On August 23, 1989, as punishment for betting on baseball, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose accepts a settlement that includes a lifetime ban from the game. A heated debate continues to rage as to whether Rose, a former player who remains the game’s all-time hits leader, should be given a second chance.
Although gambling on a sport you play or coach is now considered unacceptable in nearly all levels of sport, it was relatively common among those connected with baseball in the early 20th century. Some of baseball’s most talented and well-known players, such as “Turkey” Mike Donlin and Hal Chase, as well as manager John McGraw, who publicly won $400 dollars when his New York Giants won the World Series in 1905, were often suspected of gambling on their own games. Chase was considered a dangerous man to have on a team because of his willingness to make extra money by dropping fly balls or misplaying first base. This all changed, however, after the White Sox purposefully lost the World Series in 1919 for a payoff from gambler Arnold Rothstein. Outraged, a group of baseball’s faithful–including American League Commissioner Ban Johnson, former player and manager Christy Matthewson and White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, among others–made it a priority to clean up the game and repair its reputation. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, was hired as Major League Baseball’s first commissioner to crack down on corruption.
One of Landis’ first moves was to ban eight White Sox players found to be involved in the World Series betting scandal from the game for life, including Chase and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the greatest players in baseball history. Major League Baseball Rule 21(d) now states that a player faces a ban of one year for betting on any baseball game, and a lifetime ban for betting on his own team. In addition, signs posted prominently in every clubhouse remind players that gambling is not permitted.
It was known in baseball circles since the 1970s that Pete Rose had a gambling problem. Although at first he bet only on horse races and football games, allegations surfaced in early 1989 that Rose was not only betting on baseball, but on his own team. Major League Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti began an inquiry, and hired Washington lawyer John Dowd to head the investigation. Dowd compiled hundreds of hours of testimony from numerous sources that detailed Rose’s history of gambling on baseball while serving as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, including betting on his own team.
Although Rose continued to proclaim his innocence, he was eventually persuaded to accept a settlement that included a lifetime ban from the game. At a subsequent press conference, Giamatti characterized Rose’s acceptance of the ban as a no-contest plea to the charges against him.
In 2004, after years of repeated denials, Rose published My Prison Without Bars, in which he finally confessed to gambling on the Reds, though he added that had always bet on the Reds to win. Because of the lifetime ban, Rose cannot work in Major League Baseball and, despite his stellar playing career, he is not eligible for the Hall of Fame.