What we call “sportsradio” was invented July 1, 1987 with the debut of WFAN in New York City. Which means that for 28 years some of us have been yakking about sports all day and all night on the radio. And for 26 of those years, there has been what I call “the sportsradio song of summer” – the sure-to-fill the phones question, “should Pete Rose get in the Hall of Fame?”
This question usually gets tossed out during that six -week period between the end of the NBA Finals and the opening of NFL training camps when you need a go-to topic. Rose and the Hall of Fame always fills the bill. There are clear-cut sides to take and everybody seems to have an opinion.
Rose, as you know, was banned from baseball for life in the summer of 1989 by then Commissioner Bart Giamatti. And though Rose wasn’t allowed to have any involvement in the game, the Hall of Fame door was not closed at the time. I attended the Giamatti news conference to announce the banishment and I recall the commissioner being asked about the Hall of Fame. Giamatti, addressing the Hall of Fame voters, many of whom were there, said he’d be interested to see how they voted once Rose Became eligible. At the time, Rose had been retired as a player for less than three years. It would be another two years before he could even be considered.
A month later, Giamatti died of a heart attack and a year later the Hall of Fame passed a new rule that anybody who was banned from the game couldn’t be considered for induction. It took the bat out of the voter’s hands. Bummer for the voters, gold for us sportsradio guys. We now had a hot-button topic available at any time on slow days.
Over the years, my position never changed. Rose should be in. Even after he admitted in 2004 that he’d bet on baseball, he said he did so only as a manager – never as a player. As recently as April, on ESPN’s New York affiliate, he told host Michael Kay, “Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”
My feeling was that Rose should be considered only as a player and collecting more hits than anybody in the history of the game made him worthy of the Hall of Fame. Banish him from working in the game – yes. Banish him from the Hall of Fame – no.
Well, now it looks like my argument and Pete’s argument no longer holds water. Thanks to more of the usual great reporting from ESPN’s TJ Quinn and Willie Weinbaum, documents have been uncovered that show Rose bet extensively on baseball and his team, the Reds, when he was still an active player in 1986. Oops.
That was a piece of the puzzle that was missing from John Dowd’s investigation of Rose’s gambling activities for Major League Baseball. Said Dowd to ESPN, “This does it. This closes the door.”
The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini. The pages clearly show Bertolini placing bets for Rose. The notebook was taken as part of a mail fraud investigation unrelated to gambling. Dowd tried to get a hold of that notebook, but was unable to. He says it would have proven that Rose was betting with mob-connected bookmakers in New York.
And the notebook shows that Rose was in deep. From March through July, Rose bet on at least one major league team on 30 different days. And he gambled on games he played in. Even if he never bet against his team, the implications are awful. As Dowd says, “The mob had a mortgage on Pete while he was a player and a manager.”
The timing of this ESPN report is interesting. In March, Rose applied to new Commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement. Manfred said he would consider it and with the All Star game being played this year in Cincinnati, it was reasonable to think that Manfred could use the occasion to deliver some feel-good news to Reds fans. Now forget it. And there goes our sportsradio song of summer.
As Dowd says, “This closes the door.” And as the late Bart Giamatti said 26 summers ago, “Pete Rose has stained the game.”
It now appears that stain is permanent.