Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Pete Rose Hustled Himself Out of Baseball

                            Charley Hustle making the wrong kind of headlines.

On August 24, 1989 Pete Rose aka Charlie Hustle was banned from baseball for life for gambling on Cincinnati Reds games when he was manager by an outraged Commissioner of Baseball Bart Giamatti.

Considered a shoo-in for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, Rose probably doomed his chances for ever being included by for years steadfastly denying gambling on baseball despite mounting evidence, before sheepishly admitting guilt in his autobiography My Prison Without Bars. 

                                   Rose's rookie card still a hot commodity for collectors in mint condition.

Rose was a hometown product of Cincinnati, born to working class parents in 1941.  The switch hitting right hander’s dream came true when he was called to the Big Show in 1963. In his stellar 23 year career as a player, most of the time with the Reds, Rose hit for a .303 batting average, tallied 4,256 hits including 160 home runs and drove in a total of 1,394 runs.  He was famously aggressive on the base paths despite not being a fast runner and perfected a dangerous head-first slide. 

Among his many honors were Rookie of the Year in the National League in 1963, two Gold Gloves for his sparkling defensive play, three batting titles, 17 All Star Game appearances, and three World Championships with Cincinnati’s legendary Big Red Machine.  After playing for the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos from 1979 to ’84, controversial Reds owner Marge Schott brought Rose back as a player-manager to finish the ’84 season. 

Rose's signature head-first dive into base made him one of the most exciting players in baseball.

He played two more years in the combined role before retiring to concentrate on his bench duties.  He was undoubtedly the most popular player in Reds history and one of the most admired in baseball. 

But he was an inveterate gambler.  He claimed his regular bets with a major bookie did not include baseball, then after proof surfaced, that he did not bet on games he was part of.  When that claim, too, was disproven, he could only say that he bet for his team, not against it. 

Rose as Reds manager.

But gambling is the big no-no in Major League Base which was nearly killed by scandals in the 19th Century and again by the Black Sox scandal of 1919.  Baseball ignored a lot of misbehavior, including the nearly murderous attacks of Ty Cobb on fans, regular alcohol abuse by stars like Babe Ruth, and numerous instances of sexual peccadilloes.  It would not, however, forgive gambling. 

After his banishment Rose cut a pathetic figure.  Banned from even setting foot into a ball park, he made his living signing autographs and selling memorabilia.  Even that got him into trouble.  On April 20, 1990, Rose pleaded guilty to two charges of filing false income tax returns for not reporting income from selling autographs and memorabilia, and from horse racing winnings. He was sentenced to five months in the medium security Prison Camp at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and fined $50,000. Released on January 7, 1991 after having paid $366,041 in back taxes and interest he was required to perform 1000 hours of community service. 

Rose would sign anything for a buck, including humiliating admissions.

Rose’s 2004 autobiography was an attempt to both bring in much needed income and rehabilitate his reputation, possibly leading to a lifting of the lifelong ban and eligibility for the Hall of Fame.  Despite the vocal support of many players and some sportswriters, the book failed on the later count.

The steroid scandals of the early 21st Century were used by supporters to argue that Rose, who never used performance enhancing drugs and who played hard his entire career, deserved consideration to be included in the Hall while disgraced players like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens remain eligible. 

Rose flogging his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars.  The book flopped as a plea for sympathy and as a bid to regain eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Baseball is officially un-moved by these arguments. After rumors that he was considering lifting the ban surfaced in 2010, Commissioner Bud Selig quickly denied the reports.  Selig’s successor has been no more sympathetic and many of the sportswriters who admired and championed him have retired.  Baseball has moved on.  It is doubtful Pete Rose will ever enter the Hall of Fame. 

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