Pete Rose and Baseball's Mortal Sin: Worse Than Steroids

Tom MechinAnalyst IApril 10, 2011

24 Oct 1999:  Pete Rose, Ted Williams, and Hank Aaron speak before the World Series game two between the New York Yankees the Atlanta Braves at the Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. The Yankees defeated the Braves 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I do not understand the correlation between steroid users and Pete Rose. It seems whenever there is an article written (either on Bleacher Report or anywhere else) about some steroid user and his chances for making the Hall of Fame, someone inevitably brings up Rose’s name, implying he should be given the same opportunities steroid users are (able to still appear on the ballot).

That would be suggesting the two crimes are similar or that (gasp!) steroids are worse—and they’re not, at least not in a baseball sense. Pete Rose’s crime is the mortal sin of baseball. He chose to place bets on the game, on the team that he managed, knowing the risks.

There was no doubt what the consequences would be if he was caught—banishment forever. That meant no job in baseball, never being allowed back on a major league field in any official capacity (Bud Selig was gracious enough to allow him to stand up with his contemporaries at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston; I’m not sure that I would have been so gracious), and never having his name appear on the Hall of Fame ballot.

And yet Pete Rose still chose to bet on baseball.

Steroid users too knew the risks of what putting illegal substances into their bodies were and what it could do to their careers if they were caught. Up until recently there were minimal penalties for performance enhancing drugs, and the new, stricter polices still leave a lot to be desired.

However, there is a big difference between using steroids and other PEDs and gambling on the sport. Using PEDs will, at best, alter a player's ability. He will be able to run faster, hit the ball farther, throw a fastball harder and have more stamina. Or it could give him some other type of physical advantage. But it can only affect one player, not an entire team or league. 

Legal or not, each player has the same opportunities to use performance enhancing drugs to try to gain an advantage. No amount of steroids, amphetamines, human growth hormone or whatever other new designer substances todays chemists can create can have the same impact as one player, one coach or one manager with something to gain, outside of baseball, from a team’s win or loss.

Pete Rose did not just break a rule, he broke the rule, the one there is no coming back from. Regardless of how good a player he was, how hard he played or how beloved he was by the fans, he does not deserve a second chance.

There are those, Rose himself, who will argue that because he only bet on the Reds to win that he should get the benefit of the doubt. Surely it would be much worse had he placed bets that his team would lose, right? No, it wouldn’t. 

First off, you have to take Rose at his word that he only bet on the Reds to win, and after denying he did it at all for nearly 20 years, you have to take anything he says with a grain of salt.

Secondly, it is easy to see how having a bet to lose a game would affect it; the manager could sit his best players, use strategies or in-game decisions that would have negative results. A player on the take could make an error, throw to the wrong base, make a base-running gaffe or swing and miss at a pitch he should have hit.

All of that would be bad for the game of baseball, but the consequences of having placed a bet on your team to win could be just as dire, if not more so.

What would come first, the health of your team and its players or the money you’d stand to make? What would you do if your team was in a 1-1 tie late in the game and your star player (for argument’s sake, let’s use Albert Pujols) sprains his ankle during a play at first base?

Normally he would come out but he’s due up in the next inning and you know he stands a better chance of hitting a game (jackpot)-winning home run—bad ankle or not—than any other player on your roster. Do you leave him in? What if, on the next play, he steps wrongly because of the injury and causes more damage? 

That sprained ankle that would have kept him out of the lineup for a couple of weeks now becomes torn ligaments or a ruptured Achilles tendon that ends his season or career.

Or how about a pitcher who is gassed that the manager asked just a little bit more out of because he needed the money and that pitcher blew out his arm or shoulder, completely altering his career?  

Would any of that be fair to either the players, the game or the fans? Would it be as bad, if not worse, than actually throwing a game? Yeah, it would.

Do I know for certain that any of those circumstances (or ones like them) happened during Rose’s tenure as Cincinnati’s manager? No, I don’t. Rose has said his gambling had no affect on the way he managed, but again this is the same person who claimed he “never bet on baseball" for almost 20 years and lied to all of his loyal fans. 

Rose only finally admitted his guilt when he saw an opportunity to get back into the game. Believing anything he says is the same as a battered wife thinking her husband who’s beat her for 20 years won’t do it again simply because he says he’s sorry and won’t do it again.

Even if Rose didn’t alter the way he managed due to his gambling, he still committed the crime.

When a cop pulls over a driver who’s drunk, the driver gets arrested regardless of whether he crashed into anyone or anything, drove erratically or was speeding. He broke the law, he goes to jail. The drunk driver could have made it whatever he was going safely with no problems and no one getting hurt—but should he be let off the hook? No, and neither should Pete Rose.

The last argument I always here is that Rose should still be banished from baseball but should be allowed on the Hall of Fame ballot, as his crime was committed as a manager and not as a player. How do we know this for sure? Pete Rose’s word again? Sorry, but I’m not willing to take him at his word on anything at this point. 

But even if it were true and he played for 25 years cleanly, never bet and gave his all, it doesn’t matter. His terrible decisions while a manager ruined everything he once did in the game.

When I first became interested in the sport of baseball (admittedly, it was after Rose’s playing days and banishment) I didn’t understand the big deal surrounding Pete Rose and gambling. What’s the big deal? I thought. Let the man back in the game. 

Then I became more mature and realized the importance of the game’s integrity and realized what Rose actually did. He committed the one offense that could destroy the game. Steroids can’t do that, no amount of cheating could.  By betting on the game, whether to win or lose, rips it of its integrity, its competitiveness and its enjoyability for fans.

Pete Rose accepted his banishment in 1989 and he and his fans needs to accept it in 2011 and beyond. It was the right decision for baseball.