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, Rose says: I never bet on my team to lose.
We’ll 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. 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 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, 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 rules intact, they have to keep him out.
(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that.)
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 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”. But permanent ineligibility.
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 in and the 785 games he managed in. No one 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 many of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee, but it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain such 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 sport, including on all the current games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continuing 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 the exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose in Baseball’s business when it feels like it. And the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of its weakening 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 probably forever.