For those who missed it, the Jack Casino was recently rebranded as a Hard Rock Casino, and its opening night featured Cincinnati’s own legend, Pete Rose (now a Vegas resident), to make the inaugural table-games bet. That was appropriate, entertaining, ironic, and sad. Like having an alcoholic make the toast at a wedding.
Now 80, Pete Rose is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite having the record of 4256 career hits (shoutout to my boy, Ichiro, who is in that conversation). The reason? Because in 1989, Rose was banned from Major League Baseball for life, making him ineligible. Why was he banned from baseball? Did he drive 150+ mph on a Vegas residential street and kill someone? No!! Did he beat his girlfriend unconscious in a hotel elevator? Nooo!!!! Did he threaten to jam a tennis ball down the line judge’s f***ing throat? Not once. Did he get caught video-taping opponents? Did he get caught deflating balls (and then lie about it)? Did he jack up on steroids to boost his power hitting? Did he steal signals and implement a team-wide system to cheat his way to a World Series? As far as I know, he didn’t do any of those things.
His great sin is that he’s a degen gambler. And like most embarrassed, ashamed degens, he lied about it. Commissioner Bart Giamatti concluded that Rose bet on baseball, which Rose initially denied, but has since admitted. Many players have lied to MLB and the world. Ryan Braun lied about PEDs with righteous indignation, before eventually admitting and accepting his ties to the Biogenesis scandal that implicated a dozen big-name players. Braun was banned for 65 games, which is a lot less than life.
The PED era (cheating so rampant, involving so many players, that baseball writers had to invoke the label “era”) absolutely involved cheating affecting the game outcome. And the infamous Black Sox scandal in 1919 involved players alleged to have tanked the game. Pete Rose’s gambling fits into neither category. He claims, “I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game.” Other than MLB’s rejoinder that Rose bet almost every game, and a really weak third-party allegation that Rose strategically exempted some games from wagering, there has been virtually no disputation of Rose’s claim in that regard.
So it’s hard to fathom what an outlier Pete Rose’s penalty has been. If Bart Giamatti had not died unexpectedly just days after Rose’s ban, Rose perhaps would have been ultimately reinstated. Current Commissioner Rob Manfred denied Rose’s petition in 2015, stating that reinstatement of Rose would pose an “unacceptable risk.” Risk of what, exactly?
Vegas now has professional sports teams. ESPN now talks about betting lines, and even has a “Bad Beats” segment that is very entertaining. MLB and other leagues are embracing gambling, with sponsorship deals with casinos and gaming companies like Betfair. In-game betting apps on phones will soon be widespread, and fans in the stadium will be able to gamble while drinking a beer and eating a hot dog. The national pastime is not baseball; it’s betting on baseball. (Even a boring coin flip gets interesting if you have a bet on it!)
I’m not making any arguments that are different from what Rose’s own people have said. What I can add is my own experience witnessing degens, thousands of them over my career. If gambling is a vice (and that’s something we can debate some other time), it is one that is universal. Degen gambling is not restricted to the poor, the uneducated, or any particular racial minority. To the contrary, people of all ages, races, genders, and nations love to gamble. And the addiction that a degen has is extremely powerful, just as much so as alcoholism. If Pete Rose were an alcoholic, and consequently lied about his drinking, would he be banned from baseball for life? I doubt it.
Degens always lie, so I’m not sure that Rose’s lies merit much additional punishment on top of being a sports degen in the first place. It is no secret that I have no love for degens, but it is hypocritical for MLB to villify Rose’s degeneracy. Reading through all of Manfred’s gobbledygook, I think the only basis for Rose’s continuing ban is MLB’s stubbornness, or a slippery-slope fallacy that if they forgive Rose, they would have to forgive the transgressions of players and managers over the last couple decades. If part of the cost of degeneracy is the loss of one’s professional legacy, then so be it; I won’t lose any sleep for Pete Rose. But if Commissioner Manfred wants to read the room, then my vote is to remove the ban on Pete Rose, let him coach if some team wants to hire him, and then let the Hall of Fame voters decide his fate.
Or, if MLB would rectify the sentencing disparity the other way—by banning Jose Altuve and the other bums for life—I’m all in favor of that. I was really happy to see the Houston Astros lose the 2021 World Series to the Atlanta Braves. Sorry, Mattress Mack.