Pete Rose at a Phillies Celebration Shouldn’t be Taken as, or be a Step Toward Absolution

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Pete Rose walked onto a Major League Baseball field on Sunday one more precious time since being banned for life in 1989 because he bet on baseball. It has to be his last.

That the Philadelphia Phillies decided to include the all-time hits leader in a ceremony commemorating the 1980 World Series championship was at the same time heart-warming and brazen. The announcement of it — originally let slip by former teammate Larry Bowa — was an especially noteworthy moment for those of us who pay attention to this kind of thing. That’s partly because, in a sport where betting has become an encouraged fan-engagement tool and a revenue stream for teams, the Phillies stand among a few without any sportsbook partners, official, exclusive, premier, or otherwise — even with a casino a long, long fly ball away and its Philadelphia pro sports compatriots reaping this new harvest mightily.

But it’s mostly because Rose’s infractions — betting on games, including on the Reds when he managed them, according to the Dowd Report — were deemed egregious enough by then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti that he was never to return. Time and Rose at 81 don’t change this. Rose’s participation this past weekend cannot and should not signal a thawing of the sentiments that have blocked him from admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame, even despite his obvious statistical qualifications.

There are and always will be those who assert that MLB’s new coziness with sports betting absolves Rose. It does not. The rule is 21 (D) and it has been plastered on clubhouse walls since, seemingly, time immemorial, right there by the door in English and Spanish, for all to see every time they enter: Don’t bet on baseball games.

Rose did this, including Reds games when he was managing them. He had applications for reinstatement denied in 2015 and 2020 because it was still factual then, too. He’s been honored on the field in Cincinnati and that didn’t lead to a change in his circumstance. This shouldn’t, either. It won’t.

Charlie Blackmon and Official Sportsbook Deals Don’t Apply

There are those who contend the Collective Bargain Agreement that ended a lockout this year and eventually allowed the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon to become a brand ambassador for MaximBet breaks down another barrier and hacks at the integrity of baseball. Debate that at will. They equate it to Rose. There’s no debate. To our knowledge, Blackmon has not bet on baseball games. And if he does, and when he gets caught, he can join Rose at an autograph table in Cooperstown, down the street from the Hall, and commiserate.

The Phillies organization said in a statement that players requested Rose be included in this weekend’s festivities, and the move was approved by Commissioner Rob Manfred. It would be interesting to know if Rose leaving his side hustle as a tout for the UpickTrade website at the end of 2021 factored into the granting of permission. Or the ask by the Phillies.

Weirdly, and maybe a little sadly, a friend in Philadelphia told me last week there had been scant buzz about it at all. The Philadelphia Inquirer conjured a righteous portion of scorn over it, but otherwise, not much. The fact the team had been sending out emails shilling $10 outfield seats at Citizens Bank Park for this alumni weekend suggests there wasn’t a rush to come see this moment in baseball time. Wide shots from the broadcast confirmed that.

That’s sad for a flawed and proud man who a year ago seemed resolved to the idea that he would never be enshrined in Cooperstown, despite he, too, noting the juxtaposition of baseball’s new affinity for monetizing gambling.

But maybe, ultimately, it’s also better for Rose and baseball. Maybe a fanbase desensitized to the stigma of sports betting that so terrorized purists counts as progress.

But this should never have served as progress toward absolving Rose. Or helping him get from Citizens Bank Park to Cooperstown.

Progress is a wonderful thing. But so is remembering from where we’ve progressed.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Rose didn’t seem to have progressed far on Sunday. It had nothing to do with gambling, however. When pressed by a reporter from the Inquirer about a statutory rape allegation that prompted the Phillies to cancel an appearance in 2017, he replied “It was 55 years ago, babe.” A subsequent sit-in on the Phillies television broadcast was a cringe-worthy cap to a regrettable day.

For once, though, Rose resolved the issue. If anything, his likelihood of Cooperstown enshrinement has been lessened even more. Imagine him with an open microphone at an induction ceremony. No one is going to want him in the club anymore. Or in the team photo. Not whether the important date was 42 or 55 years ago.

And they have a choice of reasons why.

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Brant James is the lead writer for Gaming Today canvassing events and trends in the gambling industry. He has covered the American sports betting industry in the United States since before professional sports teams even knew what an official gaming partnership entailed. Before focusing on the gambling industry, James was a nationally acclaimed motorsports writer and a long-time member of the National Hockey League media corps, formerly writing for USA Today, ESPN, SI.com and the Tampa Bay Times.

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