If you were lucky enough to have seen Pete Rose in action, or if you’ve seen clips of him on YouTube, you know he played the game hard—maybe harder than anyone else—and that he played to win. He gave a full-out 100% on every play in every game…even in All-Star Games (for that one, look up “Ray Fosse vs. Pete Rose”).
Pete Rose holds 12 Major League Baseball records, the most significant one being the all-time hits leader with 4,256. He has the most career singles (3,215), runs by a switch hitter (2,165) and is tied for the most seasons with at least 200 hits (10).
No doubt, Pete Rose believed that records were made to be broken. The problem was, it seems he believed that rules were made to be broken too.
Banned for life from the game he loved.
In August 1989, Pete Rose was banned from baseball by Bart Giamatti—for life, forever—for betting on baseball. Ever since the Chicago White Sox (“Black Sox”) scandal in 1919, betting on baseball has been the sport’s one unforgiveable sin.
Today, 25 years after Major League Baseball closed the door on Pete Rose, the subject of his being declared “permanently ineligible” stirs intense feelings on both sides of the foul line, because that status is what’s keeping Pete Rose from ever being considered for the Hall of Fame.
What’s your opinion?
If you have an opinion on the matter, it probably sounds something like one of these comments from baseball fans around the country:
“The Hall of Fame is merit-based. It is a museum to honor the greatest players of all time. Pete Rose’s gambling, ethical or unethical, should not affect his admission into the Hall of Fame.”
“There are players who have taken steroids and are in the Hall. It’s a travesty that he is banned from all of baseball but steroid users can play and have been able to get away with it.”
“Pete Rose committed the ultimate sin and bet on the game, knowing the consequences. For that he is banned. The man is simply not worthy of being placed alongside greats of the game.”
“I agree that it was wrong, but it’s nuts to not let him into the Hall of Fame. Once he dies, I think they will allow him in.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee. He did it. He got caught. He admitted doing it. He got punished. Get over it.”
“Despite his gambling, I feel he should be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is ‘supposed’ to be about what you accomplished as a professional ball player, not what you do in your off time.”
Everybody has their opinion, but most fans take a position without really knowing the facts surrounding Rose, his gambling and the rule he violated.
An investigation in early 1989 which culminated in a document known as the Dowd Report led then-commissioner Bart Giamatti to impose baseball’s harshest punishment on Pete Rose. The details of the case alleged that Pete Rose bet on baseball games and that it had started around 1986 when he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. It never was implied that he had placed bets on baseball as a player—only as a manager. The investigation also revealed that he had bet on the Reds when he was their manager.
What most people don’t know is that he had a serious gambling addiction, though at the time he said he didn’t have a problem. He gambled plenty—the Dowd Report found that he had bet as much as $2,000 on individual basketball, football, hockey and baseball games. One report claimed he once owed $200,000 to a bookie in Staten Island, New York.
The investigation also revealed that Rose had never bet against his team—when he bet on the Reds, he bet on them to win. To some of his supporters, that’s a point in his favor—he never tried to lose a game he had bet on. To people against Rose, it doesn’t let him off the hook. They wonder if he indirectly gave bookies a tip when he didn’t place a bet on his team to win.
Either way, eventually it all caught up to him. And not merely the habit of betting—but the sin of betting on baseball while he was still in the game.
Is what he did so bad?
Some fans bring up the steroid era and the tainted records or achievements of many of today’s high-profile athletes. Many players suspected of using PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) are eligible for the Hall of Fame. Their names are on the voting ballots…and they might get in one day. To some, that just doesn’t seem right. If steroid cheaters get a chance to be in the Hall, they say, then so should Pete Rose!
But what most fans don’t know is this: The rule that Pete Rose broke, Rule 21 (d), is considered the most important rule in baseball and the one that should never be violated.
If you’re wondering if players know about Rule 21, the answer is yes. In fact, it’s posted in every clubhouse in the Majors. Here’s what it says:
RULE 21: MISCONDUCT
(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.
(g) RULE TO BE KEPT POSTED. A printed copy of this Rule shall be kept posted in each clubhouse.
Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and one of the great ambassadors of the game says, “In every clubhouse, the rules are posted on the door, and they specifically state: If you are caught betting on baseball, it is a one-year suspension. If you are caught betting on your own team, it is life…that’s the rule.”
Agreeing but not admitting.
Bart Giamatti announced Pete Rose’s lifetime ban in August of 1989 after MLB’s internal investigation and the Dowd Report were completed.
But what most people don’t know is that Rose willingly signed an agreement accepting the ruling before the ban was announced. Rose knew what he was agreeing to and he knew he could appeal the ruling one year later and every year after that. Many people think Pete Rose agreed to the ruling because he knew more damaging information might come out if the investigation continued.
Here’s another thing most people aren’t aware of: Despite agreeing to the ruling in 1989, Pete Rose denied then that he had ever bet on baseball and continued to deny it until 2004, when his autobiography came out and he admitted to betting on baseball.
He had lied about it all that time—15 years. He’s been quoted as saying, “I was dead wrong in everything I did. I should have fessed up when I was called into the office. But with my age at the time and two young kids, and all of a sudden I was going to lose my job, and I’ve been playing baseball since I was nine years old—how are my kids going to survive?”
What do you think now?
An online poll by CBS news in October 2014 asked this question: “Should the former star ballplayer be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame despite being banned for life for betting on games?” Here are the results.
What do other Hall of Fame players say?
In 2009, Hank Aaron, the all-time home run king before Barry Bonds broke the record (under suspicious circumstances), said, “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.” A few years later, Mike Schmidt of the Phillies said, “Yes, [betting] is a crime against baseball. But to make [Pete Rose] an example as if he were some sort of criminal, or menace to society, is ridiculous…his case should be re-examined for the sake of closure.”
There are all kinds of men in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. There are both wonderful men and terrible men. But since 1920, not one man who bet on baseball is in the Hall of Fame.
So, will Pete Rose be let in someday?
Don’t bet on it.