Baseball doesn’t trust Pete Rose. Twenty-six years after commissioner Bart Giamatti not only threw him out of the game but also gave him a road map to come back—the famous “reconfigure your life” edict—Rob Manfred became the fourth commissioner to find Rose too toxic to trust. Rose presents an “unacceptable risk,” Manfred wrote on Monday in his statement denying Rose’s third attempt at reinstatement.
Be it Fay Vincent or Bud Selig previously, the door to reinstatement has always been shut tight on Rose. What Manfred did in his blistering statement was to padlock it. Manfred wasn’t going to reinstate Rose just because he has suffered enough, which was just one of the idiotic, simplistic arguments for taking the unprecedented step of undermining Rule 21, which prohibits gambling on baseball. Nothing short of a full confession, a complete understanding of his transgressions and a complete “reconfiguration” of his life would get Rose back in the game’s good graces. It didn’t come close to happening.
According to Manfred’s statement, Rose could not remember when he began betting on baseball, he could not explain away interviews and documentary evidence that he bet on baseball in 1986 while he was player-manager of the Reds, and he admitted to still betting (legally), including on baseball, today.
Rose, who made runs at reinstatement in 1992 and ’97, told me this summer he believed this was his best shot yet. He didn’t know Manfred at all, so there was no personal history to get in the way. It was a clean slate.
Rose asked me, “Is he the type of guy that would worry about Sports Illustrated or someone blasting him if he reinstated me?”
I told Rose, “No, he’s not thin-skinned that way.”
“You know how most commissioners only worry about their legacy,” he said.
I told him Manfred was a lawyer, and as such, he would take a methodical, evidentiary approach. Rose liked that idea. He actually believed the evidence was on his side.
“Believe me, I’ll tell him everything I did as a player and as a manager 30 years ago, and I’ll tell him everything I’m doing today,” Rose said. “And the chips will fall where they fall. There’s no way in the world he’s not going to understand I’ve reconfigured my life.”
Trouble was, Rose couldn’t remember when he first started betting on baseball. It sounds preposterous. Making the decision to cross to the verboten side of the game, and risking the penalties that would bring to bear, seems like such a monumental moment. How could anyone forget when it happened?
This gap in Rose’s narrative became even more damning this year, when ESPN unearthed the betting notebooks of Rose’s bookie, Michael Bertolini. Although SI had reported in March 1989 that Rose was being investigated for betting on baseball games, Manfred now had physical evidence that Rose bet as a player.
Presented with the corroboration, Rose was unable to explain it away. In fact, Manfred wrote that Rose “made assertions ... that were directly contradicted by the documentary evidence.”
When I asked Rose this summer if he still bet, he said, “I’ll bet.... Not like I used to. I mean, as far as denominations.”
After spending time with Rose, I am convinced that he feels he has reconfigured his life. In the 1980s he had slipped in and out of such dark spaces with such slippery characters that simply leaving that world behind meant—to Rose—that he had met Giamatti’s mandate for reinstatement. “When I made my mistakes, I was betting illegally,” Rose said. “I haven’t made an illegal bet since 1988. That part of my life is gone.”
Baseball needed to see more from Rose than just staying away from illegal bookies. Manfred’s statement makes clear that baseball wanted to see that Rose sought professional help for his gambling, that he understood the gravity of Rule 21, that he took ownership of betting on baseball as a player and that while seeking reinstatement and the trust of baseball he could at least stay away from betting on the sport, even legally. None of it happened.
Now that Manfred has spoken so clearly, the Baseball Hall of Fame is unlikely to change its own position on Rose. The Hall amended its eligibility rules in February 1991, just months before Rose was supposed to appear on the baseball writers’ ballot for the Hall for the first time. It decided then that any player on baseball’s ineligible list would be ineligible for the ballot.
Though Manfred’s decision has no direct bearing on Rose’s Hall of Fame eligibility, for Rose it effectively bolts shut the door to Cooperstown as well. I brought up this possibility to Rose. He turns 75 on April 14. His slim chance at standing at a rostrum in Cooperstown one day and making an acceptance speech just grew slimmer. What if that day never comes?
“No, it doesn’t get much easier,” he said. “I don’t want you to sit here and think before I go to bed at night I’m going to pray that I go to the Hall of Fame. To be honest with you, I’m going to pray that I get up tomorrow morning. Seriously. Because I’m 74 years old, and there’s a hell of a lot more behind me than in front of me.
“What good is the Hall of Fame going to do me if they put me in after I die? For my kids? Because my kids and my grandkids, I think they have an idea of how happy I would be if I went into the Hall of Fame [as opposed to] a year after I die where they have to be up there without me. You understand what I’m saying?”