Today in Baseball History: The beginning of the end for Pete Rose

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In the spring of 1989, Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth was a lame duck. His successor, National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti, was unanimously elected to succeed him the previous September and was poised to take office on April 1. Most lame ducks like Ueberroth do very little of note, but just before stepping out of the spotlight, Ueberroth dropped a bomb: On March 20, 1989 he announced that his office was conducting a “full inquiry into serious allegations” about Cincinnati Reds manager and all-time baseball hit king, Pete Rose.

The announcement — which provided no other details — took the public by surprise, but as is the case with almost anything baseball does, Ueberroth was reacting to bad press. In this case it was a detailed investigative report from Sports Illustrated about Rose’s associations with convicted felons, his alleged huge betting losses and his questionable handling of money he received from memorabilia sales and autograph signings. A few days later Sports Illustrated reported that Ueberroth had received information that Rose may have bet on baseball games. Including Reds games.

Ueberroth hired the attorney John Dowd as special counsel to investigate. Dowd’s report was submitted to Giamatti in May and was made public on June 27. It was voluminous, including eight volumes of exhibits, which included bank and telephone records, betting records, expert reports, and transcripts of interviews with Rose and other witnesses. It was also damning. It’s principal findings, from the introductory summary of the Dowd Report:

As detailed more extensively herein, Pete Rose has denied under oath ever betting on Major League Baseball or associating with anyone who bet on Major League Baseball. However, the investigation has developed information to the contrary. the testimony and the documentary evidence gathered in the course of the investigation demonstrated that Pete Rose bet on baseball, and in particular, on games of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club during the 1985, 1986, and 1987 seasons . . . the accumulated testimony of witnesses, together with the documentary evidence and telephone records reveal extensive betting activity by Pete Rose in connection with professional baseball and, in particular, Cincinnati Reds games, during the 1985, 1986, and 1987 baseball seasons.

These were not small bets. According to the Dowd report, Rose bet on 52 Reds games in 1987, at a minimum of $10,000 a day. He’d often go through intermediaries to do it. During the 1985 and 1986 seasons, Rose placed bets on baseball with a bookmaker named Ron Peters, often using a man named Tommy Gioiosa, who had been close with Rose since the 1970s, at one time even sharing Rose’s condo with him, to place the bets. Rose, when questioned by Dowd’s investigators, admitted placing bets with Gioiosa on football and basketball games, but denied placing any bets on baseball games. The evidence, in the form of betting slips and the testimony of others, showed otherwise.

Rose also placed bets through a friend of his named Michael Bertolini who, in turn, placed bets on Rose’s behalf with an a bookmaker in New York. Bertolini was caught on a a tape, recorded in 1988, saying that Rose had incurred substantial gambling debts, paying them off via nearly $90,000 in checks made out to fictitious payees and claiming they were somehow related to baseball card shows. Bertolini told Dowd’s investigators otherwise.

Rose also used a man named Paul Janszen to place bets, and Janszen provided copious evidence that those bets were (a) on baseball; and (b) on the Cincinnati Reds. This information was corroborated by the testimony of many witnesses, by tape-recorded conversations, and betting records from Rose’s home which were identified by gambling experts as to their content and hand-writing experts as being in Rose’s handwriting. Among other things, this evidence revealed that, between May and July 1987, Rose bet at least $2,000 per game on baseball, including Reds games, with multiple games bet on per day.

Rose, who was still managing the Reds, had by then lawyered up, and in the face of the damning Dowd report, he and his lawyers sought to cut a deal. The deal contained these main provisions:

  1. Rose would be placed on baseball’s permanently banned list;
  2. That, and the Dowd report notwithstanding, Major League Baseball would make no finding of fact regarding gambling allegations and cease its investigation;
  3. Rose would, essentially, be pleading no contest, neither admitting nor denying the charges; and
  4. Rose could apply for reinstatement after one year. No promises were made about baseball acting on said application.

With that agreement reached, Rose agreed to a voluntary permanent ban from baseball on August 24, 1989. Despite the “no finding of fact” provision, Giamatti, when announcing the ban, stated publicly that he felt that Rose bet on baseball games. That statement, followed by Giamatti’s untimely death from a heart attack a mere eight days later, to which some suggested the stress of the all-consuming Rose matter was a contributing factor, worked to cement public opinion against Rose.

Rose’s baseball troubles led to legal troubles, as all of the cash transactions discovered by Dowd caused the IRS to look into it all. On April 20, 1990, Rose pleaded guilty to two charges of filing income tax return which falsely failed to show income he received from selling autographs, memorabilia and from horse racing winnings. On July 19, 1990 Rose was sentenced to five months in the medium security prison and fined $50,000. He was released on January 7, 1991, after having paid $366,041 in back taxes and interest. As part of his release he was required to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

Later in 1991 the Baseball Hall of Fame voted to make its eligibility requirements match that of the eligibility requirements for working in Major League Baseball, essentially adopting its permanent ban list as its own. The move — coming a year before Rose would’ve become eligible for induction — was widely seen as specifically tailored to keep Rose off the ballot. And it certainly was.

For the past thirty years, this aspect of the ban — along with Rose’s own personal popularity, particularly among baseball fans from Cincinnati and fans who came of age in the 60s and 70s — has served as something of a lightning rod.

There aren’t a lot of people who clamor for Rose to get another managing job or to take some other position within the game and, at this point, Rose is too old to realistically get that chance. Age aside, Rose reportedly makes a million dollars a year or more signing memorabilia and making personal appearances, so he has only intermittently claimed that he wants to work in baseball again. But the fact that the all-time hit leader and one of the game’s biggest stars of the second half of the 20th century is not a Hall of Famer rankles many, including many who agree that his gambling should keep him from working in the game. Even many of Rose’s harshest critics — this author included — thinks it’s reasonable to induct Pete Rose the baseball player in the Hall of Fame even if it makes sense not to let Pete Rose the currently-living human being back in the game in an active role.

Rose, however, has done much to hurt his own cause.

From the day of his ban in 1989 until 2004, Rose repeatedly, defiantly denied that he bet on baseball. His failure to be reinstated when he applied in both 1997 and 2003 was, in large part, a function of then-Commissioner Bud Selig believing that Rose had shown no remorse and had done nothing to make amends for his transgressions. It was a belief that was more than validated when, in 2004, Rose did an about-face and admitted that he bet on baseball. He did so in a book, of course, and the book was seen as a cash grab on Rose’s part as opposed to a genuine acceptance of responsibility. It’s also worth noting that Rose continued to deny that he bet on Reds games, despite the fact that there is copious evidence suggesting that he did.

Rose made one more stab at reinstatement in 2015. At the time it was thought by many that, at long last, he’d be allowed back in the game, but Rob Manfred refused, mostly because Rose continued to be dishonest about his behavior while managing the Reds. From Manfred’s report:

In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self­-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989. Absent such credible evidence, allowing him to work in the game presents an unacceptable risk of a future violation by him of Rule 21, and thus to the integrity of our sport. I therefore, must reject Mr. Rose’s application for reinstatement.

Manfred said in a footnote that, “Mr. Rose attempted to minimize the severity of his conduct by asserting that he only bet on the Reds to win,” which was demonstrably false. He also said, “Even more troubling, in our interview, Rose initially denied betting on Baseball currently and only later in the interview did he “clarify” his response to admit such betting.”

To this day Rose changes his story about what he bet on and what he didn’t bet on pretty frequently, depending on how much publicity or money he’s seeking at a given time. In light of all of that it’s hard to see Rose’s post-1989 behavior as anything but him constantly thumbing his nose at both those who had his potential reinstatement in their hands and the fans he has played for idiots by convincing them to defend his constantly-changing stories. Stories he has been telling since the moment all hell broke loose on March 20, 1989.

Also today in baseball history:

1934: Babe Didrikson — the Olympic gold medalist and founder of the LPGA, who also excelled in basketball and multiple other sports — gives up no hits and walks one when she pitches the first inning for the Philadelphia A’s against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a spring training game at McCurdy Field in Frederick, Maryland. She would go on to participate in exhibition contests with the Indians and Cardinals as well.

1973:  In a special election, the Baseball Writers Association of America elects the late Roberto Clemente to the Hall of Fame. The Hall’s Board of Directors had earlier waived the five-year-wait rule for Clemente, who was killed on New Year’s Eve 1972 with four others when a plane carrying supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua crashed into the sea.

1961: The Yankees announce they will not allow the newly-created National League expansion franchise to use Yankee Stadium until their own stadium is built. This decision causes the New York Mets to play its games in the Polo Grounds until Shea Stadium opens in 1964.

2002: Bud Selig announces that teams will continue the practice that began after the September 11 attacks of singing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, though he limits the mandate to each team’s first homestand. Multiple teams continue the practice in every game regardless, with many still doing so over 18 years later.