Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What if MLB treated Pete Rose's gambling as an addiction and offered help instead of a lifetime ban?

Pete Rose is in the news again, and not for the reasons some expected in the weeks before the Reds host the All-Star Game. 

There are new allegations that Rose gambled on baseball not just as a manager, but during the waning years of his playing days.

That has me thinking, and so far Will and the Crane Pool Forum friends think I’m out in left field, like Rose was as debris rained down from the Shea Stadium mezzanine in the 1973 playoffs.

 I think Major League Baseball mishandled the Rose situation back in 1989 when he was banned for life after being accused of gambling on baseball. I don’t think the situation then or now has helped the game; despite what I’m sure were best intentions.

A few disclaimers are in order. First, hindsight is easy. I’m in no way an expert in addiction or mental illness. And, I understand fully why baseball can’t allow people to suspect that players or managers are throwing games.

Now, go back the late 1980s. Pete Rose had just retired as a player after breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record, managing the Reds and was a player writers speculated would be the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

And, apparently, while this was going on he was betting thousands and thousands of dollars on sports, allegedly supporting this habit by getting involved with unsavory people who enabled and profited from his activities.We are not condoning this behavior on any level.

And we know the path that was chosen both by MLB and by Rose in the 25 years since this revelation. It’s not been pretty – not even a little bit. Rose's combative denials, then partial confessions have not served him well.

What if MLB chose another path? What if, instead of banishing Pete Rose, MLB pulled him closer?

What if MLB instead took the guy who had been one of baseball’s brightest stars and gotten him the help he apparently needed?

The volume of Rose’s gambling and the risks he took to support it suggest compulsive behavior that a person might be powerless to stop.

Today we look at addictive behavior as a disease. There are efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Baseball teams have staffs to deal with physical issues, but what do they do to care for a player’s mental wellness?

Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is a high-profile example of a player who has tragically struggled with addictions. He’s been suspended – several times -- but teams also have worked to help him. His addictions have been recognized and helped, even after unfortunate relapses. Rose’s addictions got him banned for life.

That leads to another issue. We know why the threat of a lifetime ban is necessary, but there is a danger in absolutes. There’s a difference between a guy with a sickness he apparently can’t control and the Black Sox conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. One is a compulsion and the other is a conspiracy.

Having an absolute punishment – the lifetime ban – probably makes it less likely for people to get the help they need. We know about “zero tolerance” policies for weapons in schools, and we’ve heard the stories about elementary school students getting expelled for bringing plastic butter knives to class. People in authority need to be able to look at each situation individually.

Today, Rose is banned not for throwing games, but for gambling on baseball. Today we also have MLB allowing the families of team owners to also own casinos. Something seems off.

Pete Rose should face consequences for his actions. People aren't absolved of transgressions because they struggle with an addiction, even when they get the help they need.

But I think baseball would have been better served all these years by helping Rose, and by working with a more flexible method of dealing with his struggles. 

It seems fair that he should not be allowed to manage a team again. And, now that he’s in his mid-70s, I’m not sure that’s an option for him anyway.

He should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering that writers today won’t enshrine Mike Piazza because of alleged bacne, they’re not going to elect Rose anyway, at least in his lifetime.

But Rose should be allowed to participate in on-field celebrations, such as the Reds Hall of Fame days or even the upcoming All-Star Game. 

More importantly, let Pete Rose into the clubhouse to do things like talk to today’s players about the dangers of addictions and compulsive gambling – and hopefully direct them to an MLB program that can get them the help they need if they ever face the demons Rose allowed to conquer him 25 years ago. 


Will said...

An interesting, progressive take. Allow me to present a different opinion.

As someone who has dealt with addiction, I can assure you there are only two courses of action to breaking it: One is admission. The other is coercion. As with any addiction, MLB really has only two options. The first is that Rose comes to them and admits he has a problem. Rose never thought he had a problem. In fact, I would bet (yes pun intended)that Rose only now acknowledges that he had a problem because of what happened when it became public. His problem is he's out of baseball, not a gambling addiction.

So that leaves coercion--an intervention whereby MLB tells Rose: Look, you got a problem that needs fixing, and you better do it right away. I would argue that that's in fact what MLB more or less said to Rose back in early 1989. They found evidence of Rose's gambling and called him on it.

Make no mistake: Baseball didn't want to throw Pete Rose out of baseball. I'm pretty sure that if Rose had come clean back in 1989, he'd be in the Hall of Fame now. In fact, I'm not entirely sure that MLB wouldn't have just swept most of this under the rug. But honesty and Rose just aren't the best of friends, and he did what he always has done--and I would argue does to this day--he lied. Those aren't my bets; I got no problems other than I keep dragging unnecessary innings out of Danny Jackson (for reasons of pure competition, of course). However, even if Rose had said, yeah, I do. I need help, I'm not sure it would've taken. I also speak from experience on this.

In other words, I believe that a person can only break an addiction when that person wants to make a change. If MLB had coerced Rose into rehab in 1989, I'm pretty sure Rose would've been back with his bookies in time for the 1990 World Series, even if he no longer would've been the manager of the Reds.

If that's the case, then what would be the point of Rose's rehabilitation? To keep him eligible for the Hall of Fame for the fans who loved him when he played? Dave seems to indicate that that would be enough, not necessarily to get him to break his addiction.

Will said...

However, Dave's well-reasoned and well-intentioned perspective lacks one critical component: Baseball has had a rock-solid rule against betting on the game since long before Rose was born. It's so rock solid, it's even published in every clubhouse in the game. Rose walked into a professional baseball clubhouse nearly 5,000 times in his life. That means he saw that sign 5,000 times.

Yet knowing all that, Rose did it anyway. Why? Dave would argue that he had a problem he couldn't overcome. I would argue that Rose--who was a massive blend of ego and competitive fire--thought that the rule didn't apply to him and that he could get away with it. When it became clear to him in early 1989 that he wasn't going to get away with it, he still lied--playing to win. For 14 years, Rose relied on the court of public opinion that he didn't do all the things the Dowd Report said he did. That was another lie, cleared up only when Rose thought he needed to do it to get the thing he wanted--being back in baseball--and with a hefty publishing advance dangled in front of him. Then, Rose--and his dwindling number of supporters--said he never did it as a player.

Another lie.

Look, this isn't about lying. This isn't even really about gambling. This isn't Len Dykstra we're talking about here. Dykstra had a gambling problem--might still do for all I know--but he limited it to cards (and was put on probation for it for a year back in 1991 int he wake of the Rose fiasco). Other guys limited their gambling addiction to horse racing or Vegas. Those might be destructive acts, calling for assistance, but every clubhouse in America doesn't have a rule saying you can't blow thousands of dollars in card games or on the ponies--or even football or basketball. It says you can't bet on baseball. Period. If you do, you're banned for life. Period. It's not a jump ball.

So what's the difference between the Black Sox and Pete Rose? Degrees. Rose didn't throw a World Series ... unless someone uncovers something about the 1970 Reds, 1972 Reds or 1983 Phillies that wasn't obvious to anyone at the time. But he was in a position as manager (I'd argue moreso than as a player) to affect the outcome of not just one game but multiple games. Therefore, baseball's credibility as a legitimate sport was at risk. Once you lose that credibility, you can't get it back. Just ask Barry Bonds and anyone who used to care about baseball's record book.

Pete Rose will be remembered. Joe Jackson is remembered. Pete Rose and Joe Jackson both have memorabilia in the Hall of Fame. Their names and pictures are in the Hall of Fame. As far as the Hall of Fame goes, both are remembered and to a certain extent immortalized.

They just aren't inducted into the shrine. That seems fair to me.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Excellent posts! Thank you.

Johnny Bench was interesting on the radio today when asked about Pete. He said that Pete's biggest problem is Pete.

Bench said Bud Selig created a committee that included Bench and Mike Schmidt -- two high profile, high leadership teammates -- to confront Rose and and get him help, and just couldn't get Pete to crack. Bench mentioned something about Rose needed some counseling to be fully reengaged with the sport, and to say he's sorry and ask for forgiveness.

He didn't sound hopeful that Rose would go there.

Will said...

He won't. That isn't who he is.

As I write this, I have a USA Today from a couple days ago on my desk, with the headline Charm Offensive. The thing that Rose has more than anything is charisma. I've never met him, but I know people who have--including my ex. They all were charmed by Rose. Fans have been charmed by Rose for decades, just as sportswriters used to be.

Unfortunately, that's a characteristic that unsavory types share, and typically they use that to advance their nefarious activities. Hey, what's wrong with putting down a few bucks on the game as long as you bet on your team to win? Rose has been getting away with that for years even as his lies are exposed: I never did any of this. I never bet on baseball. I never bet on baseball as a player. And still, some people are letting him get by with it, because, well, he's Pete Rose.

Rose is a sociopath.