By IAN WILSON
He may not exactly have been in full bloom when he came to Alberta, but Pete Rose gave us a telling look at the baseball icon, thorns and all.
The three-time World Series champion provided insights into two of his cherished pastimes – gambling and baseball – when he visited the Edmonton area on Oct. 21, 2014.
Rose was a guest of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) at their 10th annual problem gambling symposium, where he delivered a keynote address to 175 people. Originally scheduled at the River Cree Resort & Casino, the venue was later changed to the Executive Royal Inn in Leduc.
“Rose will address symposium attendees about the personal impact gambling has had on his life and career; lessons he has learned; and what he now does differently to gamble responsibly in order to avoid problems in the future,” read an AGLC media advisory about the event.
“His career is a stellar career, but also on the other side the whole story behind his gambling brings the type of profile that we were looking for,” AGLC president Bill Robinson told CTV News Edmonton reporter David Ewasuk at the conference.
The 73-year-old Rose, who came at a cost of $17,000, was certainly qualified to discuss gambling and its repercussions.
AT THE TRACK
In the book My Prison Without Bars, written by Rose with Rick Hill, the all-time Major League Baseball (MLB) hits leader recounted trips to the racetrack as a young boy betting on horse racing with his father.
“I continued to go to the track … throughout my teenage years and even more frequently after I broke in with the Reds in 1963. The track became my sanctuary – a place where I could go to relax and escape the day-to-day pressures of life. Sure, gambling was a big part of the attraction. The race is a competition with money as a prize. But while I enjoyed the races, I enjoyed the camaraderie even more. The track was filled with wonderful characters who reminded me of the folks I grew up with – folks who lived hard and played hard,” said Rose in the book, which was published in 2004.
His regular gambling activities extended into other sports, including football and basketball, and Rose eventually couldn’t resist placing bets on the game he loved.
“Finally, the temptation got too strong and I began betting regularly on the sport I knew best – baseball,” confessed Rose in the biography.
“This wasn’t a no-account playoff bet on a couple of teams I had nothing to do with. I was betting on baseball while I was managing a major league ball club in the regular season. But in all honesty, I no longer recognized the difference between one sport and another.”
Rose described himself as driven “in gambling as well as in baseball,” adding “enough was never enough.”
When word of the 17-time All-Star’s extracurricular activities circulated throughout baseball, MLB began investigating the rumours.
During spring training of 1989, Rose was called to New York for a meeting with MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, his successor Bart Giamatti and Deputy Commissioner Fay Vincent. Rose was asked if he bet on baseball at that meeting and replied: “No, sir. I did not bet on baseball.”
He explained his position this way in My Prison Without Bars: “If the Commissioner had presented evidence or given any indication of his position, I might have handled things differently. But I really didn’t believe I had a problem. I knew that I broke the letter of the law. But I didn’t think that I broke the ‘spirit’ of the law, which was designed to prevent corruption. During the times I gambled as a manager, I never took an unfair advantage. I never bet more or less based on injuries or inside information. I never allowed my wagers to influence my baseball decisions. So in my mind, I wasn’t corrupt. Granted, it was a thin distinction but it was one that I believed at the time.”
MLB’s Rule 21, however, allowed no wiggle room for Rose’s financial hobby. The rule was implemented by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, in 1927 after the Black Sox scandal disgraced the game. The rule is well-known and states that any player, umpire, club employee or league official “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.” Translation: bet on baseball and you’ll be tossed for good.
The Dowd Report, a 225-page investigation into Rose’s gambling, was submitted to Giamatti in May and later published on June 27, 1989. The document included phone records, bank statements, betting ledgers, expert reports and transcripts of interviews with Rose and witnesses to his alleged activities. The report ultimately concluded that Rose bet on MLB games while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
Rose reportedly said no to Giamatti’s offer of a 12-year MLB suspension, as well as a proposal of six years away from baseball. The two sides finally agreed to place Rose on the permanently ineligible list and allow him the right to apply for reinstatement after one year. The commissioner assured Rose’s lawyer that he had an open mind on reinstatement, but nine days after their agreement was reached Giamatti died of a heart attack.
Things got worse for Rose in 1990, when he pleaded guilty to a pair of charges related to filing false income tax returns. The Cincinnati-born baseballer failed to declare revenues from memorabilia sales and racetrack winnings, resulting in a five-month sentence at a medium-security prison and a $50,000 fine.
In 1991, the board of directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) in Cooperstown, New York voted to enact a rule that prevented players on the MLB ineligible list from being considered for entry into the HOF. It was dubbed “The Pete Rose Rule.”
Rose remained in baseball purgatory. Vincent did not support his reinstatement. Bud Selig took over as commissioner in 1992 and Rose admitted to him that he had indeed bet on baseball.
“Sir, my daddy taught me two things in life – how to play baseball and how to take responsibility for my actions. I learned the first one pretty well. The other I’ve had some trouble with. Yes, sir, I did bet on baseball,” recounted Rose of his conversation with Selig in 2002.
When he was asked why he put money on baseball games, Rose told Selig he thought he’d never get caught and that he wanted some added excitement. The 1973 National League (NL) Most Valuable Player was hopeful at that point that his confession would open the door for his return to baseball. Selig, however, felt that Rose’s lifetime ban was crucial for preserving the integrity of the sport.
The years went by and Rose remained unwelcome at MLB ballparks.
A decade after his tell-all book was published, Rose ventured north to Canada. Was this part of the reconfiguration of his life that Giamatti so desperately wanted to see Rose pursue? Or was it just another paid gig for the scandal-plagued sporting legend?
It may not have been vintage “Charlie Hustle” who showed up at the Executive Royal Inn in Leduc to chat about baseball and gambling and life, but Rose was most definitely on-brand.
Wearing a white Reds ballcap and matching white dress shoes, Rose brought his sense of humour with him to the conference room.
“Where the hell am I?” joked Rose to his AGLC audience.
“I didn’t really gamble. Where do you get that stuff?” he added, to laughs from those in attendance.
“So, I bet on my own team to win. It cost me $80 million, by the way. … if I hadn’t got caught gambling, you guys wouldn’t have had me here today.”
The comedy act was familiar. Humour was a common fallback for Rose, who used it to deflect from painful topics and inject sharp jabs throughout his life. In just a few lines, he showed himself to be both a victim of circumstance and a prized guest.
The laughs continued during his 80-minute presentation, which included a question-and-answer session.
His Alberta visit coincided with the opening game of the 110th edition of the World Series, which featured a matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals.
“No, I’m not betting on it,” remarked Rose, who predicted a Giants series win (San Francisco prevailed in seven games).
When he was asked about player salaries, Rose invoked memories of Babe Ruth’s claim that he had a better year than U.S. President Herbert Hoover.
“I don’t know what (U.S. President Barack) Obama gets paid. He didn’t have as good a year as Kershaw did,” said Rose.
It wasn’t all one-liners, however.
Rose urged problem gamblers to get help and told the crowd that he “just needed something extra” when he discussed why making bets appealed to him.
The player that was Pete Rose was known as an ultimate competitor, one who left everything on the field.
The person that is Pete Rose, the one still left on the outside looking in at the baseball world he helped define, lacks the same commitment to the game. He is viewed as untrustworthy and unremorseful.
Shades of his character flaws could be seen in Leduc. Many of his admissions were followed by deflections. The truth was linked to self pity.
“I’m the one who screwed up,” he said, before quickly adding, “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
At another point Rose noted: “I see athletes in Vegas all the time. They’re not there to see Celine Dion.”
When he spoke with CTV and Global News, Rose tried yet again to display a sense of accountabilty.
“A lot of people say enough is enough, but I don’t worry about that,” Rose told Edmonton reporters.
“I don’t worry about anything I’m not in control of, and if you ask me about the Hall of Fame, I’d be the happiest guy in the world to go to the Hall of Fame, but meantime I know I’m the one that messed up, so I can’t sit here in Edmonton and whine about it.”
If that didn’t win his doubters over, there were always more jokes.
“What was your favourite position?” came the question from the conference attendees.
“That’s a little personal, isn’t it? Everyone in this room has a favourite position, and I’m probably the only one who’s going to say first base.”
It’s a good line, but one can’t help but wonder where Rose would be if he understood the position he was in a lot sooner.