The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #13: Pete Rose finally gets his appeal. And loses it.

8 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

There’s an argument to be made that Pete Rose became more famous as a result of his being permanently banned from baseball in 1989 than he would’ve been if he never broke baseball’s gambling rules. Eventually, as all managers are, he would’ve been fired. Maybe he’d get one more job someplace outside of Cincinnati, but by the turn of the century or so he’d likely be some special assistant for the Reds, showing up at spring training and public events and the like. He’d be the Midwestern Tommy Lasorda. It’s a nice gig if you can get it, but it’s not the sort of thing that leads to big headlines, books and the rapt attention of radio listeners and readers of sports news. To this day Rose still gets that sort of attention, however, and it’s largely a function of his 26-year fight to be reinstated.

For a long time Rose claimed he was an innocent man. Then, when there was book money to be made, he admitted he was not an innocent man, but stopped short of admitting he bet on baseball as a player. Eventually news came out that, yeah, he probably bet on baseball as a player too. All the while Rose alternated between lamenting and making money off of his infamy. Not an ideal, but for Rose, also a good gig. At least a lucrative one. His autograph and appearance fees are much larger than they would’ve been if he was like any other old ballplayer.

Early this year Rob Manfred took over as baseball’s new commissioner and, unlike the old one, declared that he would give Rose a shot at reinstatement. Not a great shot, really. Manfred was under no obligation to review Rose’s case and made no suggestion that it was likely Rose’s ban would be overturned, but it was more of a shot than Rose had gotten since 1989.

Rose blew that shot. On December 14 Manfred ruled that Rose’s ban would not be overturned and that permanent would continue to mean exactly that.

Manfred’s decision made it abundantly clear that Rose, as recently as this summer, when his case was being reviewed, continued to lie about betting on baseball as a player as opposed to just while a manager. He said that Rose has no apparent understanding of how serious his past violations of baseball’s anti-gambling rules were and that he had done absolutely nothing to change his habits as a person which would suggest he wouldn’t continue to break those rules if he were reinstated.

Rose responded defiantly to all of this in a Las Vegas (natch) press conference the following day, but added nothing new. After so many years in the wilderness — almost as many years as he spent in Major League bBaseball, actually — he probably doesn’t know how else to respond.

And so Pete Rose beats on, a sternwheeler gambling boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

How to get the Pete Rose decision 100% wrong

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Getty Images
82 Comments

People have been arguing about Pete Rose’s ban for over a quarter of a century and they’ll likely still be arguing about for years to come. There are a lot of things like that in life, of course. When you have arguments that last that long, however, it’s usually the case that the grounds of the argument shift, facts change somewhat or people who, however temporarily, are on the losing side take a different approach. That’s how it gets perpetuated.

This is not the case with the Pete Rose arguments. Rather than changing tacks or explaining away inconvenient facts with new and different rhetoric, people in the Pete Rose camp tend to simply repeat the same arguments over and over again, immune to any counterarguments and content to repeat misinformation without a care in the world that it has, largely, been debunked. Such is the case today with Greg Cote’s column in the Miami Herald, excoriating Major League Baseball for not reinstating Pete Rose.

An old technique of old bloggers like me is to “Fisk” a story with which we take issue. It’s been out of fashion for several years now, likely because it skews pedantic and because, quite frankly, bad columns are a lot more sophisticated these days, making them somewhat immune to simple pointing-and-criticizing. Cote’s however, is so basically wrongheaded — and the arguments so old themselves — that it’s worth dusting off this circa-2005 technique and jumping right in, “Fire Joe Morgan”-style:

You can see what’s coming in the case of Major League Baseball vs. Peter Edward Rose Sr., right? You can guess how one of the most protracted sagas in American sports history will finally end.

Rose’s lifetime ban from the sport will end when his life does. He will find forgiveness in death. The sport will welcome back its wayward son by inducting him posthumously into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Cote starts out with a common misconception here: that Rose’s ban is a “lifetime” ban when, in fact, it is a “permanent” ban. People commonly and benignly mistake this, but in Cote’s case it is not benign. For one thing, as a sports columnist at a major daily paper he or his editor should know better. I suspect, however, that he does know better, but uses “lifetime” on purpose because doing so allows him to cast the ban from Rose’s perspective and to make it, literally, a matter of life and death. Indeed, the entire column plays with life-and-death stakes and drama as a way to manipulate the reader, going so far as to envision Rose’s actual death and his funeral:

That day, he’ll get the eulogy makeover. It will no longer be about his gambling problem way back in the late 1980s. Now it will be about the record 4,256 base hits. It will be about the man nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” sliding headfirst into history.

What a shame.

Here Cote ignores Rob Manfred’s decision which makes it clear that Rose (a) admitted to being a gambling addict in 2004, not just way back in the 1980s; (b) that Rose has refused to get treatment for it; (c) that Rose lied to Manfred about his gambling habits; and (d) that Rose still gambles. While I am not a mental health professional, basic checklists designed to help people determine if they need professional help with gambling addiction ask things like “does your gambling create problems?” “Has your gambling caused important friendships to be lost?” and “Do you blame others or rationalize your gambling as less serious than that which others do?”

Given that Rose’s gambling has cost him the one thing he claims is most important to him in his life — baseball — and that his response, as recently as Tuesday, to his ban is to say that what he does is not as bad as what PED users do — and, of course, given that he has never sought treatment for his admitted addiction — I’d say that Cote’s casting his addiction as some thing of the 1980s is simply and factually wrong.

People convicted of murder in the United States serve an average prison sentence of 20 years and eight months, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. Rose is still doing time more than 26 years later for betting on baseball games, including his own team, while managing the Cincinnati Reds . . . “Lifetime” sentences are not always literally that. Murderers can be paroled but Pete Rose can’t?

Clearly an apt analogy, because one’s very freedom and liberty is exactly the same thing as one’s eligibility to be employed by a sports league.

It is essential to note the Dowd Report of more than a quarter century ago found Rose only bet on his team to win. So there was never the suggestion of a scandal involving game fixing. What he did still violated the sport’s rules against gambling. Hasn’t he served enough time though?

This is blatant misinformation Cote’s editor should’ve immediately corrected or which should’ve caused him to spike the column. Baseball’s investigator, John Dowd, has repeatedly said in interviews over the past quarter century that he and his two investigators uncovered evidence that Rose did, in fact, bet on the Reds to lose when he managed them, “although that evidence didn’t reach the standard to include in our report.” But in the report or out of it, there was no conclusive finding to the contrary, as Cote claims, and there certainly was “a suggestion” that Rose bet against his own club.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because Rule 21 of Major League Baseball makes no distinction between a player or manager betting on his team to win vs. betting on his team to lose. There’s a reason for that: even betting on your team to win poses a risk to the integrity of the game. It’s simple to see how.

Say, in June of 1988, Rose lays $500 on the Reds to win a game started by Danny Jackson, the Reds’ best starter that year. Say Jackson runs into a bit of trouble in the sixth inning. Is it not in Rose’s best interest to pull out all the stops and use his best relievers regardless of how well they’re rested or what the game tomorrow may hold? To start managing this game as if it were a playoff game? If he does, what happens the next day when Mario Soto is on the hill? Soto, you may remember, was past his prime at that point. And John Dowd noted that while Rose respected Soto, he never bet on Reds games when Soto was pitching because he didn’t trust him. Given this dynamic wouldn’t Rose, indirectly, be “throwing” the Soto game? Or, less strongly, doing less than he might otherwise do because he had money on the Jackson game? Does this not impact the integrity of the game, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of actual game-fixing?

It is hypocritical of Manfred and MLB to maintain this hardest possible line against the evils of gambling while being in a corporate bed with DraftKings, the daily fantasy site being systemically found to be a portal of illegal gambling, most recently by the New York Supreme Court.

This has been a common refrain in recent days. And, to be fair, this charge of hypocrisy has some satisfying surface appeal, even if it’s only in the form of a snarky joke (I’ve made my own such jokes on Twitter). But as an actual, serious charge of hypocrisy it holds no water whatsoever.

Baseball may be invested in and partnered with daily fantasy sports, but such a partnership does not abrogate underlying rules the league has on gambling for its employees. To see how this makes perfect sense, one merely needs to look at some other sponsorships MLB has. Baseball is invested in and partnered with Budweiser, but does not let David Wright take a case of Bud Select out to third base with him during a game. It is also invested in and partnered with Chevrolet but does not allow Lorenzo Cain to drive a Chevy Tahoe while going from first to third on a Salvador Perez single.

Major League Baseball may be in business with Draft Kings, but it does not allow its players or manager to play daily fantasy sports because of the clear conflicts of interest it may create. The same, obviously, goes for the gambling rules broken by Pete Rose. If you are incapable of seeing how this makes sense and is not basic hypocrisy your view of the world is so simplistic that, perhaps, you should not be writing opinion pieces for a major daily newspaper.

Now some quick hits:

I mean, Barry Bonds, who set home run records literally cheating opponents by using performance-enhancing drugs, can be hired as the Marlins hitting coach but Rose remains on the wrong side of baseball’s fence?

This is Rose’s line as well. It’s pure rationalization and is an apples and oranges comparison. We can argue about whether baseball should have had strict punishments in place for PED use when Bonds was a player, whether baseball let Bonds and others slide by too easily and whether, even now, MLB should be even stricter on PED users than it is. But the fact remains that Rose was subject to a well-known and well-established discipline regime of which he was aware from the moment he came into the game. Bonds was not. The fact that one is unhappy with the lack of discipline received by the latter does not change the legitimacy of the discipline imposed on the former.

Rose at times has been his own worst enemy but also has been contrite, admitting to a big mistake. Manfred was put off that Rose still occasionally gambles. So what! He’s placing legal bets in Las Vegas.

No, Manfred’s own words were that “Mr. Rose’s public and private comments, including his initial admission in 2004, provide me with little confidence that he has a mature understanding of his wrongful conduct, that he has accepted full responsibility for it, or that he understands the damage he has caused.” Manfred likewise noted that, to the extent Rose gambles still, he does so legally in the jurisdictions in which he gambles. If Cote thinks Manfred is lying about what he said — or if he has evidence that Rose is, actually, contrite when there has been no suggestion that he has been whatsoever — that would be what we call “news” and he should consider reporting it.

Rose did not cheat opponents and has served his time . . . I may be wrong but I’m guessing enough of us think Rose has done more than sufficient time for his crime, and that the day at Cooperstown he deserves should not come to him posthumously.

There are several references to Rose “serving his time” in the column. You hear these from a lot of people. I want to ask them “what part of ‘permanent ban’ suggests to you that he has, in fact, served his time?” but I don’t really expect a straight answer to that question.

Of course there can’t be a straight answer. Because, as is clear from columns like Cote’s and from most Rose supporters, facts are irrelevant. Rose only bet on his teams to win! Rose never bet when he played! Rose has been honest and contrite! All 100% false statements which would torpedo most cases in Rose’s favor if anyone making such a case cared a lick about intellectual honesty. But they don’t. This is an emotional issue for them.

As I’ve said over and over again, I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame because I think we should separate a player’s accomplishments from his character. Indeed, I think MLB and the Hall of Fame should change the eligibility rules for induction to allow that. But it is lunacy to suggest that Rose has been unfairly treated, unduly singled out or that he somehow deserves reinstatement. The terms of his “sentence” entitle him to nothing. The substance of his recent appeal — which was completely gratuitous on Rob Manfred’s part; a gift, even — provided no new information which suggests that Rose has done a single thing to justify a reduction of his punishment.

How, in light of this, we keep hearing the same, baseless, quarter-century-old arguments in Rose’s favor are a mystery to me.

Pete Rose holds a press conference. There were no surprises.

29 Comments

A day after Rob Manfred declined to reinstate Pete Rose, the Hit King held a press conference. Rose has never cared much about optics and now that it basically doesn’t matter what he does, it should not be at all surprising that he held his press conference in Las Vegas. With cheerleaders. Which, as far as I’m concerned is all aces. There’s something liberating about having nothing to lose, and at least as far as organized baseball is concerned, Rose has nothing left to lose. Be yourself, hombre.

As for the substance, Rose had nothing new to add. He continues to draw false equivalencies between gamblers and steroid users as it suits him. He continues to self-promote, saying “to be honest with you I should be the commissioner of baseball the way I sell and talk about the game.” Not that honesty is his strong suit, at least according to Commissioner Manfred’s decision yesterday. To that point, Rose said “I tried to be as honest as I could with the Commissioner and I think he appreciated that.” That’s a telling comment, even if it was unintentional. It’s not that he was honest. Or that he even attempted to be actually honest. He merely tried to be as honest as he could. There are some limits, here. Mrs. Rose didn’t raise no fools.

The thing is, there was really nothing new to be honest about. Rose’s record of gambling and lying about it and changing his story here, there and back again over the past 26 years is an open book. Rose himself had done nothing special or different to inspire Manfred to reopen his case. It was a gift from Manfred, really. A fresh opportunity for Rose to give a new commissioner a chance to do something that would be popular right out of the gate. Maybe it was always doomed. Maybe Rose simply whiffed on a grooved fastball. Watching Rose speak a few minutes ago, I don’t think Rose himself even knew.

That’s admirable in some twisted way. Rose mentioned, several times, that he is just living the life he has. That he’s being himself. That betting on a game once in a while because it brings him enjoyment. I believe that. I certainly believe that more than I believed Rose when he claimed to realize he had a gambling addiction ten or eleven years ago. For a minute or two there it seemed like he was willing to play along with the redemption story as most would author it. Then he stopped doing that and now takes the view that he doesn’t have a problem and who is Rob Frickin’ Manfred to say that he does?

I actually don’t begrudge him that. While, if he truly is an addict I would hope that he seeks help for it at some point, he’s an American citizen with some means and the right to do anything legal he wishes to do. Including gamble on sports. If he stays within the law and doesn’t harm others we’re in no position to tell him what’s better to do with his life, even if we personally find it regrettable.

It’s just that Rose living his best, chosen life is totally incompatible with being reinstated to baseball given his past transgressions. And that he either can’t understand or refuses to accept that is the reason he’s not in baseball anymore. Not anything Rob Manfred or anyone else has done to him.

Did Rob Manfred give the Hall of Fame the go-ahead to put Pete Rose on the ballot?

22 Comments

While it’s not a good day for Pete Rose and while Rob Manfred blasted him to the stone age in his decision declining reinstatement, part of me wonders if Manfred also didn’t give Rose a glimmer of hope, at least as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned, today.

The glimmer: Manfred made great pains in his decision to make a distinction between Pete Rose as a threat to baseball due to his gambling and Pete Rose’s legacy as a great player. Specifically, he said this:

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 1.27.10 PM

It is often forgotten that Rose is not being punished simply to punish him. He is banned to that he cannot be near the game and cannot, through his actions and motivations as a gambler, influence the outcome of games. In the legal theory business, which the lawyer Rob Manfred knows well, they call this “incapacitation.” The other basis for punishment are still present — “retribution” (i.e. pure punishment) and “deterrence” (i.e. serving as a warning to others) — but Manfred here is clearly talking about Rose’s ban being driven by the practicality of keeping him from violating Rule 21 again.

In this — and in allowing him to broadcast for Fox and show up at the All-Star Game — he is avoiding doing what many have done over the past 26 years in painting Rose as some sort of shamed, pariah-like figure. He is simply saying that Rose can’t work on the side of the game where outcomes can be influenced. He is also, in his reference to “that organization,” making a clear distinction between MLB and the Hall of Fame, which determines who can be and who can’t be on the ballot.

Practically speaking MLB and the Hall of Fame are close, with Manfred, Bud Selig and many others in the game serving on its board. It is also thought that the Hall’s 1990s rule-change to keep banned players off the ballot was done as a favor to MLB so that it would not be embarrassed by Rose being inducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But here — and in some past interviews — Manfred seems to allow for a separation. Maybe it’s just a buck-passing, maybe it’s something more.

His words are, however, quite consistent with (a) wanting to appear strict with Rose; while (b) allowing for him to be put on the Hall of Fame ballot without that strictness being undercut.

Maybe I’m just imagining that and maybe the Hall does nothing. But if they do something, it won’t be seen as an insult to MLB. Manfred’s own words ensure that.

Rob Manfred decides not to reinstate Pete Rose

60 Comments

Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times reports that Commissioner Rob Manfred has decided not to reinstate all-time hit king Pete Rose. The decision from Commissioner Manfred can be read here.

Rose has been permanently banned from baseball since August of 1989 in light of overwhelming evidence that he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds. This came following a seven month investigation. It also came after Rose himself signed a document stating that he would neither admit or deny he had gambled on baseball, but that he would agree to be banned from the game for life, providing he would be given the opportunity to apply for reinstatement. Most Rose supporters conveniently forget that part, of course. Nonetheless, earlier this year, Manfred agreed to re-hear his case. There was, apparently, nothing new to change his and Major League Baseball’s mind on the matter.

Rose’s ban has, perversely, kept him in the news far more than he likely would’ve been had he never been banned. Since 1989 Rose and his supporters have waged a unceasing yet frequently-shifting public relations war against the game. At first the allegations were denied. Then, when it behooved Rose financially, in the form of a tell-all book, he admitted to gambling. At various times he has claimed contrition over his transgressions only to turn on a dime and claim that while what he did was bad what others had done was worse. The only constant in these efforts is Pete Rose doing what, at the time, seemed best for Pete Rose.

This year Rose had kept a lower public profile as Manfred looked at the issue anew. He also, slowly, began to re-emerge on the baseball side of the game, appearing at official functions at the ballpark in Cincinnati during the All-Star Game in July and then, in the postseason, taking a temporary job as an analyst for Fox Sports broadcasts. One got the sense during this time that, while Rose was once the source of impassioned support, perhaps that support has gone a bit colder than it used to be. Todd Frazier‘s ovations during All-Star festivities were far, far louder than Rose’s were. And Rose’s performance as a TV analyst was universally panned. Perhaps Rose’s time as a baseball personality who inspired passion had passed. Even in Cincinnati.

What has not and will never pass, however, is Rose’s status as a historical figure. And here is where Manfred’s decision has the most impact. While Rose, at 74, is likely too old and too far removed from baseball to take a critical job in the game, his continued suspension — and the Hall of Fame’s decision to make eligibility for induction contingent on not being on baseball’s restricted list — keeps him from being considered for the Hall of Fame. On a personal level, we find the Hall of Fame component of that to be unfortunate. Rose was one of the best players in the history of the game and his off-the-field perfidies do not change that. While there is no compelling reason, it would seem, to make him eligible to work for a team again, The Hit King’s failure to ever be fairly considered for Cooperstown is regrettable.

Of course, it’s only regrettable to a certain degree. Rose was in a purgatory of his own creation for the past 26 years. And now, given the unlikelihood that his case will ever be considered again in his lifetime, his baseball damnation is assured.