After arriving at the commissioner's office, on Park Avenue, we waited for 45 minutes in the reception area. By making me wait, the commissioner was sending a message. The nature of the meeting was serious. While waiting, I paced back and forth and looked at photos of Hall of Famers like Cobb, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays. I thought about their great accomplishments and wondered when I would take my place among them. Then, as I walked into the commissioner's office, my impulsive sense of humor took over. I pointed to the photos on the wall and asked, "Why ain't I up there?" Everyone laughed. It eased the tension and took my mind off the business at hand. I wasn't even eligible for the Hall of Fame, but everyone knew that I had the credentials. In a subtle way I was probably reminding them of who I was—Pete Rose, baseball's alltime Hit King. But on this particular day they weren't interested in my records.
I sat before Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent, and I faced the biggest decision of my life. Mr. Ueberroth explained that he had heard disturbing reports about my gambling habits and wanted to give me a chance to clear the air. He asked me if I had been making any illegal bets. I said that I'd bet on the 1989 Super Bowl and lost $2,000 because I picked the wrong team. Mr. Ueberroth was a true sports fan. He smiled and nodded as if he understood. Basically the commissioner said that he wasn't interested in football. He wanted to know if I had bet on baseball. I made my decision. I said, "No, sir. I did not bet on baseball."
So before I go on, I know what you're thinking: Why didn't you tell the truth, Pete—admit that you had a problem? It's a fair question, one mat I've asked myself many times over the past 14 years. I wish I had an easy answer, but I don't. If the commissioner had presented evidence or given any indication of his position, I might have handled things differently. I really didn't believe I had a problem. I knew that I'd broken the letter of the law. But I didn't think I'd broken the spirit of the law, which was designed to prevent corruption. During the times I gambled as a manager, I never took an unfair advantage. I never bet more or less based on injuries or inside information. I never allowed my wagers to influence my baseball decisions. So in my mind, I wasn't corrupt.
Still, I was backed into a corner. If I had been an alcoholic or a drug addict, baseball would have suspended me for six weeks and paid for my rehabilitation. The players' union had very clear language to deal with those particular transgressions. But I didn't drink or use drugs. I gambled. And not just on horses, football and basketball—I committed the cardinal sin. I lost that bet.
Baseball has a hard-and-fast punishment for breaking Rule 21. It's nailed to the clubhouse door at every ballpark in the country: "Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible." The distinction between drugs, booze and gambling told me that baseball was interested in punishment, not treatment. I should have had the opportunity to get help, but baseball had no fancy rehab for gamblers like they do for drug addicts. If I had admitted my guilt, it would have been the same as putting my head on the chopping block—lifetime ban. Death penalty. I spent my entire life on the baseball fields of America, and I was not going to give up my profession without first seeing some hard evidence. I just kept telling myself that permanently is a long goddam time. Right or wrong, the punishment didn't fit the crime—so I denied the crime.
On Aug. 24, 1989, commissioner Bait Giamatti held a press conference at the Hilton New York mid announced that I had agreed to be placed on the permanently ineligible list in accordance with Major League Rule 21. The settlement stated, "The Commissioner will not make any formal findings or determinations on any matter including without limitation the allegation that Peter Edward Rose bet on any Major League Baseball game." The settlement also stated, "Neither the Commissioner nor Peter Edward Rose shall be prevented by this agreement from making any public statement relating to this matter so long as no such public statement contradicts the terms of this agreement and resolution."
Shortly after the commissioner announced the settlement, he fielded questions from the media. When asked about his personal opinion, Mr. Giamatti replied that based upon reading the Dowd Report [the 225-page product of the commissioner's investigation headed by special counsel John Dowd], he believed that I did bet on baseball. My lawyers and I were slack-jawed. We felt like we had been slapped in the face. Within hours after signing the agreement, which made "no finding," the commissioner had reneged on his own terms!
Hours later, I held my own press conference at Riverfront Stadium. I could sense a huge sadness in the room, like I was attending a funeral. I apologized to the fans and to the media for making some bad mistakes. But my spirit was not broken. The commissioner's statement provided me with plenty of resolve. Right or wrong, I felt betrayed. Everyone talked about my morality, but what about his? It was wrong for me to lie but O.K. for the commissioner? I spent over a million dollars on legal fees and investigators. I fought through baseball's worst scandal ever. And at the end of the day I came away with the exact settlement I would have received if I had confessed in the beginning—lifetime ban, the death penalty. But I got something they would not have given me without a fight—an agreement that made no finding that I had bet on baseball. An agreement that I believed would allow me to return to the game I loved and eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. As it turned out, the agreement wasn't worth the paper it was written on.
Nine days after signing the agreement, Bart Giamatti died of a massive heart attack. Howard Cosell and others in the media accused me of "killing" the commissioner. I appreciate hype as much as the next guy. But Mr. Giamatti smoked three packs of cigarettes per day and was 50 pounds overweight. I had nothing to do with the health problems that caused his untimely death. But that didn't stop the pundits from blaming me anyway. From everything I read in the papers, Mr. Giamatti claimed to be at peace with his decision on my lifetime ban. With all due respect, the six-month ordeal was far more stressful on me and my family than it was on Mr. Giamatti. He wasn't facing a lifetime ban. I was. He didn't spend his life savings on legal fees. I did.
Perhaps things would have been different if Mr. Giamatti hadn't died. I might have taken legal issue with his public remarks. I might have gotten a fair hearing on reinstatement after a year's suspension, as we had all agreed. But it didn't happen that way, and the time for bitterness has long since passed.