MLB

Major League Baseball Lives in “Interesting Times,” Thanks to Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Banned for Life

No doubt you’ve all heard the old trope about the supposedly ancient Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” “Interesting,” in this Chinese sense, means unsettled, uncertain, perhaps even dangerous times.

Major League Baseball is living in its own “interesting times” these days. The sport is still dealing with the residue of the steroid years; the topic gets rehashed with every tally of the votes for Cooperstown enshrinement. An epidemic of arm injuries, many resulting in “Tommy John” surgery for a host of players who are have barely gotten past high school–has raised concerns about how young athletes are being taught to play the game. And the All-Star balloting fiasco has been holding a fun-house mirror up to the people running MLB, and making the organization look like a clown show.

And now comes Monday’s report by ESPN’s Outside The Lines on Pete Rose and his gambling ways during his playing days. The new revelations certainly sink Rose’s chances of being reinstated into the game’s good graces–if he ever had any such chances. By all accounts the Commissioner’s office, via the Dowd investigation, had more than enough on Rose to justify his lifetime ban. There’s no real point in defending Rose, nor do I intend to do so here. But the OTL report does raise one interesting question:

Why has this information seen the light of day now?

Commissioner Rob Manfred made noises earlier this year that he was willing to consider Rose’s bid for reinstatement. And we know that Rose is–or was–scheduled to participate in some way in the upcoming All-Star festivities in Cincinnati. It is curious then that a report that stabs at the heart of Rose’s chances to return to the fold would drop at this point in time, just a few weeks short of Charlie Hustle’s presumed moment in the Southern Ohio sun.

Perhaps it is simply coincidental timing. An article on OTL report indicates that the show’s reporters have been working for some time on obtaining the not-so-new evidence on Rose’s gambling during his playing days. Though the piece does not give exact particulars, it implies that OTL received access to photocopies of the incriminating notebook just recently. Thus, the timing of the report may have merely been a matter of course; the OTL guys were simply doing journalism–real journalism, not the everyday output by the “Connecticut Clown College”–and the planets aligned and led them to run their report now, just in time to sound a death knell for Rose and his possible future in baseball.

If that’s the case, what is surprising is the fact that the Outside The Lines crew would issue this report at all. After all, ESPN is one of MLB’s major broadcasting partners; the network airs games several times a week during the season, including the showcase Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. Corporate partners on that level rarely go to great lengths to embarrass one another. That OTL would take a dump on Rose and his upcoming appearance at the All-Star Game–one of MLB’s showcase events–can hardly be called business as usual, though perhaps it speaks to the OTL crew’s integrity.

Then again, ESPN is a partner, but not MLB’s chief broadcasting partner. FOX and Turner cover MLB’s playoffs, not ESPN; and the All-Star Game will be on FOX as usual. If casting these aspersions on Rose disrupts the plans for his appearance in Cincinnati in three weeks, that would constitute ESPN throwing mud on one of MLB’s prime properties–not one of their own.

Then again, again, Pete Rose is most definitely not one of MLB’s prime properties. Indeed, one can imagine that Manfred would like nothing more than for Rose to just go away. Given that possibility, perhaps the OTL report is, in some way, a favor ESPN is doing for MLB. By throwing this old-new evidence into the mix at this point, the report provides Manfred with plenty of justification for simply flicking Rose away like a bug, with much less chance of being called out for hypocrisy.

“Hypocrisy for what?” you may ask. Rose has been banned for gambling. You may have noticed that MLB and DraftKings, the quasi-gambling company from the fantasy sports industry, recently changed their relationship status to “bed buddies.” On their websites both DraftKings and FanDuel claim that their games are NOT gambling by the law’s definition in 45 of the 50 states, and that they have an exemption from anti-internet-gambling regulations in federal law. One wonders why something that is not gambling needs an exemption from anti-gambling laws. Regardless, some people perceive fantasy sports as a form of gambling; thus, banishing Rose for his gambling while wholeheartedly embracing an industry that some view as little different from Rose’s actions could open MLB to charges of major hypocrisy, at the least.

Did MLB feed OTL the evidence used in their report? The piece cited above certainly indicates no such thing. Did MLB encourage OTL to pursue the story in the hopes that their Charlie Hustle problem could be made to go away? That seems very unlikely; whatever the foibles on regular display on “The Worldwide Leader…”, the Outside The Lines operation has retained a reputation for integrity. Chances are this is all the product of individual action and coincidental timing.

But potential threads are there, should some in the baseball-following public wish to connect them. That is the problem with MLB’s embrace of an industry that can be viewed in the same terms as Rose’s bookmaking: it can suggest the appearance of impropriety, even if there is in fact none present.

That used to be a standard to which our society used to hold elected officials, businessmen, educators–persons of responsibility across the board; those held in esteem by the community, the state, the nation were expected to be vigilant against an appearance of impropriety, and to act accordingly to remove that appearance whenever it raised its head. Indeed, that standard is the reason why Pete Rose was banished for life by baseball; the game’s prohibition against gambling on the game makes no distinction between bets for or against one’s team. Even now, Rose is not accused of having thrown any games. The rule exists in order to enforce a strict limitation against even the appearance of impropriety by any player, or team or league official.

It may be difficult to get worked up about this sort of thing on Pete Rose’s behalf. Rose is, undoubtedly, a man with a major problem at the least, and a scumbag at worst. If Monday’s revelations send him scurrying into a dark corner, never to be seen again, few are likely to mourn his disappearance. But it would be nice to know that Major League Baseball, in its fits of righteousness, does not just talk the talk, but walks the walk, too. At the moment, that prospect is uncertain. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on it.

(Featured image: Pete Rose, Outside The Lines screenshot from espn.com)

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