Too little, too late
Sorry, Pete, you're 14 years and three commissioners overdue
Posted: Saturday January 10, 2004 11:33AM; Updated: Saturday January 10, 2004 11:34AM
What's an old baseball friend to do? Dave Bristol begged Pete Rose to come clean -- even asked him privately, man-to-man, on three separate occasions: "Pete, did you bet on baseball?" As it turns out, Charlie Hustle lied to him every time.
Bristol isn't missing a word of it as Rose sings a new tune on his all-out media blitz around the release of My Prison Without Bars, a $24.95 autobiography. You knew he had to park himself in front of the TV to catch ABC News' Primetime Thursday. He had to hear Rose's contrition himself.
For all these years, Bristol wanted the truth. And it's sickened the crusty ex-big league manager now that it's finally come out.
He managed Rose in the minor and major leagues, and served as his third-base coach when the younger man managed the Cincinnati Reds. Bristol was driving with him to a spring-training game when news of the gambling investigation first broke in 1989. Last July, he drove five hours from his home in the North Carolina mountains to visit with Rose at a promotional appearance in Macon, Ga.
He never got the truth, only denials. He never saw Rose crack under pressure.
"He handled it like he always does, in the typical Pete Rose way -- like nothing happened," Bristol recalls. "He's able to block things out. No one handled it better during the season, managing the team.
"But I only know the player and manager, not the gambler. And it was all good. He came to the park ready to play and he had goals and he attained them."
If Bristol is any indication, though, Rose shouldn't bet on his belated confession garnering much support to end his ban from the game, at least amongst hardened baseball people. Leave it to Bristol and Rose ("The best player I ever managed") would freeze in hell before he ever set foot in the Hall of Fame.
One cold, hard reason -- Rule 21, which is duly posted in both English and Spanish on every clubhouse door: "Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball games in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."
"Hey, the first thing you see when you go into pro ball is Rule 21," says Bristol. "I have read it to every team I have ever managed, and he had to do the same thing. And we are all supposed to go by it.
"Everybody in the world knows he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame on his playing record. There is no question about that. But Rule 21 plainly says that if you are gambling that you are banned from baseball. How are they gonna get around that?"
Good question. Rose has worked commissioner Bud Selig hard for reinstatement the past year, which you figure should have been sufficient time to get a confessional right. Just go public with the truth. Don't couch it around a lucrative book deal, which is at least his second autobiography. In his previous beauty -- Pete Rose -- My Story, penned with Roger Kahn in 1989 -- he denied betting on baseball and claimed the case against him was built on hearsay.
So how can you believe a word out of the guy's mouth? It's sad watching him play the same game -- denying he placed nightly bets from the Reds clubhouse, despite evidence to the contrary. Even denying that the handwriting on FBI-analyzed betting slips is his.
The undisputable fact is Rose bet on big-league games while managing the Reds in the late 1980s. An investigation by baseball lawyer John Dowd convincingly reached that conclusion a decade ago, though Rose defiantly thumbed his nose at the charge until now.
Even if Rose bet solely on the Reds, and not against them, it had to affect the decisions he made on the nights he didn't bet in terms of pitchers and pinch hitters. And if paying customers don't think every game is being played straight up, there's no reason to buy tickets or tune in.
And that's where Rule 21 comes into play.
"[Selig] has got to stand up for the rule," Bristol says. "If he doesn't, it tells everybody else, 'Hell, I can go gamble and be OK 'cause you let Rose gamble.' Shoeless Joe Jackson, that case will be brought back up.
"People say [Selig] wants to have his legacy be that he brought Pete back into the game. That would be a helluva legacy to leave, wouldn't it?"
Not really. Sorry, Pete, you're 14 years and three commissioners too late.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.