Revisiting Pete Rose

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Since it was so much fun the other day, let’s run out one more ground ball on the whole Pete Rose/reinstatement/Hall of Fame discussion.

A clear majority of the 134 and counting comments to that article were in favor of Pete Rose being reinstated and voted into the Hall of Fame.  A majority of those comments — echoing Mike Schmidt’s own defense of Rose — trotted out some variation of “how can you not let Pete in when all of the evil, evil steroids users are allowed to live and play baseball and eat pie and kick puppies and do all of the awful things they do?!!” [note: people didn’t actually say that; most comments were far more impassioned].

Lost in all of this — and brought to my attention by reader Jason Fisher — is the fact that Pete Rose is not some being separate and apart from the business of steroids.  Or do you not remember Tommy Gioiosa?

Gioiosa says Rose listened with glee whenever his bodybuilder buddy talked about the fights he started in ‘roid rages. Rose also would watch him shoot up and ask questions about what he was using. Good stuff, Gioiosa would reply. Parabolin. Human growth hormone. A German extract from the pituitary gland of monkeys. Pete had been tempted to take a shot himself, especially in 1985 and 1986 when he was losing bat speed. But he told Gioiosa it was too late to try something new. (Rose, through a spokesman, declined comment.)    

How about Paul Janzen, the steroids dealer who, according to the Dowd Report, became Rose’s primary bet-placer?

In the middle of February 1987, Rose invited Janszen and Marcum to come to his home in Florida while he was at Spring training. Janszen and Marcum accepted the invitation . . . They stayed for six weeks at Rose’s rented house in Tampa, Florida.  Janszen had quit his job at the Queen City Barrel Company and was essentially living off the proceeds of his steroid business.

I have no idea if Rose ever used steroids as a player.  In fact, I actually kinda doubt that he did for the same reason Gioiosa says Rose declined to shoot up: he was too old and even Rose knew it would be too little too late.

We do know, however, based on ESPN’s reporting and the Dowd Report, that he worked out at a gym that he knew to be a hub of steroids users and dealers, many of whom he was very close friends with. One of the dealers was such a close friend of Rose’s that he actually lived in Rose’s house and was entrusted with running Rose’s illegal gambling and tax evasion activities (Janszen placed bets for Rose and brought him his unreported cash in brown paper bags from card and autograph shows).  We also know, again, based on the same sources, that Rose turned a blind eye to steroid use on the Reds teams he managed, going so far as to openly joke with unnamed steroid user on his team, telling him in front of reporters that he should talk about “what steroids can do for you.”

Maybe this doesn’t change anyone’s ultimate opinion regarding whether or not Pete Rose should be reinstated or allowed entry into the Hall of Fame.  It should, however, make you think twice about casting Rose as some greater moral and ethical actor than ballplayers who have been associated with steroids.  He was around it. He tolerated it. He joked about it. His close friend said he was even tempted to use.

To Pete Rose, steroids appeared to be just another one of those illegal things with which he had a certain comfort level.  How, then, they can be employed as the definitive moral differentiator between Rose and, say, Barry Bonds is beyond me.

UPDATE:  Some further discussion of all of this from Mr. Fisher can be found on this blog post, under the Barry Bonds heading.

The Padres owners try to explain why they aren’t spending money

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There was an interesting article in the San Diego Union-Tribune over the weekend about the Padres, their owners and their finances.

The article purports to be a rare look into the finances of a big league club. And yes, the owners opened their books, to a degree, to the writer of the story, talked about the team’s financial position, its debt and its approach to team payroll, past, present and future. The upshot: the team has had lots of debt, has had to do a lot of work to get out of that situation and now, with some restructuring out of the way, the club looks forward to spending more on players. Eventually. Like, maybe in 2020 or 2021.

On the one hand, yes, it’s actually got some good information in there! Some details about team finances you don’t often see. Which is totally cool as far as that goes. The problem is that the article doesn’t go nearly as far as it may seem and, in the end, is just a far more elaborate than usual excuse from a team about its failure to spend money.

The tell here comes from what is not mentioned as opposed to what is. For example, while it talks about how much is being spent on various things — baseball salaries, operating, marketing, etc. — nowhere does it talk about the owners’ own take. Rather, it leaves you with the impression that the owners haven’t seen a dime from the team in the several years that they’ve owned it. Color me extraordinarily skeptical about that. As we’ve seen with other clubs — most notably the Marlins, but most do it — broad categories such as “baseball operations” or “non baseball operations” often include substantial payments to owners in less-than-obvious line items. Payments to LLCs and partnerships for “consulting” or “management fees” or what have you. Do the Padres have similar expenditures? We can’t tell from this article, but it’s telling to me that they have spent about as much on front office/miscellaneous baseball ops stuff as player salaries over the past several years. A lot of that has been at building a strong minor league development system, but I’m guessing not all.

Similarly, there is an awfully large portion of the article aimed at telling the tale of the clubs’ massive debt and its restructuring. Yes, debt service can be a killer for liquidity, but it doesn’t really talk too much about the debt for its own sake. Such as the fact that (a) the current owners knew full-well of the debt they were inheriting from the previous owner, John Moores, when they bought the team; and (b) that by assuming the debt, their purchase price for the team was lowered, as it always will be in transactions that involve a lot of debt-assumption. The current owners have had the team since 2012. I don’t recall them telling the public then that there would be a near decade’s worth of swimming against the current of debt before they started paying for players. That’s never been in the season ticket brochure.

It’s also worth noting that, for as much as the debt restructuring is talked up in the story, it is saving the Padres only $8 million a year. They’ve been at least $60 million below the luxury tax threshold for several years now. It’s more than the club’s debt keeping them from spending money. It’s largely been a choice.

Again, none of which is to say that the article is not interesting in its own right. It certainly is. There is certainly more information here than one typically sees in an article about a team’s finances. But it is just partial information. Moreover, it seems to be aimed at justifying another year or two of non-contention to fans without satisfactorily explaining all of the many years of non-contention which preceded it. The Padres famously went all-in and spent some money on players in 2015. Why did that make sense then if this debt problem has been there all along? Why did they give Eric Hosmer over $100 million last year? The article wants to portray ownership as sober and responsible and prudent and use that to explain why the Padres have stunk on ice for a good long time, but it is not very convincing in communicating some consistent, rational thread from ownership.

That all of this comes at a time when clubs are being criticized for not spending money is no accident, I suspect. As such, I am choosing to read the piece for some interesting information it conveys while understanding that it has a pretty significant P.R. component to it as well.