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 also recalled to me that Rose, while the Reds' player-manager in 1985 and '86, would go to a sports bar, Sorrento's, where he would monitor the West Coast baseball games he had money on.
All of this is circumstantial but seems damning. Now come the scrawled upon pages of Michael Bertolini, a former bet runner 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, who led that investigation and who viewed the new documents for OTL. Dowd told the program he recognized Bertolini's handwriting. When we spoke about Rose's 2004 book, 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 said that he didn't bet while he was a player, but he did."
Dowd echoed those sentiments to SI on Monday. For him, as validating as it was to see the newly released Bertolini documents—which had been under court-ordered seal for 26 years until Outside the Lines obtained them—the content was not news.
June 29, 2015
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 also on Monday those near to Rose were 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 go there. Rose's botched defense in 1989 revolved around trying to wriggle free of guilt on technicalities rather than meeting 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—doing so as recently as April—his best move now is to come completely clean when he meets the commissioner. Manfred, through a spokesman, declined comment on how this latest development would impact reinstatement talk.
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 points. Of course, with Rose one is 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. For a long time he said he didn't bet on baseball at all. 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.
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