Pete Rose's Reckless Gamble

What do you mean?

If he had a wager on that night’s game, he could be more inclined to burn through his bullpen in a less-than-optimal way. He may have used pinch hitters and pinch runners differently. In an all-out-effort to win a single wagered-upon game, he could, in turn, be sacrificing the team’s chances in a number of future games. Similarly, in games where he didn’t bet at all, he may rest certain players so they are fresh in the next game, when he was wagering on the Reds.

Let’s just assume he did wager on each and every game. Then what he did is okay, right?

No, it’s still problematic from an integrity standpoint. Even if Rose were to have bet on every game throughout the entire season, he probably didn’t always wager the exact same amount on each game.

So what? The amount he bet shouldn’t matter. He was always betting the Reds to win.

Differing bet amounts are telling. If he bet $100 one game and $1,000 another game, what message is he telling his team? Or his bookie? Or himself? It shows he had fluid levels of confidence in certain games versus others. This distinction is important. For example, according to John Dowd, when certain Reds’ pitchers took the mound, Rose didn’t bet at all.

You can’t tell me what Pete Rose did is any different than the CEO of a big publicly traded company who has stock options and bonuses based on share price or other performance metrics.

I’ll try. The CEO hypothetical is distinguishable. CEO compensation schemes and employment agreements are transparent. They are filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those who are interested can read them. Illegal sports gambling is the complete opposite. Rose didn’t disclose his bets for fans, bookies, or other gamblers to absorb prior to the game’s first pitch. He only told his runner. Read this from Page Two of the Dowd Report:

Gambling is conducted in secret by its participants. Normally little is recorded and what is written down is destroyed shortly after payment of the wager. Payments are often made in cash by runners between the bookmaker and the gambler because cash is fungible and difficult to trace.

All of this was 25 years ago. Isn’t that long enough? Rose has recanted and apologized.

He has, but it took a while. He spent 15 years denying he ever bet on baseball. In an effort to sell his 2004 book, Rose finally admitted that he had. His August 23, 1989 agreement with MLB allowed him to apply for reinstatement after a one-year period.

How could he explain away his baseball gambling in his application for reinstatement?

He would have to come up with something different than some form of the “I only bet on the Reds to win” explanation. For this type of mea culpa to “work,” he would have had to (i) transparently bet on (ii) every Reds game for (iii) exactly the same amount. This did not happen. The first part of the Dowd Report included a powerful paragraph addressing the seriousness of gambling by game participants: 

Betting on baseball by a participant of the game is corrupt because it erodes and destroys the integrity of the game of baseball. Betting also exposes the game to the influence of forces who seek to control the game to their own ends. Betting on one's own team gives rise to the ultimate conflict of interest in which the individual player/bettor places his personal financial interest above the interests of the team. 

Well, despite all this, Rose should still be in the Hall of Fame for what he did as a player. He is the all-time hit king—no one else will ever get to 4,256. He has to be in the Hall of Fame!

Then he shouldn’t have bet.

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