I was driven, in gambling as well as in baseball. Enough was never enough. I had huge appetites, and I was always hungry. It wasn't that I was bored with the challenges of managing the Reds—I just didn't want the challenges to end!
I can't honestly remember the first time I bet on baseball. But I remember the first time I spoke openly about it. I was sitting in my living room, watching the 1986 playoffs between the Mets and the Astros. I had a group of friends over for the game—just as I'd done my whole life. Paul Janszen, a friend of Gio's from the gym, heard me talking about the score and asked me a question about gambling on baseball. Without even thinking about the consequences, I said, "Betting on the playoffs makes the games more exciting to watch!"
Paul Janszen started coming over to the house more often. Janszen was the opposite of Gio. He was about 6'2" and 260 pounds—the strong, quiet type. Together he and Gio looked like Mutt and Jeff. At the time, Gio was becoming loud and aggressive and apparently having some conflict with the owners of the gym over his abrasive personality. I didn't know it, but the conflict involved more than personality. They had a disagreement over money that supposedly involved drugs.
Janszen became Gio's new best friend and eventually mine, too. I started working out at the gym with Janszen, and the more we trained, the more we hit it off. Janszen and Gio would hang out at my house during the weekends. I had three TV sets hooked up to the satellite dish, so I could get any game that was being played—anywhere, anytime. Like I said, if I put my money on a game or race, I wanted to watch it. Janszen fit in really well with the rest of the crowd. He was a no-nonsense guy who didn't drink or smoke. He was well-mannered, never cussed around the ladies or acted obnoxious like Gio.
The friendlier I became with Janszen, the more distant I became with Gio—something he resented. Carol, my second wife, tried to warn me that Gio was not trustworthy. She referred to him as a "snake in the grass." But I've always been the type to give a guy the benefit of the doubt. If a guy was square with me, I usually ignored what other people said about him. But Janszen said that Gio was using the phone at Gold's to call in the wagers and making a point to speak as loudly as possible so everyone in the gym could hear that he was betting for Pete Rose. Gio was also taking steroids, which made him more aggressive and less reliable—something that spelled trouble.
It's a good thing I wasn't a professional gambler because in late 1986 and early 1987 I went from ice cold to Mr. Freeze. Between the playoffs, college and pro football I hit an alltime low. The more I bet, the more I lost. The more I lost, the more I tried to double up. During one three-week stint I wrote eleven $8,000 checks to my guy in New York. On top of the 88 grand, I dropped another six figures to the other guys—far more than I ever should have allowed. I had to dip into my business account to pay the losses. So, before I go on, I know what you're thinking: We all like to gamble, Pete. But why did you have to bet so damn much money? I wish I could have just bet a hundred dollars a pop. But that didn't do it for me. I needed to have more riding on it.
Truth is, I really didn't think I was doing anything wrong at the time. I didn't see myself going into some addictive death spiral. To my mind I was just following the same competitive instincts I'd followed as a ballplayer. Sports taught me how to bounce back after a loss. If I was down 0-2 in the count, I didn't concede the strikeout. I dug in and looked for a good pitch to hit. If I was on a cold streak with the bookmaker, I didn't bitch and moan about my losses. I tried to pick some winners. I never quit anything in my life, and I sure as hell wasn't going to start with a bookmaker! So I got back to basics. For me, basics in gambling meant horse racing. In hindsight maybe I should have done what manager Fred Hutchinson made me do when I slumped in my first year with the Reds: Take a seat on the bench.
The 1987 season was going to be a good one for the Reds. We had come off consecutive second-place finishes in 1985 and 1986 and were ready to make a move. Once the exhibition games started, my schedule got busy, but after a full day of managing baseball, I enjoyed a full night of watching basketball or dog racing. It was a sports smorgasbord that satisfied my appetite for action. In previous years my sports gambling had ended with March Madness. In 1987, March ended—but the madness didn't. Ask any gambler, and he'll tell you the line gets crossed easily If you're in the throes of it, if you're down to your book, your natural reaction isn't to stop gambling.
Janszen started running all my sports action, which was taking on a new energy. After spring training, I was down only 10 or 15 grand from all of my losses on basketball, not a large amount when spread over two months. But Janszen just shook his head at the futility. Even when I won five out of 10 games, I still lost money because of the 10% vigorish. On other days I'd pick eight out of 10 winners, but seven out of eight failed to cover the point spread. So I lost again.
Finally the temptation got too strong, and during the 1987 season I began betting regularly on the sport I knew best-baseball. This wasn't a no-account playoff bet on a couple of teams I had nothing to do with. I was betting on baseball while I was managing a major league ball club in the regular season. But in all honesty I no longer recognized the difference between one sport and another. I just looked at the games and thought, I'll take a dime on the Lakers, a dime on the Sixers, a dime on the Buckeyes—and a dime on the Reds.... I didn't even consider the consequences.