In 1989, former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent ban from baseball due to a sports gambling scandal. Why would a player who hustled tirelessly to break one of baseball’s greatest records and who played in more winning games than anyone, make that decision?
What does the legal expansion of sports betting mean for Rose’s status? Will the former batting champion ever be reinstated by Major League Baseball? Will he ever get a plaque in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame? Or will his legacy continue to be polarizing as a controversial figure and pariah?
Ohio will launch legal sports betting on, Jan. 1, 2023, and arguably, the state’s most famous athlete is banned from his sport for gambling.
What Made Pete Rose a Great Player
Henry Aaron was once asked if Rose played hard. “Does Pete hustle?” Aaron said. “Before the All-Star game he came into the clubhouse and took off his shoes and they ran another mile without him.”
Rose got every ounce of talent out of his thick-muscled body. He played every day and hated to miss a game.
“I set a goal every year to get 200 hits,” Rose said. “If I take a day off, I can’t get my hits.”
His longtime manager Sparky Anderson recognized the obsessive drive.
“When Peter has one hit, he wants two,” Anderson said. “When he has two, he wants three. When he has three, he’s greedy and wants four.”
Ironically, the traits that made Rose a great player also worked against him in his personal life. He had an unquenchable thirst for action, which led to his gambling, an addiction he fed even though he was aware that it was against the rules of the game he loved so much. It’s the classic tale of a person being his own worst enemy.
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Why Pete Rose was Banned From Baseball
Acting on tips from a disgruntled associate of Rose who had knowledge of the Pete betting on sports, including baseball, MLB assigned John M. Dowd as a Special Counsel to Commissioner Bart Giamatti for the purpose of investigating whether the Cincinnati manager bet on the sport.
In May 1989, the 225-page Dowd Report was presented to MLB, and Giamatti and his staff poured through the findings. It was clear based on Dowd’s investigation that Rose bet on baseball while in his current role as manager of the Reds. Evidence was presented that Rose bet on games his team participated in, as well as other MLB contests. It indicated that Rose had even used phones in MLB ballparks to place bets with an intermediary who subsequently submitted the wagers to a bookie.
Based on the damning Dowd Report, Giamatti summoned Rose to his offices where he gave the Reds manager his only option: come clean and accept punishment for breaking baseball’s most sacred rule. Rose initially denied the allegations, but eventually, he agreed to have his name placed on the permanently ineligible list, which meant that he would lose his managerial job and be unable to take part in baseball in any capacity. He couldn’t even attend games without permission.
On the advice of his attorney, Rose accepted the ban because MLB told him that if he did, the league would “make no formal finding with regard to the gambling allegations.” Pete believed that after one year on the banned list, he would be reinstated if he asked for a review of his case. He believed that MLB’s agreement to not formally find that he bet on baseball was a “get out of jail free” card he could cash in the future.
Amazingly, moments after Rose announced he had agreed to be banned, the commissioner held a press conference where he stated that he personally believed Rose had bet on baseball while managing the Reds. It was a shocking repudiation of the “deal” the two sides had agreed to.
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The Aftermath of the Suspension
Shortly after Rose was banned by MLB, Giamatti died suddenly. His death muddied the situation for Rose to apply for reinstatement. When Rose did so in 1992, he was denied by new commissioner Fay Vincent. Later, Commissioner Bud Selig refused to act on Rose’s application for reinstatement to baseball.
While Rose lived in exile from the game he had played or managed since he was a teenager, he continued to deny he had ever bet on baseball. He rankled some when he set up shop on the Las Vegas strip and sold his autograph to thousands of fans. He continued to comment on baseball and admitted he enjoyed betting on college sports and the NFL, as well as the NBA.
In 2004, Rose released his autobiography My Prison Without Bars. In it, he admitted that he had indeed bet on baseball while he was a manager, including games he managed. Rose insisted he never bet against his Reds and explained that he did not manage in ways to impact odds or put his team at a disadvantage.
“I bet on my team every night,” Rose said in a 2007 interview. “I didn’t bet on my team four nights a week: I bet on my team to win every night because I loved my team, I believed in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game.”
Rose’s reputation suffered after his admission of guilt, but in Cincinnati — his hometown, and where he helped the Big Red Machine win two World Series titles, had a famous 44-game hitting streak, and set the all-time hit record — he remained a legend.
How MLB’s Embrace of Legal Sports Betting Impacts Rose
Should Legalization of Sports Betting Mean Baseball Should Forgive Pete Rose?
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that barred legalized sports betting from expanding in the country. As of June 2022, more than two dozen states have legalized some form of sports betting. Ohio will be the fourth most populated state to have a regulated sports betting market when it launches on New Year’s Day 2023.
In recent years, most professional sports leagues, including MLB, have forged partnerships with sports betting brands. Individual teams can do so also.
In April 2022 when it was announced that an active Rockies player was signing a deal as an ambassador of a sportsbook, Rose responded.
“There’s nothing illegal in that, is there? … I just came along at the wrong time. I made a mistake, and I paid for it. I bet on my own team to win. If I was around today nobody would think anything of it.”
But Pete ignores the fact that what he did was different than promoting a sportsbook. Rose bet on games in which he had a role — an important role. He made out the lineups, performed the pitching changes, etc. While it’s probable that Rose never bet against his Reds, what if he had gotten into a spot where he owed a bookie a lot of money? Was Rose beyond reproach?
The reason MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and other leagues have stringent rules on betting is so there can never be any question about whether a contest is legitimate.
Is it Ever Okay for Athletes or Coaches to Bet on Their Sports?
No pro sports league in North America allows the individuals involved in its games to wager on the league. An umpire cannot place a bet on MLB games, even if the game takes place 1,200 miles away. A basketball coach cannot bet on the NBA, and even a hockey equipment guy is barred from wagering on the NHL, at any time. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the 2022 season after gambling on NFL games he was not playing in.
It’s not a good idea for a baseball manager to be betting on MLB, or even associating with bookmakers. It’s not wise for a professional football player to bet on games, whether he plays in them or not.
There’s too much at stake for leagues to allow betting from within their ranks. All it takes is one scandal to destroy the credibility of the sporting competition.
AP Photo/John Minchillo