National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 23, 2004

Betting on Pete Rose

After 14 years of lying, his contrition seems more opportunistic than full


Pete Rose wants to get back into baseball. His efforts are backed by fans, who say that his confession of betting on Cincinnati Reds games while he was the manager shows sufficient remorse. But this ignores a key fact. Rose has been banned these past 15 years only from major league baseball, from any of the 30 teams in the National or American League.

During the years of his exile, when he repeatedly lied to the public, fellow athletes, lawyers, sportswriters and probably himself by declaring that he did not bet, Rose had options. He could have suited up to coach on any one of thousands of teams on the high school or college level, in Little League, in one of the independent minor leagues, or in teams in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan or Australia, or in prison. The latter wouldn’t have been new to Rose. In 1990, he served five months in a federal cell for felony tax evasion.

Baseball is baseball, whether in Yankee Stadium, Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, Md., or Eddie Stanky Field at the University of South Alabama. If Rose’s passion for baseball is as ardent as he claims it is -- “the game I worshiped,” he writes in his new book My Prison Without Bars -- then why didn’t he use his skills somewhere else besides the big leagues?

Speaking of Eddie Stanky, there is his stirring example. After his playing days with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants ended, he managed teams for a while in the National and American Leagues. But then in 1968 he began coaching at the University of South Alabama. He cherished baseball so much that he had a no-cut rule: Come out for the team and you’d be on it. Some seasons he carried more than 45 players.

There is the example of Pepe Frias, the former big leaguer now in his mid-50s who coaches Little Leaguers in Consuelo, Santo Domingo, the impoverished sugar cane town where he grew up.

Rose, now 62, opted to live by his own rules. He defied Rule 21: “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.” In the closed-world of professional baseball, where he was one of the elites, Rose may have been seduced by the daily adulation heaped on him by the fans. Rose worshiped the game; the public worshiped him. A demigod who performed miracles with his bat -- no player had more hits -- doesn’t need to heed the rules that lesser mortals do.

In self-excusing language similar to that used by the professional moralizer and addicted gambler William Bennett, Rose says, “I really didn’t believe I had a problem.” Then, like Bennett too, he blames others. The baseball officials who banned him were “interested in punishment, not treatment. I should have had the opportunity to get help, but baseball had no fancy rehab for gamblers like they do for drug addicts.”

Instead of swinging for the fences by publicly apologizing for 14 years of lying about his gambling, and accepting responsibility for the consequences, Rose is trying to get on base with a cheap drag bunt: “I’m sure that I’m supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I’ve accepted that I’ve done something wrong. But you see, I’m not built that way. … So let’s leave it like this: I’m sorry it happened. … Let’s move on.”

To where? Presumably the Hall of Fame and a big league dugout where the Hit Man wants to be. The professional baseball fraternity -- owners, players, managers, coaches, umpires, writers -- will be deciding on whether to see all this in Rose-colored glasses or, instead, to cast a cold eye on a contrition that looks to be more opportunistic than full.

Places your bets on how they’ll go.

Colman McCarthy, who has written for NCR since 1966, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004

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