The next few days after the agreement was announced were the worst of my life. Although I put up a good front, my life was in shambles. I tried to convince myself that everything was O.K. But for the first time in my life I was out of baseball and miming out of options. It took a while for the shock to settle in, but eventually I felt disgraced. Some gamblers bottom out when they lose their money. I bottomed out when I lost baseball. But I honestly didn't believe I had a problem, and definitely not a sickness. Then Reuven, my lawyer, gave it to me straight. "If you don't seek help," he said, "I can't continue to represent you as a client." That hit me pretty hard. Ever since I'd lost my father in 1970, Reuven had been a trusted friend—my go-to guy. And after losing everything else, I didn't want to lose him, too. So as difficult as it was, I went to a psychiatrist, Dr. James Hilliard from the University of Cincinnati.
Dr. Hilliard wasn't interested in newspaper accounts. He wanted to hear first-hand what I thought about my gambling situation. My first instinct was to convince the shrink that I didn't have a problem—that old Pete Rose logic. I explained that I gambled for excitement, pleasure and competition. "I wasn't interested in winning money," I said. "I enjoyed the action." I grew up in a community where sports and gambling went hand in hand. And the men who I watched gamble were among the finest on the planet-honest, hardworking family men who were all good athletes. I saw problem gamblers as degenerates who held no status in life, people who gambled every day until they lost everything. I reminded him that I didn't drink, smoke or use drugs and that sometimes I went months at a time without gambling at all. In my mind I still didn't fit the profile of the problem gambler.
Dr. Hilliard was very patient, but he said something that hit home: "Problem gambling has more to do with the frequency of betting, the amount bet relative to the resources and the damage it inflicts on personal and family life." Slowly but surely I began to realize that maybe I had a problem after all. Gambling wasn't really about winning money, it was about craving the risk, something I was pretty damn good at. I had gambled past the point of being able to control it. I had slid right past inappropriate gambling and right into gambling with my career—a bet I lost.
Nobody said life is fair. I bet on baseball, and I have to lake responsibility for my actions. So let me start by saying this: I would rather the than lose a baseball game. I hate to lose. There is no temptation on the planet Earth that could ever get me to fix a game. None. End of story. As out of control as I got with my gambling, I never bet against my own team—ever. I reckon if I could have been tempted to fix a game, I would've been tempted way back in 1987 when I was down six figures to the bookmakers. The idea never entered my mind.
Over the years I've heard a lot of talk about the "integrity of the game" and how baseball could never let anyone break the gambling rules. Some folks have even implied that I am unworthy to set foot on a baseball field because of what I did. I never really understood that way of thinking. But I understand now. I've had 14 years to think about the rules. Rule 21 is there to prevent even the appearance of corruption as well as actual corruption. My actions, which I thought were benign, called the integrity of the game into question. And there's no excuse for that, but there's also no reason to punish me forever.
When asked what it would take for me to get back into baseball, Mr. Giamatti said that I needed to show a "redirected, reconfigured or rehabilitated life." Obviously there was a big discrepancy between baseball's interpretation and mine. I stopped making illegal bets and hanging around with undesirables, which is what I was told to do. Hell, nobody said I had to become a monk! And yes, I continued to visit the racetrack, but I went only three or four times a month—not every day like I used to do. And I always stayed within my means. If I lost what I took to the track, I went home. I wasn't betting with the money I used to pay my mortgage or my monthly expenses. And I never stayed all day to bet every race in the program. I was just going to the track and betting legally like millions of other Americans.
A few years ago I was offered a two-year contract at $1 million a year to promote an Internet gambling website. Although I needed the money, I turned down the offer because I didn't want to promote gambling for a profession. I wouldn't let my son visit those websites, so I wasn't going to lend my name to their cause. Besides, I knew the deal would put a nail in the coffin for my chances of reinstatement. If turning down $2 million wasn't proof that I was redirected, then what more did I need to prove?
On labor day of 2002 I ran into Joe Morgan, who coincidentally was booked into the same memorabilia show as me. As a Hall of Famer and one of the top broadcasters in the game, Joe had the commissioner's ear. He was spearheading an attempt to get me before the commissioner. "I can't take a position one way or the other," said Joe. "But I spoke with the commissioner, and he's willing to meet, but he wants to hear a full confession. Are you ready to admit your involvement?"
I got into a heated discussion with Joe for taking the liberty of speaking on my behalf. I wanted to meet with the commissioner personally—not through go-betweens. But Joe was right. I had thrived on conflict for so long that I didn't know any other way to respond. Deep down, in a place where I didn't want to go, I was covering up my real fear. How would the public respond if they found out that I had bet on baseball? Would they turn against me or would they understand that I just couldn't help myself? The very thought that I might lose public support was scary. But I had come to a crossroads, and it was time to make a life-changing decision.
I thought back to my days as a young kid in Cincinnati who loved playing baseball every day. Then I thought about my dad and how all the folks from home gave me a daily reminder of my goal in life—a goal more important than 4,256 hits. "If you grow up to be half the man your father is," they said, "you'll be one helluva man." From that simple goal I realized that confessing the truth was not an act of weakness but an act of strength.