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.