How to get the Pete Rose decision 100% wrong

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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.