The first asked if Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Charlie Hustle has been killing 'em on this question since he was banned from baseball 14 years ago by the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. And I agree with the majority on this one. Sure, Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's the Hit King, the most efficient producer in the history of the sport and one of its most passionate players. He not only set records, but he also won World Series. Integrity? First off, we all know there are plenty of shady characters in Cooperstown. Second, for all anyone has verified, Rose's integrity didn't start going severely downhill until the end of his playing career. So I say, vote him in.
The second poll question asked if Rose should be allowed to manage, to which I say, "Can you be serious?" Yet, apparently, this goal is the primary reason for Rose's public mea culpa this week, in the form of a just-published book and numerous interviews. (Well, managing and the money he's already made from the book).
This second issue gets to what I think is by far the most significant part of the whole Pete Rose mess. It's important to know whether he bet on baseball (now he says he did). It's important to know if he placed bets from the clubhouse (he says he didn't; others says he's lying). It's important to know if his gambling compromised his position as manager of the Reds (how could it not have?).
In the excerpts published by my employer, Sports Illustrated, and elsewhere, Rose admits to a serious gambling problem, although he tries to pass it off as "competitiveness." I've met and written about compulsive gamblers and I've been educated in their ways by Arnie Wexler, a gambling counselor and longtime recovering compulsive gambler. Rose is so textbook, it's scary. He shouldn't be anywhere near a baseball team or a casino or a racetrack.
This opinion will be met with foul, invective-laced criticism, because compulsive gambling is a horrible sickness that is not yet recognized as such by much of the macho world of sports entertainment. Gambling is the engine that drives the NFL and March Madness. Without gambling, their popularity would take a huge hit. It is considered almost an inalienable right to place a bet on a football game, legally or illegally.
Even in the much larger picture, compulsive gambling is, in many ways, a much nastier addiction than drugs or alcohol. While reporting a story for SI almost a decade ago, Wexler allowed me to sit in on several 12-step Gamblers Anonymous meetings. I will never forget seeing a 40-something man stand up, admit to his addiction -- still hot, he had gambled the previous night -- and then say, "I've seen people on drugs. I've seen alcoholics... This disease is the whole load.''
Why? Because an alcoholic who drinks two bottles of sour mash will throw up. Because a drug abuser will probably die early. A compulsive gambler doesn't look sick and meets few of mainstream society's parameters for illness. Yet he will ruin his life, his family and his friendships to support his habit. The illness will let him continue to crash until he lands in jail, long past the point of rescue. There has seldom been a more talented quarterback to come out of college that Ohio State's Art Schlichter in 1982, yet his addiction to gambling had him in and out of prisons for nearly two decades, ruined, with a terrible trail in his wake.
We are fast approaching the high season for gambling in America. The Super Bowl is the most wagered-on sporting event in the country and the NCAA basketball tournament is nearly as popular. This aspect of their popularity will seldom be mentioned during the long hours of television devoted to each. But this year's Super Bowl and this year's March Madness will ruin lives.
Rose writes in his book that he once got himself $88,000 in debt with a single bookie at the same time that he was six figures arrears with another. He was so deep in gambling debt that he had to borrow money from lowlifes. And now he wants to manage a baseball team and keep going to the racetrack on free days and free nights.
It's true that some forms of gambling are legal in this country. Drinking alcohol is legal, too, yet some people just should not partake. Any decent counselor would say that Rose should never place another bet. Manage a baseball team? I say: Not a chance in hell.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden weighs in with a Viewpoint every Friday on SI.com.