The Pete Rose Controversy

Debate Revived over Status of Baseball Legend's Ban

Listen: Hear an extended version of Bob Edwards' interview with lawyer John Dowd.

Listen: Hear an extended version of Edwards' interview with Reds announcer Marty Brennaman.

Pete Rose 1979 baseball card

hide captionPete Rose, seen on an 1979 baseball card, is one of the game's greatest players, leading in career hits (4,256) and at-bats, (14,053).

Card courtesy Eric Westervelt, NPR News
A 1983 All-Star Game baseball signed by Pete Rose.

hide captionA 1983 All-Star Game baseball signed by Pete Rose.

Ball courtesy Eric Westervelt, NPR News

One memorable September night in 1985 at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, Pete Rose transformed his baseball career into something legendary. With hit number 4,192, Rose passed Ty Cobb to become baseball's career leader in hits. At the time, Rose — who played so hard he was nicknamed Charlie Hustle — was a cinch to be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

But four years later, Rose was banned from the sport after an investigation found he had gambled thousands of dollars on baseball games as a player and a manager for the Cincinnati Reds. Rose said he "made some mistakes" but denied betting on baseball.

Major League Baseball officials are considering giving Rose a second chance at reinstatement — a move that potentially would allow him to enter the Hall of Fame. Rose made his case to Commissioner Bug Selig several months ago. There are indications that Selig might reinstate Rose — if he admits that he bet on baseball and apologizes for it.

NPR's Bob Edwards examines the debate over Rose in interviews with attorney and investigator John Dowd, whose report accused Rose of betting on baseball, and long-time Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman, who says Rose should be allowed into the Hall of Fame — if Rose apologizes first.

"You know, he's maintained all these years that he never bet on baseball," Brennaman says. "He may be the only one on Earth that believes that."

Brennaman, himself a Hall of Fame member, says Rose has to "throw himself on the mercy of the court" — baseball officials and fans. The announcer says that accepting Rose's apology would not mean that gambling is condoned by baseball. After all, Brennaman says, other players have been reinstated after committing serious offenses, including domestic violence.

But Brennaman says Rose shouldn't necessarily be allowed to come back as a manager. "Anytime there was a questionable move on his part, the question [about gambling] would then come up," Brennaman says.

Dowd says Rose should not be allowed back into baseball under any circumstances. "The issue is protecting the game, not protecting Mr. Rose and his reputation," Dowd says. "That's the judgment that's been made on anyone who's ever bet on the game and I think we ought to honor that.

"In my judgment, I don't think there are any circumstances that justify his return to the game... If you let Rose back in, then the message to anyone who gambles and gambles on the game is that if you throw enough of a public relations tantrum and admit that you did it, then you ought to be back in the game."

Dowd notes that no one who's been declared permanently ineligible to participate in baseball has ever been readmitted. Commissioner Selig is "coming up against a great deal of powerful history on a rule that has been time and again demonstrated to prevent the corruption of the game."

The force of the rule is "remarkable," Dowd says. The best evidence of that is the day that then-Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose, the commissioner "got calls from ballplayers all over the country" thanking him for "protecting the rule because they obey it. It's posted right on the clubhouse door and they get reminded every spring what it is because experience has taught us that (gambling) really does undermine the game and it can't be ignored."

Selig has not said when he might rule on Pete Rose's application for reinstatement.

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