Pete Rose and the Time Bomb

We have an exercise we play at Sports Ethics, though it is hardly a game.

Pete RoseWe take a famous sports scandal, sometimes going back 75 years or more and we analyze it from an ethical perspective. In fact, we are coming out with a book on the topic in about six months. However, the intention of this blog is not to promote a book, but to mourn in a sense, arguably one of the greatest infielders who has ever lived.

When we analyze a sports scandal, we go back and research old articles and archives, piece together a timeline and construct, or rather deconstruct the incident(s). It is fascinating and also, very troubling. After putting together the timeline, we actually start to “grill” each other, taking opposite sides, as though the incident happened only yesterday. In a way, it did.

Sports Ethics teaches that every bad choice leads to a consequence; it is a point Chuck Gallagher stresses whenever he speaks to athletes, teams or associations; it is always a jumping off point in private consultation.

The Pete Rose “scandal” is one of the most highly debated “hot button” topics among sports fans. No one has been neutral about Rose. He has said on numerous occasions that he always played the game “clean.” No PEDs, no drugs of any kind. It makes his numbers even more phenomenal – and they were.

We realize that any athlete is a product of his or her era; his or her generation. It is impossible to predict how Pete Rose would fare today. Our guess is that he would still be better than most.

However, the argument is consistently silly and without merit. How would Ty Cobb (the athlete) do today or Sandy Koufax? For that matter, how would Babe Zaharias have done against Inbee Park, or “Chris” Evert against Serena Williams?

We play in our time and hence, baseball created the Hall of Fame. Had not Peter Edward Rose had a gambling problem, his plaque would have been erected years ago. Now it looks as though there will always be a blank spot on the wall.

It took Pete Rose years to admit he had a gambling problem, but he said he never placed bets on baseball; then (in changing his story) he said never placed bets on baseball before the late 1980s, but made it clear he never bet on his team. Then he said he only bet on baseball as a manager long after he stopped playing.

His fans took “the ride” with him. What did Pete do wrong, they wanted to know. Harmless betting? Who cares! Did he take steroids? Never! Did he beat women? No way. Did he get multiple DUI’s? Absolutely not. So what is the problem? Reinstate him, give him the recognition he deserves and be done with it. They urged baseball to reconsider time and again.

No escape

Back when Bart Giamatti was Commissioner, he commissioned lawyer John M. Dowd to review the scandal. Giamatti and Dowd were often painted by fans as evil people. Dowd concluded, in part, that MLB and Pete Rose should permanently end their association. Giamatti was seen as the devil himself. As it turns out, he did not deserve one piece of hate mail.

Chuck Gallagher, the expert behind Sports Ethics, LLC is not a fortune teller and he doesn’t gaze at crystal balls or tea leaves, yet something was consistently nagging at him about the case. Something was just not right. He has been teaching and consulting on choices and ethics for more than 20 years. As a young man, Chuck committed a felony and he wound up behind bars for 16 months plus probation. He had to rebuild his life. He had to come to grips with his lousy choices and where they led him. He had to be honest with himself, everyone he affected and with the world around him.

Chuck felt there was much more to the Pete Rose case, despite wanting to believe another outcome for disgraced infielder. It turns out his hunch was right.

Chuck also teaches this: an athlete who makes bad choices never really escapes those choices. An athlete in the midst of bad decision making will not often discriminate; if you can get away with “X,” you may press your luck and try for “Y,” and “Z.” Pete Rose is only one example; think about Lance Armstrong for a second, or even Tonya Harding.

A sports gambling book has just surfaced that belonged to Mike Bertolini, Rose’s former friend and bookie. It had been hidden away for years as part of a postal fraud investigation. It has come to light like a time bomb.

It would appear that Pete Rose, as a player, bet on baseball and bet on his own team from 1984 to 1986. Yes, it seems he bet on his team (only) to win. Nevertheless, the rules are very specific; crystal-clear specific. The record of these bets virtually seals the case forever.

The scandal has consistently been one denial after another. After each denial there was a discovery and each time the fans screamed that the facts don’t mean much at all.

But they do.

A hitter taking PEDs potentially affects his or her performance and statistics and may influence a game, but a player and then a manager-player placing bets on his own team brings the conversation to an entirely different level. That is why almost as long as there has been professional baseball, there have also been rules against betting. It is not a hidden rule. It is a fact.

Bad choices always lead to bad consequences. We have never seen it fail. Pete Rose could potentially be the greatest player never to be enshrined in a Hall of Fame. It may be time for all of us to move on and let it go.




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