Baseball Is Hard on Pete Rose But Goes Easy on Gambling
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to uphold Pete Rose's permanent ban for gambling should come as no surprise. Even for those who think the ban should be lifted so the all-time hits leader would be eligible for the Hall of Fame, Rose has made it increasingly difficult to defend him.
Since his initial ban in 1989, the league has left open the possibility of Rose's reinstatement, if he reforms his ways and rids his life of gambling. Rose hasn't just failed to show adequate contrition. He's also been quite brazen in flaunting his Las Vegas lifestyle, maintaining a constant presence at autograph signings and paid appearances in casinos.
It seemed MLB was extending an olive branch this year, when Manfred not only agreed to hear Rose's case for reinstatement but also announced that the league would allow him to participate in July's All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati, where Rose spent 19 of his 24 seasons. Then in June, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" obtained documents that detailed Rose placing bets on the Cincinnati Reds while a member of that team, a charge he had repeatedly denied. Still, Rose was at the All-Star Game, and Manfred agreed to go ahead with their meeting in September.
At that meeting, according to Manfred's report, Rose eventually admitted he still bets on baseball to this day, having tried to deny it earlier in the conversation. Even as someone who thinks Rose's numbers have more than earned him a place in the Hall, I can see how his attitude and actions cause many, including senior MLB officials, to want him nowhere near the league. But his Hall of Fame eligibility is dependent on his reinstatement to the league, so the two are inextricably linked. It would be a fair compromise to induct him into Cooperstown while maintaining his distance from the game, but that's not how the ban works.
Manfred was put in a difficult position. Common sense and stats might say that Rose deserves to be in the Hall, but his failure to present "a reconfigured life" absent of gambling gave the commissioner no choice. That said, let's take this as an opportunity to shed skepticism on the cardinal rule underlying Rose's decades-long banishment, on the idea of gambling as baseball's original sin. There's a story behind such attitudes toward betting in baseball: the 1919 Black Sox scandal that nearly brought down the entire sport; the damaging effect it has on fan interest; the introduction of unsavory characters and a criminal element to a $9 billion business. But we also know that MLB itself doesn't hold fast to "No Gambling."
If it did, the league wouldn't have an extended contract with DraftKings, the daily fantasy site in which MLB owns an equity stake and which also has deals with at least 27 teams. And Manfred wouldn't be working so hard to sell a "clear legal line" of gambling that puts DraftKings on the right side. As recent legal challenges have shown, that line is anything but clear. It certainly isn't clear to the State of New York, where MLB is based and where a state Supreme Court judge granted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman an injunction to halt DraftKings and its competitor FanDuel from continuing operations in the state.
It's easy to see from Rose's past and present actions why Manfred shows little sympathy toward him in the report on the decision to uphold the ban. Rose is an easy villain for the league to show that it's "tough on crime," without actually getting consistently tough on the offense at hand. (It found an even easier villain in Alex Rodriguez.) But just as MLB won't separate Pete Rose the player from Pete Rose the man in considering his reinstatement, we shouldn't let the league continue to draw a convenient line between two types of gambling.
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