Pete Rose Discusses MLB’s Embrace of Sports Betting

Pete Rose Sports Betting - MLB Rob Manfred Pete Rose Reinstatement

Pete Rose denied he bet on Reds games for 15 years, which was a key reason he never gained reinstatement to the game of baseball.

Pete Rose was barred from a MLB career and the Baseball Hall of Fame 30 years ago due to his scandal over sports betting. For the past hundreds years at least, Major League Baseball has considered any connection between pro baseball and sports betting to be a cardinal sin, so much of MLB’s fandom supported the ban.

Now that sports betting is legal and Major League Baseball signed an estimated $80 million deal with MGM Resorts, it is no surprise that Pete Rose has strong opinions on MLB’s new stance towards sports gambling.

In a recent interview, Pete Rose was asked about MLB’s ties to sportsbook operators. His reply was, “I guess what it comes down to is baseball is now in bed with the same people who got me kicked out of the game. They can say what they want but this is all about money.”

“You’re telling me the managers have to submit their lineups to the league office so the casino can set the lines on the games? What happens if right before game time your starting pitcher has a cramp and has to be scratched? Is the manager gonna get blamed for that…for screwing up the line?”

Pete Rose is not always the most sympathetic figure. His long exile from the game he dominated is mostly his own fault, but Pete Rose has a point. In an era when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred signs big corporate deals with MGM Resorts, a casino and sportsbook operator, it is hard for the sport to take a hardline stance against gambling. Or for that matter, it would be hard to take a hardline stance against Pete Rose.

Pete Rose on MLB’s Sports Betting Deals

For his part, Pete Rose says, “Ever since I came clean. I’ve been baseball’s best goodwill ambassador. I’m out here in Vegas, spending 4 ½ hours a day, four days a week signing autographs and all I do is talk up all the positive things about the game of baseball.”

He added, “Even when I was betting, I never managed a game I didn’t want to win. I spent 28 years in the game of baseball, most of them with my hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds, whose stadium is on Pete Rose Way and I have never been in that clubhouse in my life.”

About the current Major League Baseball commissioner, Pete Rose said, “I have nothing but respect for Mr. Manfred. But I would hope with all that is happening now in baseball in respect to gambling, he would look differently at my situation.”

The Black Sox Scandal

A review of pro baseball’s history with sports betting might be helpful to understand how baseball’s purist view Pete Rose’s sins against the game. It was a hundred years ago exactly that the Black Sox Scandal played out. The 1919 Chicago White Sox, heavy favorites to win the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, allegedly were paid by Arnold Rothstein to throw the series to the Reds.

Eight White Sox players were accused of taking bribes, including Chicago outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the best hitters in the game. All eight were acquitted in a 1921 trial. During the trial, Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted he took $5,000 from the match-fixers, but later recanted his testimony. Jackson hit .375 in the 1919 World Series, but hit .286 in the losses (still a solid average).

The Major Leagues appointed Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be baseball commissioner and gave Landis sweeping powers to investigate the case. Eventually, Judge Landis banned all 8 White Sox players from baseball for life. Joe Jackson protested his role in the Black Sox Scandal until his death in 1951. The Black Sox scandal was portrayed in the 1988 film Eight Men Out, with D.B. Sweeney playing Jackson. Shoeless Joe also was a key character in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, where he was played by a young Ray Liotta.

The Black Sox Scandal was a watershed in Major League Baseball’s history. It led to a no-tolerance policy against sports gambling, because the scandal almost destroyed the game of baseball. Babe Ruth’s run with the New York Yankees in the 1920s rescued the sport, but things could have taken a much different direction in the years after the scandal. As it was, the scandal took on epic proportions. Betting on games is a taboo in any organized sport, but it became the unforgiveable sin in baseball.

Pete Rose Betting Scandal

In a big coincidence, 1989 happened to be the year the Pete Rose betting scandal came to the nation’s attention. In 1985, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s baseball hitting record with his 4,192nd hit, and eventually finished his career with 4,256 hits. It is one of the great records in professional baseball, signaling a hitter of historic proportions and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Pete Rose was a player-coach in the 1985 and 1986 seasons (and a month-plus in 1984), then served as the CIncinnati Reds’ coach in the 1987, 1988, and 1989 seasons (until August 1989). He had a winning record and, in four-and-two thirds seasons, became the Reds’ 5th-winningest manager. Yet Pete Rose had a gambling addiction and, in all likelihood, bet on Cincinnati Reds games while he was manager.

In February 1989, soon-to-depart baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, National League president Bart Giamatti, and incoming deputy commissioner Fay Vincent met with Pete Rose to discuss his gambling addiction. Ueberroth and Giamatti, who was set to take over as MLB Commissioner to start the 1989, commissioned an investigation into Pete Rose’s gambling. In May 1989, Special Counsel to the Commissioner John M. Dowd (now famous as Pres. Donald Trump’s lawyer) submitted a 225-page report on the gambling activities.

The Dowd Report

The Dowd Report was published in June 1989, touching off a firestorm of controversy during the middle of the 1989 MLB season. In the report, John Dowd wrote, “No evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds” (though John Dowd would say in a 2002 interview he “probably” bet on the Reds.) In August 1989, Bart Giamatti convinced Pete Rose to step down as Reds manager. Rose agreed to a permanent placement on baseball’s ineligible list in exchange for MLB having “no formal finding” in the case. Pete Rose would be eligible to apply for reinstatement to baseball in one year, though Giamatti said there was “no deal” for an agreed reinstatement.

Eight days after Rose stepped down, Giamatti — a heavy smoker — died of a heart attack at age 51. Many baseball people, including his successor and close friend, Fay Vincent, believed the stress of the Pete Rose scandal contributed to Giamatti’s death. In 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame voted to make Pete Rose ineligible for inclusion. When Pete Rose applied for reinstatement three years later in 1992, Fay Vincent refused to reinstate him to baseball.

Rose applied again with Fay Vincent’s successor, Bud Selig, in 1998. In both cases, the commissioner simply did not act on the application. With no reinstatement to baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame never changed its stance on Pete Rose’s inclusion in the hall. Baseball’s all-time leading hitter was barred from its museum.

My Prison Without Bars

In his 2004 autobiography My Prison Without Bars, Pete Rose finally admitted he bet on Reds games. In a 2007 radio interview, he claimed he bet on the Reds every night, because he loved his team. John Dowd disputed that claim, though his own claims were disputed by the Dowd Report. A full 30 years later, the Pete Rose betting scandal and his ban from the sport of baseball and Hall of Fame remain a hot-button topic.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 25-year federal ban on sports betting in 46 US states. Now, any state can legalize sports betting. With PASPA removed, sports commissioners and individual franchises have begun to sign partnership deals with casino operators which run sportsbooks. The longstanding taboo against sports betting is gone, at least from the perspective of sponsorship ties. Last summer, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred signed a deal over sports betting data with MGM Resorts.

Rob Manfred and his fellow commissioners would say there is a wide gulf between sports betting sponsorships and players/coaches betting on the games. That gulf involves the integrity of the game itself. Yet it’s hard to sell fans that MLB should maintain Pete Rose’s long ban when it is now in league with the sportsbooks.