Evidence that Pete Rose gambled on baseball as player should doom reinstatement bid

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In this Sept. 11, 1985, file photo, the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose rounds first base after hitting a single to break Ty Cobbs’ record for career hits at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. | AP

BY DAN McGRATH

For the Sun-Times

The ‘‘Eight Men Out’’ of Chicago Black Sox infamy now can field a full nine-man team.

And Lance Armstrong has company as a disgraced jock who aggravated his crimes against the integrity of his sport by chronically lying about them.

Pete Rose’s spot in the lineup of those permanently banished from baseball for gambling on games was solidified Monday with the disclosure that ESPN’s ‘‘Outside the Lines’’ had obtained records indicating Rose bet on baseball during his second tour as a player with the Cincinnati Reds.

For 11 years, Rose has maintained the gambling activities that got him banned from the game in 1989 took place while he was the Reds’ manager. And it wasn’t until 2004 and the publication of a cloyingly self-serving memoir that Rose admitted to betting on baseball at all.

This development shoots down the argument that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame as a player because his innumerable on-field accomplishments as baseball’s Hit King outweigh his acknowledged transgressions as a manager.

Sorry, Pete. You weren’t above the rules you flouted for the last few years of what had been a storybook career.

Rose’s defenders likely will remain unmoved by this revelation, arguing that a 26-year exile from the game he somewhat defined is punishment enough. They’ll question the fairness of that exile when acknowledged steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez is back playing ball after a one–year ban and fellow PED proponent Mark McGwire is allowed to work as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ hitting coach.

It’s an irrelevant comparison. Rose violated the one rule that has been sacrosanct within baseball for nearly a century and has reminders posted in every clubhouse at every level of the professional game: Thou shalt not gamble.

Sure, the steroid scandals cast a stench of suspicion on a celebrated revival era and eroded the statistical underpinning that is the lifeblood of baseball. And the Hall’s roster includes some notorious misanthropes who would view Rose as a small-time, petty crook.

But as baseball learned from the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, gambling by those who participate in the game invites shenanigans that could jeopardize the public’s trust. Save for pro wrestling, wherein farce is the main attraction, no sport built on the integrity of competition can survive without the public’s trust.

Sorry, Pete. You’re done, even if new commissioner Rob Manfred goes ahead with a hearing on your petition for reinstatement.

It’s not happening.

The late Bart Giamatti was the commissioner who banned Rose. Fay Vincent, Giamatti’s deputy and eventual successor, vigorously upheld the penalty. Vincent had supervised federal prosecutor John Dowd’s investigation of Rose’s off-field escapades and was appalled by revelations that Rose owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debts to mob-connected New York bookmakers.

More than the issue of whether he had bet on baseball, the potential consequences of such reckless behavior are what prompted the severity of Rose’s punishment. The Dowd report makes that point abundantly clear, but very few of Rose’s defenders ever bothered to read the document. It’s a damning indictment of Rose’s train-wreck personal life and penchant for surrounding himself with lowlife creeps.

Bud Selig replaced Vincent in 1992 and never granted Rose so much as a hearing, adamant in his belief that Rose had ignored Giamatti’s mandate to ‘‘reconfigure his personal life.’’ You think? Rose lives in Las Vegas, represents a memorabilia shop connected to a casino and thumbs his nose at baseball by turning up in Cooperstown, New York, every summer to hawk his wares at an improvised stand mere blocks from the Hall of Fame during induction weekend.

He knows exactly what he’s doing. For all his aggrieved-party posturing, Rose’s status as an exile gives him a cachet he couldn’t claim as one of 69 living Hall of Famers. Being an outcast is actually good for business. And with Pete, it always has been about the money.

I write of this latest blot on his reputation with no particular relish. Rose was a joy to watch and nearly as much fun to cover: always accessible and unfailingly self-centered, but possessed of near–genius insights developed from careful study of a game at which he succeeded through effort more than talent.

But that hard-earned success emboldened him to live beyond the rules. Arrogance might have fueled his indomitable drive on a baseball field, but it has been his undoing away from the game.

The Hit King has become a pathetic, pitiful caricature of a sports immortal. And it’s sad.

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