Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Monday, July 27, 2009
Rose to be reinstated? Baseball and gambling

Reports are coming out that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is considering reinstating Pete Rose to baseball, this after Henry Aaron spoke in support of Rose at Sunday's Hall of Fame induction. Reinstatement virtually ensures Rose's induction into the Hall, perhaps as early as next year. The only thing that had been keeping Rose out was Hall of Fame Rule 3E, which bars from Hall induction any person on MLB's Permanent Ineligible List. I think the Veterans' Committee will vote him in, probably overwhelmingly; former players typically are more forgiving of player transgressions than writers.

Some random thoughts.

First, I have to get past my instinct to simply conclude that, if Bud Selig is thinking about doing this, it must be a bad idea. The timing is interesting, as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of both Rose' ban and the brief commissionership and untimely death of Bart Giamatti. Selig would be undoing the signature act of, arguably, the last strong non-owner commissioner.

Second, what does this say about our system of punishment? Rose accepted permanent ineligibility from the game and has admitted to conduct (betting on games in which his own team was involved) that, under Major League Rule 21(d) carries an automatic punishment of permanent ineligibility. But now it appears he is going to get back into the game (and probably the Hall) within his lifetime, although the 20 years he lost as a manager, executive, ambassador, etc., certainly are nothing to sneeze at. Is this the equivalent of a commuted sentence--he served his time, he has reformed himself, let him get on with his life? Or is this more like a pardon--a subsequent statement that Rose did nothing wrong? Are the goals of punishment and of MLB furthered by this move, which ultimately gives Rose everything he wanted?

Third, what about the Black Sox? This move would establish precedent that a permanent ban for gambling-related activity is not, in fact, a permanent ban. If Rose can be reinstated after twenty years, is there any argument against reinstating the Black Sox players after eighty? Can there be any rational distinction drawn between the Sox players and Rose that would justify reinstating the latter and not some or all of the former? And does Selig know the Pandora's Box he may be opening? (See # 1).

After all, some of them were suspended for arguably less-serious infractions than Rose--Shoeless Joe Jackson took money but did nothing to lose games; Buck Weaver took no money and was punished only for knowing about the fix and not informing team and league officials. Reprehensible conduct to be sure; but Selig seems to be in a forgiving mood. Moreover, without excusing the Black Sox, context matters. Baseball during the first twenty years of the last century was a few steps above professional wrestling--gambling, fixing games, etc., were pervasive, constantly discussed, and mostly ignored. Talk of fixed World Series games went all the way back to the first Series in 1903 and there was talk of fixes in both the 1917 and 1918 Series, as well as late-season shenanigans in 1917-19. The hiring of Kenesaw Mountain Landis reflected a conscious move by the Major Leagues to shed that image as entertainment and become a true, on-the-level competition. Of course, the gambling problems continued even into the '20s, notably with the forced "resignations" in 1926 of managers (and retired greats) Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb in the wake of allegations of they fixed regular-season games. By the time Rose came along, on the other hand, the rules and the history were well-established and could not have been clearer--gambling, especially gambling on games involving your team, was the ultimate baseball sin; it even was posted on the wall of every Major League Clubhouse. That knowledge arguably makes Rose's conduct more unforgivable.

Fourth, Buster Olney of ESPN argues that reinstatement and enshrinement does nothing to Rose's legacy one way or another; his conduct over the past twenty+ years has tarnished his reputation, although his greatness as a player remains undeniable (if too-often dramatically overstated and overrated). So this presents two questions:

1) Should Rose be inducted into the Hall? Character, sportsmanship, and off-the-field conduct are formally part of the election criteria for voters, although, as everyone so often notes, the Hall is full of racists, boozers, womanizers, and other miscreants.
2) Assuming Rose is elected to the Hall of Fame in short order, should his plaque mention the gambling and the (non-permanent) ban from the game, alongside the hits and games played? This is an argument that often was made about Rose, as well as admitted or suspected steroid users. I have not accepted the argument as to Rose, because Hall Rule 3E is clear that he cannot be voted in. But with the ban lifted and induction imminent, this is something that the Hall must address directly, given that his misconduct and punishment were not about general misbehavior (note I have not mentioned Rose's conviction and incarceration for tax evasion) but went to the heart of the rules and integrity of the game.


It has always been said by Rose that he agreed to the perma-ban because he was told that he would have a chance at reinstatement, but Giamatti died before he had a chance to release this. I believe Rose in this, because he really had no reason to agree so readily without this stipulation.

Part 2, Does Gaylord Perry's Plaque say he was a regular user of the spitball? He is incredibly open about that fact, and its cheating as well. Does Whitey Ford's say he scuffed that ball? Does Enos Slaughter and Johnny Mize's say they hated black people? There are many known cheaters in the Hall of Fame, and if you start that with Rose then you must do it with all of them.

Blogger A day in the Life of A Law Student -- 7/27/2009 4:37 PM  

Olney's comments are not that bright, which are often the case with Olney. The Baseball Hall of Fame is for baseball ability, not character. What he did outside the game, such as tax evasion, has no bearing on his Hall of Fame status, and Pete Rose would be FAR, FAR, from the worst person in the Hall of Fame.

Blogger The Dizfactor -- 7/27/2009 4:41 PM  

Rose was banned from Major League Baseball, permanently, for gambling on games in which the team he was managing was competing--conduct he subsequently acknowledged. That ban has kept him out of the Hall until now.

It (and my questions here) have absolutely nothing to do with character or whether he was a bad person or did bad things off the field (as I said in the post, I do not care about the tax evasion thing); I don't care if he would be the best or worst human being in the Hall. It is because he broke the game's cardinal rule *on the field* and received the designated punishment for it. That puts him on a different level than all the spitballing, ball-scuffing racists, none of whom ever were banned for their actions.

Now, Selig can undo all that by lifting the ban--and the underlying point of my post is whether he should. But that ban is part of Rose's history in the game--as a participant in the game--in a way that Johnny Mize's ugly personal beliefs are not.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/27/2009 4:59 PM  


Another explanation for Rose accepting the ban is that he saw the evidence against him and "settled" (without having to admit to anything) to avoid a formal finding that he had bet on the Reds.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/27/2009 5:11 PM  

"Shoeless Joe Jackson took money but did nothing to lose games;"

Uh, look at his, er, defense during the Series. While I tend to think the 1919 Reds were underrated, their ability to hit triples was certainly hidden before October.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 7/27/2009 5:25 PM  

Couldn't be written any better. Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing! Please come visit my site Glendale Business Directory when you got time.

Blogger poll -- 7/29/2009 9:05 AM  

Excellent article , i just share it with my friend of Italy. I Stumble UP your blog post , you will notice an increase of traffic within 24 hours for targeted people. Cheers . Please come visit my site St. Louis Business Directory when you got time.

Blogger poll -- 7/29/2009 9:08 AM  

I think this is a preview of the coming analysis of the steroid era players, particularly those whose useage is fairly clear. With Rose forgiven the way is more open for today's cheaters.

It is, to me, however, much more difficult to argue that Rose's gambling hurt the game in any way comparable to Bonds or Clemens. They so fully infected the game as to make a joke of the most respected stats revered by most fans. The ESPN boys all give the cheaters a pass and claim the fans don't care. It is in their financial interest so to do.

It my be possible to separate out Pete the player from the coach. In that way he might be eligible. I wouldn't vote for him.

Blogger Mark O -- 8/03/2009 7:51 PM  

Post a Comment