So it looks as though, finally, Baseball has closed the door on Pete Rose’s reinstatement, locked it, and thrown away the key for good. Did anyone seriously expect otherwise? Maybe those people with big hopes who believe in the kind of magic that changes hardened hearts and minds—maybe they thought there was a chance. Pete’s suffered enough, they say—25 years is a long time, too long. C’mon, he’s the Hit King™, for cry eye, one of the greatest players in baseball history. There are lots worse guys than Pete in the Hall of Fame. Give the guy a break, would ya?
For those of us who, for better or worse, are grounded in the Realpolitik of the everyday world, though, this outcome was always a foregone conclusion.
The wailing of Pete’s most ardent apologists notwithstanding, I think most people are very comfortable with this (presumably) final decision. Pete has repeatedly shot himself in the foot on this subject from the word “go”, up to and including his September 24 meeting with Manfred, during which Pete not only denied any memory of betting on games he was involved in as a player, a fact which had been revealed in an ESPN report earlier this year, but also, in horrifyingly clueless fashion, admitted that he still likes to gamble on baseball these days.
Maybe there was no way Rob Manfred was ever going to let Pete back into the game under any circumstances, but Pete’s admissions in their meeting made this a far easier task for Manfred than he had a right to hope for.
But this no-brainer decision was not just about Pete Rose. It was also about maintaining the global integrity of Baseball’s position on gambling on ballgames. After all, what would have happened had Manfred relented and let Pete back in? Wouldn’t Baseball have to let back in everybody else who’d ever been declared permanently ineligible for gambling, including all the Black Sox? And wouldn’t Baseball have to forego the permanent ineligibility death sentence, which has been etched into its rules for a century, for all future in-game gambling incidents that might arise? And if Baseball simply ignored such inconsistencies and decided that Pete Rose was a special case for whatever reason, wouldn’t they have to explain and defend that decision over and over again in the public square in perpetuity? That scenario represents a parade of horribles that Baseball wisely wanted no part of. Regarding the situation in that light, it’s easy to see why his continued banishment was a fait accompli.
Of course, Baseball has a huge skeleton in its own closet when it comes to their current relationship with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) behemoths DraftKings and FanDuel. For the moment, Baseball can still maintain that DFS is, as the industry mantra goes, a “Game! Of! Skill!“, although a recent decision by the New York Supreme Court begs to differ on that point. (DFS sites are currently still operating in New York under a stay of injunction while the decision is being further reviewed.) Whether the ink-stained wretches go after Manfred on their DFS connection and hold his feet to the fire in the wake of the Rose decision remains to be seen.
None of that matters as it relates to Pete Rose, though. That particular horse has left the barn, and it ain’t coming back.
Below is a re-posting of an article we originally published in April, after the announcement that Pete would join FS1’s major league pre-game coverage, in which we originally presented our case that not only would Baseball not reinstate Pete this year, but they in fact can never, ever reinstate Pete Rose.
It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.
In the FoxSports.com article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement. ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”
If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests. At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in. But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Pete says: I never bet on my team to lose.
We’ll probably never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to. In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.
I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes. It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been, perhaps in part because I grew up in Detroit as an American League fan. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.
And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he will be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, will ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rule intact, they are duty-bound to keep him out.
(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. But then Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception just for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that exercise.)
I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated by Baseball so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(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.
This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets. Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban. Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility. Not a “lifetime ban”, mind you. Permanent ineligibility. That’s substantially different.
Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat. Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played and the 785 games he managed. No major league player since since the 1920s can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.
To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including a few of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee. But it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain this penalty for future infractions. They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.
Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the whole of the sport, including on all the actual baseball games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continue reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.
Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose? Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them? Where is the “there” there?
I don’t think there is a “there” there. Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although this exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose into Baseball’s business when it feels like it, and Baseball can do nothing but grin painfully and say “be my guest” while they do so. So the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of any perceived weakening of its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us. We promise to be good boys.
I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox. If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and forever.