“More than anything, his brazen, unadulterated, unapologetic pursuit of money has been both his ruination and kept him from being able to truly re-configure his life in the way that Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti meant it.” – John Erardi, Cincinnati Enquirer
On today’s date, August 23 in 1989 – 25 years ago, Pete Rose was given a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for having bet on baseball games. Eight days later on September 1, 1989, Mr. Giamatti died of a heart attack. Rose’s ban was controversial to say the least, and remains so to this day. But for different reasons than when the Commissioner imposed it. Because on December 12, 2003, after years of denials, Rose admitted in a interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News that he had in fact bet on baseball, including on Reds games, and that he had admitted as much to Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig in November of 2002. The part that remains controversial is the fact that his lifetime ban has proven thus far to be just that: LIFETIME. There have been calls for years now that Rose should be reinstated to baseball, and given the place of honor in the baseball Hall of Fame which he as the Major League life-time leader in base hits – he collected 4,256 of them – surely entitles him. That is another question which I shall deal with shortly. But since my purpose here is to bring you historical fact most of all, let me briefly do that first.
The Trail to the Ban
On February 21, 1989 Rose and his lawyers met in New York with Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and other officials. Later it was revealed that the discussion had been of Rose’s gambling habits. After Ueberroth left A. Bartlett Giamatti (below) became Baseball’s new Commissioner. Rose had been known to consort with gamblers and bet on horses and other sports frequently in spite of the sign in every baseball clubhouse reminding all who trod forth that players, coaches and managers were forbidden to take any part in
gambling on baseball games, on pain of a lifetime ban from the game. There should have been NOBODY who was more aware of that most sacred of tenets of the game than Pete Rose. Nevertheless the rumors persisted that Pete Rose had bet not only on baseball games, but on his own team, the (MY) Cincinnati Reds while he was their player/ manager. Rose denied all of this, But enough credible evidence against Rose was found to keep the investigation going. Giamatti supported an investigation by Attorney John Dowd which found among other evidence betting slips in Rose’s handwriting (according to experts) that showed bets being placed. Rose’s attorneys shot back that Giamatti was pursuing a personal vendetta against Rose. On June 25, they even got a temporary restraining order to keep Giamatti from taking action against Rose. But eventually the string ran out. On today’s date in 1989, Rose accepted a place on Baseball’s “permanently ineligible list” in return for an agreement that Major League Baseball would reach no formal findings on the gambling allegations.
Giamatti’s Death, Pete in the Wilderness
Immediately there was added controversy when at the press conference announcing the decision Giamatti answered reporters questions that yes, he personally believed that Rose had indeed bet on baseball games including those played by the Reds. Rose hotly denied this, and claimed that Giamatti had gone against the spirit of the agreement. He insisted that the agreement meant that he could apply for reinstatement after a period of one year. Giamatti said that while Rose could indeed apply for reinstatement, there had been no deal at all as to whether he would be granted his request. That would come only if Rose re-configured his life to deal with his apparent gambling addiction. But this all came to a shocking conclusion with Giamatti’s untimely death on on September 1, 1989.
And Pete has been in baseball’s wilderness ever since. He did indeed apply for reinstatement but his request was denied and has been ever since. Rose went on to consistently deny having bet on baseball for years against all evidence that he did it. And he failed to “re-configure” his life as per the agreement, instead continuing his association with the world and the casinos of Las Vegas, and other such interests. But eventually he came to accept that he would have to come clean. That same bull-headed stubbornness that had made him so great as a player despite a lack of natural gifts, finally had to give way to the truth.. that he had bet on baseball and on the Reds. He has since come clean about that, and tearfully admitted the wrong he had done to the game of baseball. But the Commissioners who followed Giamatti, first Fay Vincent, and most recently, Bud Selig have denied him reinstatement, not only for the allegations, but reportedly because they consider him responsible for Giamatti’s death.
Should Pete Rose Be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame?
The answer to this question has been argued back and forth ad infinitum, but in my opinion must be answered YES. Of course, I have my own bias, being from Cincinnati, and having graduated the same high school that Pete did – Western Hills High School. I have attended Reds games and been a fan of the Reds and Rose ever since watching him from the right field bleachers at Crosley Field in 1969. I’ve said throughout that Pete Rose was the most explosively exciting player I ever witnessed in person. And while he did bet on Reds games, it was to win. He never did anything to throw a game. Pete has payed his dues and done his just punishment. He should be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame (pictured below).
BUT… if he is not allowed in, or if as has been suggested the lords of baseball only let him in posthumously.. then he has nobody to blame but himself. Was he responsible for Giamatti’s death? Of course not. The late commissioner smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. He was a candidate for a heart attack anyway. No Pete didn’t cause it, but in the words of Giamatti’s son, Pete didn’t help either. I can’t really begrudge either Mr. Vincent or Mr. Selig if in fact they did feel that way. In much more serious matters, both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton made similar claims. Their critics, they told us, claimed that they were looking after the institution in coming after me, but they really were out to soothe their hatred of me, no matter what it cost the institution. A perfectly plausible case could be made in both cases that they were right. But they never could have gotten them if Nixon or Clinton had not given them exactly what they needed while lying about it. The same, regrettably could be said of Pete. As John Erardi said at the top of this posting, the man has been his own ruination.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 10, 2014
“It’s Time to Rethink Pete Rose” by Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 2014