Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pete Rose's Ban- 20 Years Later

There may not be a more polarizing figure in all of sports than Pete Rose. There are some who might be just as polarizing (Michael Vick?), but no one is more so.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Rose's ban from baseball by then Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. As part of the banishment, which Rose agreed to, Rose admitted that there was "a factual reason for the ban" and in exchange, MLB agreed to make no formal finding that Rose had bet on baseball. After taking his place on the Permanently Ineligible list, Rose had the right to appeal for reinstatement after one year.

20 years later, Rose still has not been reinstated.

Sports anniversaries mark time for writers, talking heads and every Joe, Bob, and Frank to voice an opinion about any particular topic, and this one is no different. Two baseball writers I enjoy tremendously have weighed in on the topic. Joe Posnanski writes that after 20 years, it's time to forgive Rose and allow him back into baseball. Jayson Stark writes that Rose still isn't in the Hall of Fame, and he never will be.

I take a harder stand on Pete Rose than either of these men. He's not in the Hall, he's not allowed in baseball, and he should never be allowed to do either.

It's there in every clubhouse in the major leagues. 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."

You can't bet on baseball. Betting on football or basketball or horses or Popes isn't great, but it won't get you banned. Betting on baseball will. And Pete Rose did that. A lot.

The point isn't even one worth arguing. The Dowd Report offers painstaking detail and irrefutable proof that Rose bet on baseball, and in fact on the team he was managing, the Cincinnati Reds. (Note: I haven't read the whole Dowd Report, unlike the Mitchell Report... I have read the highlights though). Even after years of trying to refute the findings of the report, Rose admitted in 2004's My Prison Without Bars that he had in fact bet on the game that made him famous.

This fact, absent anything else, gives merit to Rose's place on the permanently ineligible list. And I am so sick and tired of hearing fans and media types alike whine about steroid-using players potentially winding up in the Hall of Fame, when Rose won't be there, and that this is such a crime. I could not disagree more. None of the players who took steroids put the integrity of the game itself in peril. The integrity of the record book? Yup. Of themselves? You bet. But the game? No. Everyone who used some sort of PED did it to try to perform better. Why did Pete Rose bet on baseball? To help his team win? Hardly.

Rose apologists point out that he never bet against his team. Hmm. Let's look at that a bit closer. Let's say this is true. The Dowd report also notoriously outlines how Rose usually did bet on his team- except when two pitchers, Mario Soto and Bill Gullickson, were scheduled to start for the Reds. So if he bet on his team every game, except when those two started, what message does that send to others betting that game? That's an implied bet against your own team if ever there's been one. Dowd also has publicly stated that he believes Rose bet against the Reds, but was unable to substantiate it enough to include in his report. (Note: that links to a story written before Rose's book confession).

So Rose is guilty of the crimes, no doubt about that. But what about 'second chances,' like we've heard so much about recently because of the other polarizing figure I've mentioned, Michael Vick.

I read an interesting article in Time about a month back about the last days of the George W. Bush Presidency, and how in that time, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed extremely hard for a pardon for his aide Scooter Libby, who was convicted of obstructing justice in the Valerie Plame CIA leak affair. The case is complicated and covers many of the shadowy areas of the political game, but basically Scooter Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff, lied to the federal government about his role in the whole case, and was convicted of the associated crimes.

Cheney pushed hard for a pardon from Bush. Because of the relationship between the two men, Bush considered Cheney's request carefully, and dutifully researched the basis on which a pardon can be granted. From the Time article we learn "(The criteria for a pardon are): accepting responsibility for the crime, doing time and demonstrating remorse. 'Pardons tend to be for the repentant,' says a senior Administration official familiar with the 2007 pardon review, 'not for those who think the system was politicized or they were unfairly targeted.'" The other way a pardon can be granted is for a miscarriage of justice.

So there's the standard. If the President (or in this case, Commissioner) is to grant a pardon, some key expectations need to be met. Which of these has Rose met? He's been out of baseball 20 years, if that counts as time served, but that's it from what I can see.

And I'm not counting that 20 years as time served. You know why? Because for 15 of those years, Rose went around lying about his activities. He lied to you, he lied to me, he lied to all of us. He wrote a book in which he lied, he looked into the camera on countless occasions and lied, and he had no remorse for lying.

Then, in 2004, with perhaps a ray of light on the horizon, Rose decided to tell the truth. Did he have a press conference to announce his confession? Did he sit down with Bob Costas or Jeremy Schaap or Peter Gammons? No. He wrote a book, then tried to use the confession as the driving force to sell the book. Then, he released it the same weekend as the 2004 Hall of Fame inductee announcements, stealing the stage from Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley, two men who had legitimately battled their own vices and came out stronger on the other side. All the while, Rose has made no changes in his life. He hasn't quit going to the race track or gambling on other sports, he hasn't acted repentant or sorry or anything. Contrition? Remorse? Please, save it.

What about miscarriage of justice? Was Rose treated unfairly? The rules of baseball, and precedent, suggest no, he was treated exactly as he should have been.

In the Scooter Libby pardon situation, after the accused showed zero expression of remorse or contrition, Bush put the question plainly to a top deputy on the matter, saying "What's the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?"

The lawyer replied affirmatively.

"O.K., that's it," Bush said.

Say what you want about George W. Bush, but he is a man of principle. And seeing no reason to grant a pardon to someone who had been treated fairly, Bush let the punishment stand.

Likewise, there is no reason at all for Bud Selig to do anything for Pete Rose except to let the punishment stand.

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