As of 16 March 2015 the question of whether Pete Rose should or will be reinstated to organised baseball became an official issue one more time. That was the date commissioner Rob Manfred announced he received a formal request for reinstatement from Rose himself. And Manfred was clear enough that nobody—Rose’s sympathisers and opponents included—should read anything deeper into that request or his receipt of it. Yet.
“I see it as simply he’s made a request,” Manfred said on that date, while visiting the Dodgers during a round of spring training camp visits. “Part of my obligation under the major league constitution is to deal with those requests. I don’t have any predisposition.” If that’s true, the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s C. Trent Rosecrans wrote the following day, Manfred would probably stand as a party of one.
“Rose is baseball’s third rail,” Rosecrans wrote. “A topic so toxic nobody wants to take it on, lest they offend the wrong people.” Well, with Rose’s formal petition for reinstatement it’s a topic that’s going to be taken on yet again. And for such a toxic topic there seems to be no shortage of people on either side of the issue who are willing to take it on and damn the consequences, and upon just about any excuse.
Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman went two ways, for example. One moment, he said Manfred’s willingness to hear Rose out “is sensational. Rob Manfred has been more open about this than [predecessor] Bud Selig ever was. It seemed like every time this thing came up Bud bent over backwards to avoid discussing it.” The next, Brennaman said his number one concern in the matter “is that Pete keep his mouth shut and let this whole process play out. He can’t say something that’s going to hurt him, which he’s done in the past.”
In one sense, this might have been inevitable, both with Manfred’s ascension to the commissioner’s office and with this year’s All-Star Game due to be played in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. Even before Manfred took office formally in January, there had been whispers enough, once it became evident that this time Selig meant it about retiring, that the Rose case was or would likely become the proverbial elephant in Manfred’s room.
Tony Clark, former major league first baseman now the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, says he wants to see Rose reinstated. He has no power to make it happen, but he believes Rose has paid in full for his sins. “He made a decision. He made a decision that was not the right decision. He made a decision that he has paid a price for. Yes. I would love for there to be a consideration made, on behalf of the commissioner’s office, that would take that into account, in reinstating him.”
Which portion of Rule 26(d)—a rule Clark saw every day of his major league life in every major league clubhouse wherein he was employed—did Clark not understand?
(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible. (Emphases added.)
“Permanently” means that Rose hasn’t paid the price in full, that he hasn’t “served his time.” “Lifetime banishment,” which is “permanently” phrased more colloquially, means the same thing. It is absolutely fatuous to proclaim Rose has “served his time” so long as he’s still alive and still considered permanently ineligible.
“I’m prepared to deal with [Rose's request for reinstatement] on the merits,” Manfred said. “I want to make sure I understand all of the details of the Dowd report and [then-commissioner A. Bartlett] Giamatti’s decision and the agreement that was ultimately reached. I want to hear what Pete has to say and I’ll make a decision once I’ve done that.”
The details include a few that blow away completely one particularly continuous element in the argument either way, that Rose’s baseball betting occurred strictly as a manager. The Dowd Report mentions 1985, 1986, and 1987 specifically. In 1985 and 1986, Rose was the Reds’ player-manager. Technically, he was still a player when he did some of his bettings. But there’s also a school of thought tied to the “betting the Reds to win” argument. School’s out, as Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe makes plain enough:
[A] manager who only bets on some of his team’s games may manipulate his player usage in connection with his betting, using his best relievers in those games but resting them—and/or perhaps key regulars—in ones where he’s abstained. By doing so, he would be tacitly signaling that he’s making less of an effort to win those games and encouraging gamblers to bet against his team. In 2002, Dowd noted that Rose did not bet on the Reds whenever Mario Soto—a three-time All-Star who by ’86 and ’87 had declined to replacement level—started games, which “sent a message through the gambling community that the Reds can’t win” on those days. In ’07, Rose told ESPN Radio that he bet on the Reds every night: “I love my team, I believe in my team . . . I did everything in my power every night to win that game.” Dowd countered by saying that in ’87, Rose did not bet on games pitched by Soto or Bill Gullickson, whose up-and-down career included a 4.85 ERA with the Reds that year.”
Other than making Rose eligible to stand for election to the Hall of Fame—the Hall itself ruled in 1991 that players on the permanently ineligible list can’t be named on any Hall of Fame ballots—what would reinstating Rose accomplish? Allowing Manfred to establish an early reputation for compassion, whether or not it appears misplaced? (Of course.) Allowing Rose to hold a formal organised baseball job at all? (From possibly to probably, never mind that Rose is now 73.) Allowing him to hold a job in which he could have an impact on a game’s outcome? (Yes, never mind the wisdom of doing so, but Rose himself has said the only such job he’d accept would be as a manager—because base, bullpen, and bench coaches don’t make about half the money a manager might make.)
Be wary. Be very wary, as former commissioner Fay Vincent—Giamatti’s deputy during the Rose investigation and resolution—wrote at the beginning of this month, in a letter he allowed New York Times baseball writer-turned-independent Murray Chass to publish on the latter’s blog, a letter in which he also raised a spectre devoutly to be avoided:
Manfred cannot put Rose in the HOF and if he acts to reinstate Rose he is admitting he would be willing to have Rose on the field again. I have too much faith in Manfred to believe he wants to endorse Rose as a person who warrants being active again within baseball. He will not want Rose back in the game.
Finally, the Rose case presents the complex question of baseball and so-called Performance Enhancing Drugs. And any move by Manfred will bring the attention of Congress to question why Baseball is acting to weaken the deterrent to gambling. Congress will ask whether this Rose move means the users of [so-called] PEDs are also to be treated to lesser sanctions. If baseball says we no longer feel betting should keep Rose out, how can Congress not worry the users of [so-called] PEDs are next to have their sanctions reduced. Not much in baseball stands apart from other important concerns.
Our new commissioner should choose his fights carefully. He does not need to do anything about Rose. He should stand firmly against gambling in baseball and behind the effective deterrent. Not much in our world can stand the test of time as well as has the ancient wisdom of Rule 21. Bet on our game and you are gone. What can be clearer?
Vincent thinks showing Rose mercy isn’t a good reason to reinstate him. “Justice works,” the former commissioner wrote, “and mercy is often misunderstood.” At least as often as is misunderstood the truth behind Rose’s years of denials and, then, after coming clean for profit, his years since of insisting he bet on his Reds “only to win.”
Some arguing the paid-the-price-and-did-the-time factor make it sound as though Rose has been “too long” blocked from the game he professes to love. It’s been 26 years since Giamatti banished him. Swede Risberg, shortstop for the Black Sox, served 55 years when he died in 1975. Baseball went 44 years between its first gambling scandal* and the Black Sox scandal; it went 70 years between the 1919 World Series and Pete Rose’s banishment. Paying the price and doing the time seem to mean different things to different people.
* The Black Sox were banished the same year George Bechtel died. A pitcher/outfielder for the short lived Louisville Grays in the 19th century National League, Bechtel was banished 34 years before the Black Sox were.
Bechtel committed three suspect errors in an 1876 game. A few days later, he sent teammate Jim Devlin a telegram saying they could make $500 if they lost a June 1876 game. The National League banned Bechtel, and his ban stood to the day he died despite a few attempts at reinstatement.
A year later, Devlin and two other Grays, left fielder George Hall and utility player Al Nichols, were banned for taking money to throw games; a fourth Gray, shortstop/team captain Bill Craver, was banned for refusing to cooperate with a league investigation into the Grays. The Grays folded after only two seasons. It was major league baseball’s first major gambling scandal.
You can read the full story in William A. Cook’s The Louisville Grays Scandal of 1877: The Taint of Gambling at the Dawn of the National League.