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Pete Rose: A Fisking

I’m a couple weeks late with this, but there was a piece by Allen Barra in the Village Voice last month that may have been the most wrong-headed thing I’ve ever seen written about the Pete Rose situation. At first I thought the normally level-headed Barra, the only writer I can think of who writes regularly for the Voice, the Times, Salon, and the Wall Street Journal, was composing a parody of the pro-reinstatement side’s arguments, but apparently he was serious. Ergo, a fisking:

Forty years ago Vince Lombardi, head coach of the NFL champion Green Bay Packers, informed his defensive coordinator, Phil Bengtson, that Commissioner Pete Rozelle was suspending Paul Hornung, the game’s biggest star, for betting on football games (including betting on his own team, the Packers, to win). “A full year’s suspension?” Bengtson gasped, as recorded in his book, “Packer Dynasty.” He was stunned. “Isn’t that pretty severe?” No, as it turned out, a year was just enough. It straightened Hornung out and served as a warning to other NFL players who were known to have bet on or were suspected of betting on pro football games.

There are, however, two big differences between the Hornung and Rose cases: One, Hornung quickly admitted guilt after he was caught, and didn’t spend more than a decade lying about it as Rose has. And two, baseball has a particular event in its past, the 1919 Black Sox scandal, that makes it specifically sensitive to gambling-related malfeasance in a way that football is not.

If Pete Rozelle had been baseball commissioner at the time the Pete Rose betting scandal broke, how much better off everyone associated with baseball, from the commissioner’s office to the fans, would be.

What, just ’cause they had similar names, you think Rozelle would’ve let Rose off? Don’t bet on it- baseball’s rules clearly state that if you place a bet on your own team, you’re banned for life- and there was even more evidence of Rose’s guilt than there was of OJ’s.

Instead, the Rose versus Major League Baseball horror show has now lasted through three commissioners and dragged on for nearly a decade and a half. Like a Balkans border dispute, it continues to flare up into ugliness just when everything seems to be settled.

This is one of three geopolitical metaphors used in the piece, none of which make much sense- let’s not make the Rose case sound too important, it’s not like it’s caused any deaths. Except for, some would say, Bart Giamatti’s.

On August 12, hundreds of thousands of baseball fans, thanks in large part to the Internet, started buzzing with the news that had posted an article by Derek Zumsteg and Will Carroll reporting that Pete Rose and MLB “have reached an agreement that would allow him to return to baseball in 2004.”

That story has by now been totally debunked and discredited, and it’s a wonder anyone believed it in the first place.

Once again, baseball fans had underestimated MLB’s talent for fouling a fat pitch off its own foot. Many fans had yet to hear the details of the alleged agreement when MLB Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy released a statement on that read in part, “The story that appeared on the Baseball Prospectus web site today regarding the return of Pete Rose to baseball in 2004 and the alleged written agreement that had been reached by Rose and Commissioner Selig is unsubstantiated and totally unfounded.”

The Prospectus reported that baseball had agreed to reinstate Rose, and opened the door for allowing him to be a manager again in the future, without requiring him to admit that he bet on baseball. Which would be like some obscure website reporting that Israel had agreed to give up the entire West Bank, without the Palestinians agreeing to renounce terror, and CNN picking up the story- but oops, there we go again with the geopolitical metaphors.

For many fans, the aftershock came in two stages: first, disappointment that Rose wasn’t back in the game, and, second, anger that MLB hadn’t simply used the occasion to, as one of the first callers discussing the matter on WFAN put it, “say it was true—even if it wasn’t.”

But why would baseball do that, after maintaining all year long that the matter would be dealt with after the season? Why admit that they were “scooped” by a website, especially if they weren’t really? And since when were the callers on WFAN the paragon of fairness, virtue, and baseball savvy?

It also isn’t the kind of story that usually deals in. The site is regarded as a very reliable source for news on trades, injuries, and financial information. “This was just too good a story to pass up,” says Carroll. “It fell right into our laps, and after thoroughly checking it out, we saw no way we could ignore it.”

Another reason to not believe the Prospectus- how could such a major story fall into their laps, when they’re not even really reporters, and be missed by Gammons, Stark, Neyer, Verducci, and everyone else?

Carroll adamantly tells the Voice that “we have four very good sources who have confirmed the existence of a written agreement, including two from inside MLB and one from within the Reds’ organization.” Carroll says a “memo had been found with a copy of the agreement signed by someone in the MLB office who has been publicly denying the existence of the agreement.”
So someone left it lying around the MLB offices and a rogue staffer leaked it? I guess it’s only a matter of time before we get Selig’s version of The Plumbers.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the agreement as read to them specified that Rose will be removed from the permanently ineligible list; he’ll be eligible to have a job with a baseball team during the 2004 season; and there will be no public admission of wrongdoing. A fourth term left blank the date the agreement will take place.

Once again, there’s no reason on Earth why MLB would accept this deal. They get nothing they want, and Rose gets everything he wants.

“I think,” says Zumsteg, “that the key is in the precise wording of DuPuy’s statement: ‘When a decision is made.’ In other words, when MLB chooses to finalize the agreement by putting a date on it, ‘it will be reported through the appropriate channels.’ They want to make the announcement at a time and place of their choosing.”

Since it’s baseball’s decision, whether or not to reinstate Rose, why shouldn’t they make the announcement at the “time and place of their choosing”?

The question remains, whether the agreement was written or not, why MLB continues to torture Rose, the public, and itself by not simply calling a halt to the fiasco.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe because he committed baseball’s cardinal sin (betting on games in which he participated) and has lied about it continuously ever since. Barra doesn’t even address Rose’s guilt or innocence, or the fact that he agreed to a deal which amounted to a ban from baseball.

To most Rose supporters, the question of whether or not Rose bet on the Reds is irrelevant- because it’s time to “move on,” and “forgive” him- even though Rose has of course never asked for forgiveness and continues to maintain that he did nothing wrong. If Rose admitted his guilt publicly, he could put a stop to the so-called “torture,” most likely immediately.

“It’s all a matter of control,” says Chuck Korr, a professor of history at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and author of The End of Baseball As We Knew It. “In virtually any system of law you find outside of a totalitarian regime, it’s enough for the state to simply make its case and, if the accused is found guilty, announce the punishment. In totalitarian societies, that’s not enough: The accused has to admit his guilt. Major League Baseball, as a self-governing body, is pretty much in the position of a totalitarian regime, and as such is demanding that the accused admit his guilt before sentence will be declared.”

Now I realize that academics tend to think everything in America is a “totalitarian regime,” from the government all the way down to the country’s national pastime, but much as I blast Bud Selig is an “evil dictator,” I don’t think I’d go so far as to call his administration of baseball a “totalitarian regime.” Then again, I suppose it’s long been established that Village Voice readers only respond when they’re threatened with the spectre of homegrown fascism that’s right around the corner.

Even worse, Kors makes it sound as though Rose went through some type of Kafkaesque show trial, and gets the entire chronology of the Rose ban wrong to boot: In 1989, baseball investigated the reports, found mountains of evidence that the all-time hits leader had bet on his own team’s games, and threatened him with permanent, irrevocable banishment, at which point Rose agreed to a “plea bargain”- he would accept a “lifetime” ban from the game under the condition that he be allowed to apply for reinstatement (which he has) and wouldn’t have to admit that he bet on baseball (which he hasn’t)- so his sentence was declared, back in 1989. The current negotiations are akin to a parole hearing- and indeed, convicted criminals are regularly required to admit their guilt prior to being paroled.

At any rate, funny that in order to find an academic who would give the necessary Marxist analysis of the Rose situation, Barra had to reach all the way down to the University of Missouri at St. Louis. He couldn’t find a Harvard guy to say the same thing?

Hasn’t MLB already announced its sentence with a lifetime ban on Rose? “In that case,” replies Korr, “why have both sides continued to meet? What is there further to say? The truth is we all know that the commissioner’s lifetime ban can end anytime the commissioner says so.”

Just as a convicted criminal’s sentence can end whenever a parole board says so. Rose broke a rule and is therefore serving the proscribed punishment- I don’t see what’s so “totalitarian” about that.

Bill James, who defended Rose last month on ESPN’s Pete Rose on Trial, summed up the feelings of millions of disgusted fans (or at least the 80 percent of the almost 400,000 who voted in the ESPN poll during the show) when he said, “This issue has been sitting in baseball’s ass like an undigested late-night snack for 10 years—it is well past time to pass it out and get off the pot.”

Holy mixed metaphor, Batman! I love Bill James’ writing, but the Rose case was and is his one major blind spot as a commentator on baseball. And if the snack is undigested, how exactly did it get “in baseball’s ass”? (On second thought, I don’t wanna know).

To which Spaceman Bill Lee adds, “The Pete Rose issue is baseball’s Vietnam, except the Vietnam War didn’t last as long. Baseball should do now what we should have done in Vietnam: Declare victory and pull out.”

It’s absurd enough when people compare Iraq to Vietnam, after six months and a couple hundred (admittedly tragic) American casualties. But comparing Pete Rose’s inability to get his plaque in Cooperstown or his number retired in Cincinnati with ‘Nam? There’s a reason they called Lee the “Spaceman.”

As I’ve said numerous times in this space (and this space), I would support Rose’s reinstatement (and eventual enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame) if and only if he admits that he both bet on baseball and lied about it, and as long as he is not allowed to ever manage again. But I refuse to look at Rose as any type of sympathetic figure, or believe that he has been “persecuted”: he is, as Rob Neyer called him, “one of the more despicable people to wear a major-league uniform, a convicted tax cheat and a crummy husband and father,” and a man who knowingly broke one of the game’s most sacrosanct rules.

Rose made his bed and now must lie on it- his hit record notwithstanding baseball, at the present time, owes nothing to Pete Rose.

About Stephen Silver

  • Eric Olsen

    Steve, great job on this and I agree with your conclusions entirely: in if he admits and aplogizes. I would also like to see some kind of statement on his HOF plaque that he is in as a player, and that he was disgraced as a manager for gambling.

  • mike

    May I suggest that you prowars refrain from use of the word “fisking,” as Fisk has now been completely vindicated by events in Iraq? I’ve got 87 billion reasons why he’s gloating, and why the use of “fisking” has become a perverse homage to him from the War Cult.

  • Phillip Winn

    I’m not a baseball fan, so I don’t follow things like this much. Why are so many fans convinced that Rose is innocent?

    Or is it just (as I’ve heard) that they believe that he is not alone, but is being made an example to others?

  • TDavid

    This whole Pete Rose thing is a fascinating study of a guy who played everything to the extreme. Even his banishment from the game that he so dearly loved.

    Mr. Silver – not sure if you knew this but the Baseball Prospectus adamantly stands by its reporting of Rose’s return to baseball. The writer of the infamous story was on the Jim Rome radio show and absolutely, positively would not back down from the reliability of his sources.

    It’s clear to most reasonable thinking men and women that Rose gambled on baseball while *as a manager* and it is also clear that based on his player performance he belongs on in the Hall of Fame.

    Eric – I’m curious why if Pete ever does get to Cooperstown you feel his plaque should say he gambled as a manager? What does that him gambling *as a manager* have to do with his accomplishments as a player?

    I believe the truth lies somewhere between what Bud Sehlig is saying and the Baseball Prospectus reported: that Pete is going to be made elligible for Hall of Fame consideration within the next 3 years.

    Why? Because there’s only a couple years left for the baseball writers to determine Pete’s induction into the Hall. After that it will go to the Veterans committee and the speculation seems to be that they will not be as likely to put Pete on the ballot as the writers.

    More compassion for Pete from the writers than former players, imagine that?

  • Eric Olsen

    T, just that the plaque should reflect that his enshrinement is based upon his playing career only, and that as a manager he let the game, his city, his team, himself, down.

  • TDavid

    Eric – I’m still not seeing the logic there. So if a guy writes a bestseller and then later gets put in the clink for say tax evasion, then should his bestseller carry some text blurb about how he was a great author, but he evaded his taxes?

    I don’t see the correlation between what Pete did on the field versus what he did in the clubhouse in so far as determining how he should be acknowledged in Cooperstown if he should ever actually make it there.

    Those 4000+ hits earn him a seat next to some of the others with more than questionable character like Ty Cobb.

    I do realize and agree with those that feel strongly that Pete should never be allowed to manage in the game again, but I don’t think baseball will let him into one area and not the other. They would have to make some sort of Pete Rose rule (which I guess some of the rules have changed since what happened to him, so it’s not that far fetched).

    Baseball is driven by $$$ and secondarily by its own morals and ethics and there are fans who want to see Pete — and will pay to see Pete — on the field again. Just look at the ovation he got during the All Century Team celebration. His ovation was louder than Hank Aaron’s!

    As long as that is the case, this remains a very likely possibility that he’ll be allowed totally back into the game, not just for Hall of Fame consideration.

    I wouldn’t be surprised though if we see some kind of decision on this during the offseason.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Eric, such a note on his plaque would be completely unprecedented, but of course so would allowing a gambler entry.

    I go further than most. If there is evidence that he bet on baseball and the Reds as a manager (and I’m convinced there is), he should be forever banned. If he admits it, we should forgive him AND never allow him back in the game or in the Hall of Fame.
    It’s pretty simple to me. No one will watch the game at all if they’re not absolutely sure the it is on the level. So, no one who bets on the game can be allowed in it.
    Baseball’s continued profitably derives almost entirely from its credibility. This is why we musn’t separate “clubhouse” behavior from “on-field” when it comes to gambling. The character of the people involved is not an issue.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Also, I must add that if you give a man a fisk, he will eat tonight, but if you TEACH a man to fisk, he eats for a lifetime.

  • Eric Olsen

    CC, great line.

    Here is my thinking: the writer/income tax evader thing doesn’t hold because both of these jobs are integral to baseball – two heads of the same coin, playing and managing. I would forgive, let him in the Hall specifically as a player, with the caveat of mentioning the gambling as a manager. That way he gets the recognition he deserves as a player (no evidence I am aware of for gambling on baseball as a player), yet the sin is never forgotten becuase it’s right there on the plaque, and of course he can’t manage again ever because that’s where the sin was committed.

    It’s a bit of a serpentine judgment, but I think it addresses all the main questions, and the most prolific basehitter in Major League history gets is place in the Hall, but not without an asterisk, as it were.

  • TDavid

    Did you watch the Pete Rose mock trial by chance, Eric? Despite it not meaning a whole lot, it was actually a pretty interesting and entertaining four hours of television.

    I think Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s argument made the most sense, as odd as it made seem: baseball is already full of hypocrisy. Baseball honored Gaylord Perry who was one of the dirtiest pitchers to ever play the game. Is there an asterisk next to his name in Cooperstown? No.

    An asterisk next to Pete Rose’s name anywhere that has to do with something he allegedly (though I think we all agree he is guilty) did while managing would be an insult in the face of others who have cheated and been honored for it.

    The writer/tax thing is a working analogy because if one doesn’t pay the taxes on his/her advances and royalties, what do you think is eventually going to happen?

    I will agree though that the big difference would be where if a manager of a baseball game gambled then it could disrupt the integrity of the game and threaten MLB to turn into something like pro wrestling. So there is that angle where the writer/tax analogy falls short.

    The whole Roger Maris / Babe Ruth homeroom asterisk thing never made sense to me either — especially in light of what has happened in recent years with McGwire, Sosa and the incredible Barry Bonds.

    The Hall of Fame is a sham without acknowledging Pete Rose for his hitting accomplishment.

    Get in the cage and just try to hit a 100 mile per hour fastball. I’ve tried and it wasn’t pretty LOL. I am surprised and amazed by the skills of these atheletes.

    Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, Eric. No asterisk for me.

  • Antfreeze

    The thing I never hear mentioned, and that means the most to me, is whether Pete ever gambled on the Reds to lose. As manager, he could make the decisions necessary to bring about a loss. Ala the Black Sox. While betting on them to win isn’t right, (he could presumably have used his best players to try to ensure a win), it doesn’t seem as bad somehow.

  • TDavid

    Antfreeze – that issue was raised during the trial and everybody seemed to agree that there was no evidence in the Dowd report or anywhere else that Pete ever did gamble against the Reds.

    What they did point out, though, was that there were days where he didn’t bet on the Reds and that was almost as bad because it sent a message to the bookies that Pete didn’t have confidence in the Reds to win. Which, I guess, in a twisted sort of a way was a bet for the other team.

  • Elephants in Oakland

    Time to revisit this piece as Pete Rose has a book coming out and an interview on January 8th to declare that he did indeed bet on baseball and that there is an agreement in place for Rose to return to MLB.

  • job

    tis website sucks big balls