AN IDOL BANNED
Pete Rose never grasped what was happening, not even when his baseball career finally crashed down upon him last week under the gathering weight of his gambling and lies and unsavory associations. Rose seemed to think that as baseball's alltime hit leader, he could not be toppled.
Rose didn't understand the gravity of his offenses. He couldn't see that he had jeopardized the integrity of the game by hanging around with known gamblers and drug dealers. His cocksure denials that he had wagered on his sport were scant defense against the 225-page report prepared by baseball's special counsel John Dowd. That report named nine people who implicated Rose in baseball betting.
The apparent end of Rose's baseball career came suddenly. At a press conference in New York City last Thursday morning, commissioner Bart Giamatti announced that under a settlement signed by Rose at four o'clock the previous afternoon, he was banning Rose for life and that the Cincinnati Reds manager was dropping his lawsuit against baseball. Giamatti said that Rose had "engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts."
September 3, 1989
It was a sad moment for the sport, yet also one of relief. For six months baseball had investigated Rose and fought in both Ohio and federal courts to bring him to a hearing.
In the settlement Rose recognized the "sole and exclusive jurisdiction" of the commissioner to handle disciplinary matters and agreed not to legally challenge baseball in the future on any aspect of his case. To the surprise of many, the agreement stated that Rose could apply for reinstatement in one year. In fact, this was not a special privilege. According to Major League Rule 15(c), anyone placed on the ineligible list can apply for reinstatement.
Giamatti took pains to point out that Rose had not been guaranteed reinstatement at any point in the future. When asked what Rose would have to do to prove himself worthy of reinstatement, Giamatti said he expected Rose to "show a redirected, reconfigured or rehabilitated life."
On Aug. 22, the 48-year-old Rose watched his wife, Carol, give birth to a girl. Cara Chea, the couple's second child. The next day, Rose was in the office of his longtime friend and attorney, Reuven Katz, to sign the settlement that would end his 27-year big league career. Rose's lawyers had met with baseball officials as far back as April to try to settle the case, but the two sides had disagreed on such basic matters as the offenses to which Rose would admit and the severity of the punishment he would receive. Baseball refused to be a party to any agreement in which Rose denied that he had bet on major league games. Rose's lawyers wouldn't accept any settlement in which their client admitted betting on baseball. After meeting in New York City in July, the two sides, deadlocked, broke off talks.
By mid-August, Rose and his family were wearing down from the strain of not only the baseball case but also the investigation of Rose by a Cincinnati grand jury for possible tax evasion. And Rose's legal bills were mounting.
On Aug. 18, Katz called deputy baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and expressed a renewed interest in settling. The two sides traded phone calls for several days, and as a final gesture of good faith, Giamatti called Katz to assure him that he would consider with an open mind any reinstatement application from Rose. Moments later Rose signed.
The settlement danced around the question of whether Rose had bet on baseball. The agreement stated that Giamatti would not make any "formal findings or determinations" on the allegations that Rose had done so, and said that "nothing in this agreement shall be deemed either an admission or a denial by Peter Edward Rose of the allegation that he bet on any Major League Baseball game."
But under questioning by reporters, Giamatti said that, without having seen any firm evidence to the contrary, he believed that Rose had bet on baseball and on Reds games. That assertion underscored the ambiguity of the settlement. The agreement stated that Rose violated Major League Rule 21, which covers a wide variety of misconduct. But which section of Rule 21 was being applied to Rose? Under Section (d) anyone found to have bet on games involving his team is declared permanently ineligible. Under Section (f) anyone found to have engaged in unspecified conduct not "in the best interests of baseball" can also be ruled permanently ineligible.
Because the settlement did not specify which section was germane in this case, the two sides were free to offer their own interpretations. Thus, Giamatti said that Rose's alleged baseball betting was one reason that Rose had been banned for life. But Rose's attorneys maintained that their client was banned under Section (f) for reasons unrelated to baseball betting—his questionable associations and the illegal wagers he has admitted placing with bookies on football and basketball games. In an interview with SI, Katz said, "Why did he agree to this punishment? The answer is that regardless of what the decision is on whether he bet on baseball, or the Reds, he was going to get this punishment. So why go through all of the torture, the expense, the damage to baseball and to everyone else, for nothing?"
At his press conference on Thursday, Rose said, "To think that I'm going to be out of baseball for a very short period of time hurts." He is the 15th person to be banned permanently from baseball. None of his 14 predecessors was reinstated.
Rose wasn't exactly contrite. "Obviously I've made some mistakes," he said, "but one of the mistakes wasn't betting on baseball." When asked if he planned to seek treatment for a possible gambling addiction. Rose paused and said, "I don't think I have a gambling problem at all. So consequently, I won't seek any help of any kind." On Monday, Rose appeared to soften his stance, telling The Cincinnati Post he would not rule out counseling.
Giamatti said he felt unqualified to determine whether Rose is a gambling addict. Katz acknowledged in the SI interview that his client "gambles too much. He has a problem." But Katz declined to characterize the problem as an illness, saying that if Rose can't cut back on his gambling, "then he has to face it. If he continues to do those things, of course he's not coming back. That's his decision." Joseph Cambra, a convicted Somerset, Mass., bookmaker who has been a friend of Rose's for several years, told SI's Martin F. Dardis that Rose "needs treatment." In the Dowd report, Rose was quoted as denying that he knew Cambra was a bookmaker, but last month The Boston Globe reported a conversation on a tape made by the Massachusetts State Police between Cambra and another bookie discussing a $6,000 bet that Rose had placed on a Seattle-Los Angeles Raiders NFL game in 1984. "Pete told too many stories," Cambra said to Dardis. "If he'd stuck to one story, he'd have been all right."
On Thursday, for the second straight night, Rose flew to Plymouth, Minn., to hawk autographed balls ($39.94 each), plaques ($79.92), bats ($229) and uniform shirts ($399.92) on the Cable Value Network. It was painful to watch Rose degrade himself
Giamatti may be the only person to have come through the Rose case with his stature enhanced. His patient handling of the situation could end up strengthening his office and the game. "The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed," said Giamatti. "Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game."