It's the offseason for Major League Baseball, but big news is coming soon. Commissioner Rob Manfred says he will decide by the end of the month whether to reinstate Pete Rose.
The former perennial All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds is one of the greatest players ever; many consider his record for most hits in a career — 4,256 — untouchable.
Rose, of course, has also been baseball's most celebrated pariah. He was banned in 1989 for betting on the game. Rose has campaigned for reinstatement in the past, and lost. He's hoping a new commissioner — Manfred's been in office since January — means a different outcome.
Rose has many supporters, certainly in Ohio. Among them, Democratic state Sen. Cecil Thomas turned his support into legislation. In April, Thomas introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 4.
It asks Manfred to "remove Peter Edward 'Pete' Rose from Major League Baseball's permanently ineligible list as soon as possible, and to urge the Baseball Writers' Association of America and the National Baseball Hall of Fame to include Rose on the Hall of Fame ballot."
The bill, which had bipartisan support, stalled in committee after a June revelation by ESPN's Outside the Lines that Rose bet on baseball when he was a player. Rose's admission up until then was that he had bet only when he managed the Reds in the late 1980s. The report, and the bill's holdup in the Ohio Legislature, haven't dimmed Thomas' support, which the 63-year-old state senator traces back to his baseball-playing days as a little leaguer in Cincinnati.
"I didn't get to be a senator just by kind of dragging along," he says. "I put in 110 percent of my effort to get to where I am today. And it goes back to the foundation that my baseball coach instilled in me. He'd always say, 'Watch how Pete Rose does it — head-first slides and runnin' and all of that.' "
Like many of Rose's supporters, Thomas points to the fact that Rose's baseball betting was always on his own team — to win. Rose always maintained he never bet against the Reds.
"I guess that's the difference in this whole scenario," Thomas says, adding, "If he had gambled against his team then, yes, that should be banned — period — since you've done something to impact the outcome in a very negative way. However, his efforts were that his team would win. We want [players and managers] to be winners and to have enthusiasm to win."
Impact Of Not Betting
It's the same rationale Ryan Rodenberg has heard for years from his college students, and it's a rationale with which he's never agreed.
Rodenberg is an assistant professor of sport management at Florida State University. Every semester, Rodenberg holds lectures on sports gambling in his graduate sports law classes. Pete Rose always comes up, and so does the argument that Rose is innocent, or at least less guilty, because he bet on his own team to win.
Rodenberg cites several problems with the argument, all outlined, he says, by John Dowd, the lawyer whose investigation and subsequent report led to Rose's lifetime ban.
One problem, says Rodenberg, is that while Rose admitted to betting on Reds games, there's fairly substantial evidence he didn't bet on every game. "If someone who normally bets on games for differing amounts suddenly decides not to wager, that's a signal," says Rodenberg, "to the bookies, to other insiders who may be privy to that information, that someone who normally bets on the team to win just doesn't have that much confidence in that night's game."
Rodenberg says there's also evidence that Rose didn't always bet the same amount of money. "Certainly if someone were to bet 100 bucks on a team to win versus $5,000, that's a pretty strong signal on differing levels of confidence in terms of how the team would do."
While Rodenberg contends there's plenty of evidence to implicate Rose, he also acknowledges that Manfred is mulling over his decision in a different climate.
The traditionally hard attitudes by sports leagues toward sports gambling seem to be softening. In what Rodenberg calls "a game changer," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote a New York Times op-ed piece last year in support of expanded legalized sports gambling. Leagues, including Major League Baseball, are partnering with Daily Fantasy sports companies — companies that are currently fighting allegations that they constitute illegal sports gambling.
And then Manfred is also dealing with the human element: Rose is 74, and his supporters say he's been punished long enough.
All of these factors, says Rodenberg, could prompt a possible split decision by the commissioner, who has promised to take a "fresh look" at the Rose case.
"If Rob Manfred is inclined to be sympathetic and offer an olive branch," Rodenberg says, "he certainly could confirm the fact that Rose is banned for life in terms of being a manager, coach or instructor during spring training."
"But you could allow for a vote to take place about whether Rose should be in the Hall of Fame," adds Rodenberg. "That would be a bronze bust in a museum — far different than being on a coaching staff for a team. It's a possibility, but the baseball writers [who vote for Hall members], working in conjunction with Major League Baseball, would have to revise the voting rules."
In 1991, in response to the Rose case, the Hall of Fame voted to ban players on the permanently ineligible list.
Certainly Thomas would endorse such a compromise. "We tell our children all the time — you walk with integrity, you be honest and tell the truth," says Thomas. "The moment you don't, you're sanctioned for that. But do you give them a life sentence for that? I'd say no."
Asked whether he'll keep pushing his bill if Manfred decides not to reinstate Rose, Thomas says, "Absolutely."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred promises a decision this month. He will decide the future of Pete Rose. The former Cincinnati Reds star's been banned from the game since 1989.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Pete Rose hopes to be remembered as the player who put everything on the line. When sliding into a base, Rose did not go in feet-first like other players. He plunged headfirst.
INSKEEP: Today, he's better remembered for betting on the game. His every effort to be reinstated has failed. But there's a new commissioner and a new era of betting. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Rob Manfred has said he's going to take a full and fresh look at Pete Rose's case. So what's fresh? Let's start with Rose and the truth. For years, those two didn't have a particularly close relationship. Here he is in a 1991 interview with NBC's Jane Pauley.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PETE ROSE: No way I bet on baseball. And I'll never admit I did.
GOLDMAN: But he did. In his 2004 book, "My Prison Without Bars," Rose admitted betting on baseball when he managed the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s. Even that, though, was only partially true. This past June, ESPN revealed documents showing Rose also bet as a player, when he was a player manager for the Reds. Rose and Rob Manfred met in September to talk about reinstatement. Rose said this about the meeting on Cincinnati TV station WCPO.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROSE: You don't know which way to read anything. I mean, all I know is I was truthful to him.
GOLDMAN: Now with all that's known, chances are good. Manfred got more of the whole truth than any past commissioner. What's also different this time around - a general climate in sports in which there's more acceptance of gambling. Ryan Rodenberg is a sports law professor at Florida State.
RYAN RODENBERG: In November of last year, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner - somewhat of a game changer - did write an op-ed in The New York Times and came out in support of expanded legalized sports gambling.
GOLDMAN: It makes good business sense, says Rodenberg, as all the major leagues try to go global.
RODENBERG: Around the rest of the world, where they're trying to expand overseas, sports gambling is quite common.
GOLDMAN: Baseball also jumped into the popular and controversial world of daily fantasy sports. MLB has partnered with one of the top daily fantasy companies, DraftKings. But does a softening of the traditional hard edges around sports gambling telegraph a new opening for Pete Rose?
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
GOLDMAN: Rob Manfred did allow Rose to take part in the All-Star Game in Cincinnati in July, making this moment possible - an ovation as Rose walked onto the field. But the commissioner, who started his job in January, also has shown a toughness when it comes to betting on baseball. Manfred denied a request to reinstate the late Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was banned for his alleged role in fixing the 1919 World Series. And in a CNBC interview, Manfred reaffirmed the immutability of rule 21 - baseball's law prohibiting betting on the game - the law Pete Rose violated.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROB MANFRED: I think that the gambling rule is so fundamental to the integrity of the game that it should always stay where it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He levels the bat a couple of times, Show kicks, and he fires, Rose swings...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There it is, there it is. Get out. Get out. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hit number 4192.
GOLDMAN: Rose's on-field accomplishments, including his all-time hits record, easily make him hall-of-fame worthy. Manfred doesn't control the hall of fame, which voted in 1991 to keep banned players out. But could Manfred's fresh look at the Pete Rose case somehow lead to a split decision - still out of baseball but in the hall? Rose supporters say it's a just reward for a 74-year-old man who's done his time. Detractors are equally adamant that any leniency for a rule-21 violator threatens the game going forward. It's no small decision for a new commissioner in a new era. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.