The hits keep on coming.

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Pete Rose Gets Even Harder to Defend

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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ESPN's "Outside the Lines" has obtained a notebook that indicates Pete Rose bet on baseball while he was a player, including on the Cincinnati Reds while he was a member of the team. This could dash any slim hope he had for reinstatement to Major League Baseball, the first step toward his being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To clarify: This revelation doesn't come as news to many who long suspected Rose bet on the Reds as a player. Baseball's all-time hits leader has always maintained that his gambling occurred only while he was a manager, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of gambling addiction should have been skeptical. There was also sworn testimony by his bookie that Rose bet on the Reds from 1984 to 1986, his final years as a player. The notebook is, however, the first documented proof dispelling Rose's claims.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been more open than his predecessors to hearing out Rose in his application for reinstatement, submitted in March. Manfred later announced he would allow Rose to participate in festivities for the All-Star Game in Cincinnati in July; we'll see if this new evidence affects that decision. MLB is in the process of reviewing Rose's reinstatement case, and has yet to comment on ESPN's report.

It's another matter how this evidence is judged in the court of public opinion. That Rose bet on games involving the Reds will be a breaking point for many fans. There's no evidence that he bet against his team or that he threw games out of gambling concerns, but that's beside the point. MLB rules don't distinguish between bets as a player or as a manager, nor do they distinguish between bets for or against one's own team.

The notebook will probably be the final straw for some Rose supporters who can no longer defend his lying. Of course, the question then is what makes this lie worse than all the others he's told in the past three decades. If you thought Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame before Monday, this revelation doesn't really change the substance of that argument, just its optics.

Perhaps the future of Rose's reinstatement bid lies in those optics. The substance of the documents might not be new to Manfred's office, but the revelation of another lie supports the view that Rose hasn't sufficiently reformed his attitude or his lifestyle. When Commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose from the game in 1989, he said he would keep an open mind for the prospect of reinstatement so long as Rose changed his ways. "The burden is entirely on Mr. Rose to reconfigure his life in a way he deems appropriate," Giamatti said.

That standard was upheld by commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig. Meanwhile, Rose has hardly seemed to have eradicated gambling from his life; he lives in Las Vegas and told the Wall Street Journal he bets on other sports. His pattern of getting caught in a lie seems to render his campaign for reinstatement less viable.

And that really speaks to the heart of why gambling, not Alex Rodriguez, remains baseball's No. 1 scourge: perception. It's not about whether Rose actually bet on or threw individual games -- it's about the hundreds of thousands of dollars of going to mob-connected bookies that could potentially put you in the position of having to throw future games. It's about baseball never returning to those post-Black Sox years when the decline in trust in the game threatened its very existence. 

Wherever you fall on Pete Rose, this latest report doesn't provide much new evidence to change your stance on his Hall of Fame credentials, but it might change how you feel about continuing to support a man who makes it ever more difficult to keep coming down on his side.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net