Still hustling

Pete Rose hasn't changed his ways, so MLB didn't change its stance on him

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Pete Rose made it easy on commissioner Rob Manfred. If Rose had been serious about wanting to get back into baseball, truly serious, he could have had a powerful case. It has been more than 25 years since his banshiment from the game. He was a great player who unquestionably did many wonderful things for baseball. He remains a popular figure for many … and, seriously, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?

Yes, Rose could have given Manfred a few sleepless nights as he conversed with the ghosts and pondered the right thing to do.

But it wasn’t like that at all. Pete Rose still bets on baseball.

This was as easy a decision as Rob Manfred will ever have to make.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Pete Rose. Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Machine about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, and Rose was obviously the focal point. He was a fantastic player and, if this is the right word, an admirable one. He had unimpressive physical skills. He couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, had no natural grace and, despite his strength, limited batting power. He willed himself to greatness.

Beyond that, he was a generous teammate, who treated even the newest rookies with respect. Every single one of his teammates had something good to say about Pete Rose, the player. Rose was colorblind. Rose was a good friend. Rose was selfless: When the Reds desperately needed a third baseman that year, manager Sparky Anderson asked Rose to move there even though Pete hated the position. Rose immediately ran to the dugout.

“What did you get there, Peter Edward?” Anderson asked.

“A cup,” Rose said. “I’ll help the club, but I’m not risking my family’s future for you.”

Rose is a great storyteller, when he’s in the mood. He’s a funny guy, when he’s in the mood. He’s a good guy to hang out with, when he’s in the mood. Like I say, I have a soft spot for him. And beyond that, I’m on the record saying that I would vote for him for the Hall of Fame.

But all this has nothing to do with his appeal to be reinstated to baseball. Manfred had one concern and one concern only: If Pete Rose were allowed back in, would he embarrass the game?

And to determine this, Manfred needed just one piece of evidence — a piece of evidence Rose himself provided in their conversation.

Pete Rose still bets on baseball.

Oh, he does? Great. That’s a wrap, folks. Please tip your waitresses on the way out.

Are you kidding me? He bets on baseball. What possible argument for reinstatement could Pete Rose’s lawyers make after that admission? In fact: How could Rose’s representatives even let him go speak to the commissioner of baseball knowing that the guy still bets on the game? What a waste of time. What a waste of hope for all those people who loved Pete Rose, the baseball player, and want to believe he has been wronged. What a waste of everything.

Pete Rose has every right to bet on baseball, of course. He’s an adult, sort of, and he’s of betting age, and he has no association with the game. He spends most of his time in Las Vegas, and he needs the action, and gambling is an addiction he can’t or won’t break, and, yes, he has every right.

But, in betting on baseball, he HAS to know he forfeits any right to get back into baseball, right? I mean, he is not so far gone that he can honestly believe that the commissioner is going to overturn Rose’s permanent ban for gambling on the game when Rose STILL GAMBLES ON THE GAME? Rose can still see, right?

There are only two possible answers to that:

1.  He does see it but believed he could hustle Manfred and everyone else.

2. He doesn’t see it, which is probably worse.

In Manfred’s tidy little four-page dismissal of Rose’s ludicrous request he does make the point that Rose “initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting.” So that suggests, yeah, it was all a hustle — a very, very poorly constructed hustle.

MANFRED: Pete, do you bet on baseball?

ROSE: Absolutely not.

(Rose’s lawyers lean over to him and whisper in his his ear).

ROSE: I’d like to clarify my answer. Yeah, I do.

Pure lunacy. And here’s the thing: Even if you want to take the most cynical view possible — there are so many other sports to bet on. Rose couldn’t have just stuck with those sports? There aren’t enough college basketball games, horse races and Australian Rules Football games to bet on?

Commissioner Bart Giamatti, when he set the lifetime ban, directed Rose to reconfigure his life. Giamatti had so badly wanted it to end differently; he apparently had offered Rose several pretty good deals if the guy would just ADMIT he bet on baseball and get some help. Rose, at the time, was way too defiant to do anything like that.

Then, it all went bad. Rose went to jail for filing false tax returns. He had to sign a billion autographs to stay afloat. He continually lied about betting on baseball until it paid better to tell a version of the truth. He continually lied about betting on Reds games until it paid better to tell another version of the truth. Even now, Rose claims to have had a standing bet on the Reds to win, something Manfred found contrary to evidence:

“I note that the Bertolini Notebook (a notebook taken from memorabilia broker Michael Bertolini that shows Rose bets) shows that, contrary to his assertions, Mr. Rose did not wager on every Reds game. Thus Mr. Rose’s wagering pattern may have created the appearance to those who were aware of his activity that he selected only those games that he believed that the Reds would win.”

So, yes, Rose purposely DID NOT reconfigure his life for some time. But there was this thought — call it a hope — that after he turned 70, he mellowed a little. A man starts feeling his mortality, and maybe he thinks about setting things right — anyway, that’s how it goes in the movies.

But, that’s not how it goes for Rose. Whether it’s addiction, stubbornness or an unwillingness to listen, Rose still bets on baseball.

Manfred makes the point — and I agree with him — that the Hall of Fame question is a different one, one we can argue about another time. The question before Manfred was very narrow: Has Pete Rose reformed enough that his permanent ban should be lifted? This figures to be the last time any commissioner takes the time to consider reinstating Rose.

And the guy still bets on baseball. Manfred upheld the ban because there was nothing else for him to do — there wasn’t even a decision to be made. It’s a shame. Pete Rose was famous for his relentlessness. If he was 4-for-4, he wanted to go 5-for-5. If his team was down by eight, he wanted a single. As a player, he never gave up an at-bat.

As an old man, he couldn’t even stop betting on baseball for a chance to get back into the game. He gave up the most important at-bat of his life.