The titillating documents revealed by ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Monday—29-year-old pages of a bookmaker's notebook—seemed to prove what those who have looked closely at Pete Rose already all but knew: that in addition to betting on baseball while managing the Reds, he bet on the game while playing, too.
While reporting my 2014 book Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, two players from the mid-1980s told me that they “absolutely” believed that Rose had bet on baseball at least occasionally while still active. In another incident, first made public in Dilemma, Rose’s mother, LaVerne, told Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Erardi that Rose had lost money betting on the Padres in the 1984 World Series. Cincinnatians have also told stories of Rose, while acting as the Reds' player-manager in '85 and '86, going to a local sports bar named Sorrento’s, where he would eat salad, drink Diet Coke and monitor the West Coast games he had money on.
All of this is circumstantial, not enough to convict in court, but seems damning. Now come the scrawled upon pages of Mike Bertolini, a former bet-runner who has long since been connected to Rose and whose conversations and other evidence were important parts of the investigation that led to Rose’s lifetime banishment from baseball in 1989. While working on Dilemma, I spoke at length with John Dowd, the attorney who led MLB's investigation in '89; he viewed the new documents for OTL and told the program that he recognized Bertolini’s handwriting. When Dowd and I spoke about Rose’s 2004 book—the quasi-tell all My Prison Without Bars, in which, after 15 years of arrogant dismissal, he admitted to all of the central findings of the investigation—Dowd said, “He pissed on me all those years, denied, denied, denied, and then in his book, he admits to everything. Well, not everything. He still made a mistake. He said that he didn’t bet while he was a player, but he did.”
Dowd echoed those sentiments to SI on Monday, calling the new evidence, "The last piece of the puzzle." For him, though, as validating as it was to see the newly released Bertolini documents, the content was not news.
In a statement on Monday, Rose said. "Since we submitted the application [for reinstatement to baseball] earlier this year, we committed to MLB that we would not comment on specific matters relating to reinstatement … I'm eager to sit down with [Commissioner Rob] Manfred to address my entire history—the good and the bad—and my long personal journey since baseball … Therefore at this point, it's not appropriate to comment on any specifics.”
Fair enough, although on Monday those near to Rose were privately grumbling and raising questions about the authenticity of the notebook pages, pointing out that they only said “Pete,” not Rose, and questioning whether Dowd was a suitable expert to comment on Bertolini’s penmanship. “I would be eager to get the opportunity to evaluate the evidence,” said Raymond Genco, an attorney representing Rose.
For Rose’s sake, here’s hoping he and his team don’t seriously go there. Rose’s horrifically botched defense in 1989 revolved around questioning minute details and picayune facts of baseball’s investigation, trying to wriggle free of guilt on technicalities rather than meet the allegations head on. With even a modicum of sincere admission, Rose might have escaped with far less than permanent ineligibility. So although Rose has continued to deny he bet as a player—as recently as last year—his best move now is to come completely clean when he meets the commissioner.
Manfred, through a spokesman, declined to comment as to how this latest development would impact reinstatement talk. Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, deeply suspected that Rose had bet as a player, which he conveyed to me when we spoke during the reporting for my book.
There has never been a doubt about the serious danger that Rose brought to baseball though his chronic gambling. But there had always been three factors held up as mitigating Rose’s sin: 1) There was no hard proof that he bet while a player; 2) He never bet on his own team to lose; and 3) Betting on his team did not influence his managerial decisions.
The first defense is now, apparently, passé. But despite extensive probing by Dowd, law enforcement officials, others in MLB and this reporter, nothing contradicts the last two beliefs. Of course with Pete, you are invariably waiting for the other cleat to drop. As J.D. Friedland, who runs Pete’s autographing business in Las Vegas, observed to me in 2013: “The way that Pete has changed his story over time bothers some people. First for a long time he said he didn’t bet on baseball at all. Then he said [he only bet] five nights a week [as a manager]. Then he said every night. So what is he not saying now?”
Perhaps Manfred will find out, if and when he and Rose meet. Perhaps Rose will finally bare all. But if past is prologue, kids, don’t bet on it.