”
Boy howdy, is that an evergreen statement. As Rose has slowly copped to bits and pieces of impropriety over the intervening decades, he now spends his days signing autographs in a Las Vegas mall, all the while insisting that he has served his time, that baseball should reinstate him from baseball’s “permanently ineligible” list, that he is the “best ambassador baseball has.” In 2004, 15 years after his banishment, he wrote an autobiography and admitted he bet on baseball games as Reds manager. In 2007, Rose admitted that he bet on the Reds “every night” when he was manager of the Reds, but not when he was player-manager from 1984-86. And just last month, Rose was on ESPN Radio in New York, and reiterated that he “never bet as a player.” He added: “That’s a fact.”
Except, that’s a lie. New documents obtained by ESPN’s Outside the Lines show that for several months during the 1986 season – in which Rose was a 45-year-old first baseman who hit .219 over 72 games and mostly a fuzzy replica from his peak playing days — Rose did bet on the Reds while as a player, always to win, but nonetheless the bets were made. The evidence was seized in October 1989 from the home of a known Rose associate who was pegged as part of a mail fraud investigation unrelated to Rose’s gambling. The documents that detail these transactions, which also show major losses from gambling $2,000 a time or more on college and pro basketball, have been sealed from the public view for 26 years.
But as Vincent made clear last fall, we always knew that Pete Rose wasn’t smart, that he bet on baseball, that he has continued to show little to no remorse for his crime against the sport and that he does almost nothing these days if not for personal financial gain. These facts are as true now as they were in August 1989, when Rose agreed to the lifetime ban offered up by then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti, a good two months before the documents unveiled today were even seized by federal authorities. Since baseball has come to be, people with functional brains have known that gambling is the worst act you can commit as someone in MLB’s employ, yet Rose thinks that literally just mouthing some variant of “I’m sorry” should be enough for him to be let back into the game’s good graces. He was just hired by Fox Sports as an on-air analyst, but he’s not rushing in front of cameras to explain himself now.
Besides, what could Rose possibly have to say now that would either be new or believable or relevant? If you thought Rose ever had any good chance of being reinstated, you should’ve sold that stock last week. The stars were aligned as well as they possibly ever can be. A new commissioner, Rob Manfred, who has at least not appeared immediately dismissive on the question of reinstatement. The All-Star Game next month is in Cincinnati, where Rose collected 3,358 of his career hits. The new Fox Sports gig. With all this good publicity and timing, there was maybe an iota of a chance that Rose could regain some official standing in MLB. Now, that likelihood feels as gone as the hundreds of thousands of dollars Rose gambled away during his baseball career.
All of that is left now is for the chorus of Rose defenders, shrinking in ranks faster than Stannis Baratheon’s army on its march toward Winterfell, to make their final pleas, which often amount to little more than a bewildering willingness to straight-up forgive Rose (because he’s old and what could he possibly do now to hurt baseball) or because he’s “served his time” and he’s owed another chance or because MLB players have done so much worse than gamble. You can debate the former and latter until oxygen eludes you, but Rose has done nothing to deserve another chance. Up until a month ago, he was on sports talk radio in the nation’s biggest media market, continuing to tell lies related to his gambling. Rose is as incapable of truth and contrition as he was in 1989 when was caught and duly punished.
Rose has stubbornly refused to simply go away, but he has, in some way, remained an effective deterrent against MLB players and gambling. Only one umpire has ever been banned by baseball for a gambling-related offense and that was back in 1882. Deterrents do work. Rose has not only done nothing to deserve our forgiveness, but every time he opens his mouth he reminds us all that he has always been his own worst enemy and done nothing to change that decades-long perception. Letting him back in the game now, even with his beloved Cincinnati about to stand atop baseball’s midsummer stage, would be a hollow and unmerited gesture.
A smarter person might’ve figured that out by now, but this is Pete Rose.